The Market for Human Hair Extensions

The Market for Human Hair Extensions

Girls studying Middle School Commerce or VCE Economics will be fascinated to learn about the international market for human hair in the form of hair extensions. With hair extensions becoming an increasingly popular fashion accessory,  as well as more affordable, the international demand for human hair is outstripping the international supply of human hair. So, where does the human hair used to make hair extensions come from?

The answer to this question is interesting and complex. Students will need to do alot of research to find the answers. However, there are two recent and excellent documentaries to open up their eyes about the workings of this market.

1) The Foreign Correspondent documentary aired on 23/2/2010 examines the international market for hair by looking at the sacrifice of hair made by Hindu Indians and then following the journey their hair takes as it moves from Temple to intermediate buyers to manufacturers to hairdressing salons. The production process is interesting and along the way raises more questions than answers, including that of ethical hair extensions.

“Hair extensions have become the wildly popular, breath-takingly pricey accoutrement for the cashed-up, style-conscious around the world. They are an elaborate way of adding length and volume and customers can spend thousands in one sitting.

http://www.abc.net.au/foreign/content/2010/s2828237.htm

But where do the raw materials come from?

It’s effectively being harvested from one of the poorest parts of the world from people who have no idea their hair is being spun into gold. Human hair is feeding what one industry leader estimates to be a billion dollar business.

Reporter Tracy Bowden (ABC TV)  follows the hair trail from temples in India to the high-streets of London, with a stopover in Rome to meet the self-styled king of hair extensions David A Gold.

“This market is gigantic, beyond comprehension, we are talking about billions and billions of dollars of turnover yearly in this extension field,” Gold declares.”

2) The second documentary is: Jamelia-Whose hair is it anyway? A BBC documentary now available on YouTube in 6 parts. Jamelia investigates the sources of human hair, the trend in hair extensions, the cost of human hair, the quality of human hair used in hair extensions and the ethics of this industry. Students will know Jamelia and this is what makes the documentary captivating!

Jamelia-Whose hair is it anyway? (BBC documentary in 6 parts on Youtube)

Student activities:

Once students have viewed the two documentaries, a range of individual, class and student activities are suggested to help them understand and investigate the workings of the market.

Individual task: After viewing the documentary, write a reflection on what you saw and your thoughts about the many issues raised.

Class task:

  1. Is this another example of the developed world exploiting developing countries?
  2. Would you want to know where the human hair in your hair extensions comes from?
  3. Explain some of the ethical issues raised in this documentary.
  4. Why can David Gold be described as an entrepreneur.
  5. Explain why Jamelia does or does not have a responsibility to make others aware of the way in which this market operates.
  6. What are the human costs of the desire by western women around the world to be beautiful?

Paired task:

1a) How is the price of human hair determined? (Investigate the cost of human hair and how it is sold-per length? price per kilo? quality?)

2a) List and explain 3 microeconomic demand factors (condition changes)  that influence the international price of i) human hair and ii) hair extensions.  Draw the relevant demand and supply diagrams to illustrate this.

2b) List and explain 3 microeconomic supply factors (condition changes) that influence the international price of i) human hair and ii) hair extensions.  Draw the relevant demand and supply diagrams to illustrate this.

3) investigate and then draw a flow chart to step out and show each stage of production in producing human hair extensions.

4a) Design a set of questions (at least 5 questions) to ask 10 buyers of hair extensions ie: people who have or have had hair extensions. (Your survey needs to be photocopied, distributed, collected and results collated). Write a report on your findings.

4b) Design a set of questions (at least 5 questions) to ask 10 different Hairdressers (from different salons) about their sale of human hair extensions. (Your survey needs to be photocopied, distributed, collected and results collated). Write a report on your findings.

4c) Investigate and explain the trend in having hair extensions. i) Why is it popular? ii) Who typically gets extensions? iii) Why are they prepared to pay so much to get them done? iv) What role does advertising play? v) How significant is star power?

4d) Human hair is also used to make wigs. Investigate the use, production, cost, quality and price of human hair wigs in Australia.  Who needs and buys such wigs?

5) Research the prices of human hair extensions in hairdressing salons in Australia. Provide details of prices, quality, source of hair.  Why do prices vary so much?

6) Research the price of human hair extensions in countries other than Australia. Provide details of prices, quality, sources. Why do prices vary so much?

7) Research prices of synthetic hair extensions in Australia. Provide details of prices, quality, place of manufacture, sources. Why do prices vary so much?

8 ) Research prices of synthetic hair extensions outside Australia. Provide details of prices, quality, place of manufacture, soures. Why do prices vary so much?

9a) Investigate the major Companies that supply hair extensions to hairdressing salons around the world.(Start with Great Lengths-the company featured in the Foreign Correspondent documentary)

9b) Who are the key players? Where are they based? What percentage share of the market do they each have? (Remember, Great Lengths supplies about 4% of the international market for human hair extensions).

10) Investigate the incredible profitability of the human hair extension market. What does it cost to buy human hair? What price are human hair extensions sold for? What does it cost to get hair extensions put in your hair? What are the various mark-ups at each stage of production?

From Temples to Salon: Vanity Hair extensions (American clip)

This documentary will show students various stages of production and the price mark-ups and value added at each stage of production.  It follows the journey of human hair from Indian Temple to the hairdressing salon.

Other resources:

There have been many newspaper and magazine articles on the issue of human hair extensions.  Use the net and library resources to source some of these.  Here are a few to get you started:

When raising cash means razoring your hair.  Sydney Morning Herald, 06/03/2010

Blame it on Britney: Is hair trade fair trade? The Sunday Age, 9/12/2007

Scalping third world. The (Sydney) Herald Sun, 22/02/2004

The God Trade. The Dominion Post, 07/03/2009

Children sell their hair for $3.  The (Sydney) Herald Sun, 22/02/2004

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About Margaret Wilson

I am an Economics teacher with a passion for teaching this great subject. I especially want to get girls enthused about studying Economics! I hope you find the blog useful.
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