Million Dollar Human Hair Trade Booming With Increasing Demand From China

Global Hair Trade
A woman's hair is blown away by the wind as she waits to cross a street (Photo: Reuters)

China's demand for human hair continues to grow as its cosmetics sector booms. Unknown to most, the global hair trade is actually a multi-million dollar industry, with China leading the way as its biggest buyer. As of 2017, the global hair industry was worth more than US$81 million. Pakistan is currently the world's biggest supplier. According to the Ministry of Commerce, Pakistan managed to export around US$1.6 million worth of human hair, or around 105,000 kilos, in the last five years.

Most of the human hair being brought from Pakistan is shipped from the southern port city of Karachi. It is estimated that there are around 3 million Pakistanis involved in the human hair trade. A major part of the supply comes from children, who pick through garbage in the cities like Islamabad. A lot of the hair comes from barbershops and salons, while others come from those that were gathered from combs. The most sought after type of hair are those that are long and have not undergone any chemical treatments.  

Those who gather hair from different sources tend to make decent earnings from their labor. In Pakistan, a kilogram of hair can fetch around US$18. Dealers then wash and comb the delivered hair, which they then sell to exporters for US$36 per kilo. A majority of the hair stocks usually end up in China. According to traders, China importers greatly prefer human hair from the Middle East and India mostly to the length the quality of the supply. Pakistan's government has also taken notice of the growing industry and has acknowledged its commercial value.

There are currently more than a hundred Chinese companies in Pakistan that mainly trade in human hair. These companies untangle and organize the hairs, usually by hand, before sending it to their counterparts in China. According to a Chinese trader in the country, the supply from Pakistan and countries nearby have been sufficient, but the country may need more processing plants if they want to compete with other suppliers from different parts of the world. Some companies currently have processing plants placed in cheaper countries such as in Myanmar.

China's big demand for human hair can be attributed to the country's growing cosmetic and beauty products industry. Consumers buy wigs, weaves, and hair extensions in the country by the millions and the demand continues to grow. Younger generation Chinese consumers tend to splurge more of their money on beauty products compared to older generations. Western culture and fashion have also played a part in influencing Chinese youth.

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