Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Market for Hair

Over at the Faculty Lounge, Bridget Crawford has an interesting post about the market for human hair.  Crawford seems to suggest that this market should give people pause because the selling of hair is driven by dire poverty. 

As an initial matter, I find this market endlessly fascinating.  The New York Times recently estimated that the U.S. imports $250 million worth of human hair.  Much of the demand comes from the growing popularity of weaves/hair extensions - a trend that started long ago in the black community but has become increasingly common among white celebrities (see, e.g., the Paris Hilton lawsuit over hair extensions).  A good weave is also surprisingly expensive.  Buying fine quality hair and having it sewed in by an expert hairdresser can cost thousands of dollars.  Finally, it's worth noting that there is some unease (tension is too strong a word) between the black consumers of hair-care products and the Korean businesspeople who seem to dominate the market for ethnic hair goods.

From my seat, it's tough to see why the selling of hair is problematic.  It gives the poor another arrow in their quiver of economic resources without negatively impacting human dignity.  Selling a bundle of hair seems far more like selling an idea than it does like selling organs -- there's an inexhaustible supply, there are no safety concerns, and it doesn't seem to affect people's altruism (plenty of folks still donate to locks of love).  Moreover, a lot of the hair that's brought to America had originally been ritualistically donated to temples in India.

I do wonder, however, if I'd feel quite the same if I came from a community that engages in ritual hair covering.

Steve Clowney

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