Life Style
Chinese county exports human hair to Africa
Publish Date: Aug 14, 2014
Chinese county exports human hair to Africa
A worker ironing a hair extension at the ANNA factory in Taihe, in Anhui province. (AFP)
  • mail
  • img
newvision


FEATURE

TAIHE - Long, black and lucrative: sacks bulging with human hair spill onto the streets of a rural county whose farmers have helped make China the world's biggest exporter of products made from the material.

As dawn broke over the morning market in Taihe, vendors bringing hairy wares from across China haggled with dozens of buyers, and tempers frayed.

"We have to bargain for hair," said buyer Liu Yanwen, 35, who sported a buzzcut and arrived at the market at 5.30 am in search of deals.

"We have a factory where we'll turn it into products for export overseas," he added, clutching a head's worth of straight, thick black locks.

Gao Pu, a vendor whose head was also shaved, opened a knapsack containing dozens of bunches of hair onto the ground and declared: "It comes from the heads of ordinary Chinese folks."

Prices can go as high as 5,400 yuan ($880) per kilogram for cuts of 20 inches.

Taihe, in the eastern province of Anhui, is home to more than 400 companies processing human hair into an array of curly extensions, wigs and other products which end up on heads in the United States, Europe and Africa.
 

 
Hair extensions at a factory in Taihe, in China's eastern Anhui province. (AFP)


Fu Quanguo, 64, pioneered the trade in the 1970s and now sports a crop of white hair. "We used to collect the human hair locally," he said. "But now it comes from all kinds of countries, Myanmar, Vietnam, countries like that.

"In the past making hair products was tough, and we did it all by hand... Now we've gone from small to big and are selling internationally."

China exported nearly 75 percent of the world's "bird skin, feathers, artificial flowers, human hair" products, in 2012, according to the World Trade Organization's International Trade Centre.

The humble hair markets, ramshackle workshops and factories dotting the cornfields of Taihe generated $88 million of exports in 2012, nearly half the county's total, according to the local government.

It is one of many "industrial clusters" -- areas specialising in a single kind of product, which have sprung up in recent decades as China's export economy has boomed.

They are especially common in the country's east, where poverty-stricken farmers have pioneered small businesses since the 1980s, and now entire areas are dedicated to creating lightbulbs, socks, cigarette lighters or bra hooks.
 


Human hair after being dyed and before being sewn into hair products at the ANNA factory. (AFP)


Hair today, gold tomorrow

Fu's heir, his 36-year-old son Fu Qianwei, has a company with the English name Anna and export sales of $8 million a year, mostly to the US.

"Each country has different demands on length, thickness and quality," the closely-cropped Fu said, as workers sewed and curled clumps of hair destined for Africa -- often seen as primarily a source of raw materials for China, but which also buys its finished goods.

"As Africa's economy grows, the market is growing and moving towards higher quality," he said, standing beside boxes filled with "Afro Curly" extensions, featuring illustrations of smiling black female models.

In the factory, the hair is first disinfected in two huge barrels, before workers use paddles to stir clumps of strands in vats of steaming water.
 


A woman holding strands of hair at a street market specialising in human hair in Taihe. (AFP)


It is dyed in colours from blonde to black -- via red and purple -- before being dried in ovens, brushed and sewn into hair extensions by the mostly female staff.

"I thread parts together, in a day I can do 1,500," said Zhang Qing, 23, as she fed bunches of hair into a clattering sewing machine.

Zhang Hongmei's low stool was surrounded by piles of dyed red hair which she straightened with a large brush.

Like most in the factory, she used to be a labourer in the fields. "If I wasn't here I'd be working on the farm, but this work is less tiring and earns more money," she said.

Hair product manufacturing is "by far the biggest industry" in Taihe, says the younger Fu, and now local authorities plan to create a huge industrial park devoted entirely to the sector.

Fu recalls growing up in the 1980s, "when we would be happy if we had rice rather than corn".

Now he employs more than 200 full-time staff and escorts foreign clients to dinners at pricey local restaurants in an imported car.

"I owe my income to the hair industry," he said. "Because the value of hair is so high, people call it black gold."

AFP

The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of New Vision Online are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff and management of New Vision Online.

New Vision Online reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author.Find out why we moderate comments. For any questions please contact digital@newvision.co.ug

  • mail
  • img
blog comments powered by Disqus
Also In This Section
My wife was not a virgin
We dated for five years and finally said ‘I do’ in December 2013. We worked hard to keep ourselves from sex till marriage, but to my disappointment, on our wedding night...
In addition to drugs, patients need love and good feeding
There are two hospital rotations I will always remember. No, three, if you add Butabika Hospital....
Banana beer: has tonto lost the war?
Who ever imagined that one day, in western Uganda, Christmas would come and go without tonto in every home?...
African enriches Western style at 2014 Kampala Fashion Week
Six months back, at the Kampala Fashion Week (KFW) intro, at Serena Hotel, we were wowed by the creative hands of designers....
Ugandan wins prestigious development awards in the UK
A Ugandan businessman, Willy Nsubuga Mutenza, has won a prestigious Gathering of Africa’s Best (GAB) award in the UK...
Is he cheating?
We have been married for 15 years but I suspect my husband is cheating on me. He is no longer affectionate and passionate as he used to be....
Should workers be subjected to a 4% Health Insurance Tax??
Yes
No
Can't Say
follow us
subscribe to our news letter