Rest of Asia

What ails the Indian hair industry

Nithin Belle /Mumbai
Filed on September 21, 2021

In August, the Enforcement Directorate authorities conducted raids in Andhra Pradesh and found some traders were illegally selling hair to foreign buyers

India is one of the few countries in the world, where human hair is a precious and sought-after commodity.

When India had gained Independence from colonial Great Britain in 1947, human hair was one of its leading export items.

Kotagiri Sridhar, the YSR Congress parliamentarian from Eluru constituency in Andhra Pradesh (AP), which was once a major export hub for human hair, pointed out that at one time, India accounted for 99 per cent of human hair wigs and hair extensions because of their unique quality.

Sridhar, who is part of a parliamentary panel on human hair exports, told Khaleej Times that the sector is facing a major crisis as many of those dealing in the trade are not getting the right price.

The hair consignments head to the northeastern states, from where they are sold across borders such as in Myanmar and Bangladesh for processing; the final products are then sold at 10 times the price that smalltime Indian enterprises had been paid.

“It’s a labour-intensive job, but of late thousands of people are losing out on the contracts,” said Sridhar. “In my constituency, nearly 20,000 people have suffered hefty losses,” he added.

The Indian government has launched a series of campaigns to curb such practices because parliamentarians such as Sridhar have raised the issue.

Earlier in August, the Enforcement Directorate authorities conducted raids in AP and found some traders were illegally selling hair to foreign buyers, who would market the end-products, which were processed in overseas units, to buyers in the US, Europe and other developed countries.

Market Value

The global hair wigs and hair extensions market is valued at nearly $6 (Dh22.04) billion and is expected to grow to more than $13 (Dh47.75) billion by 2026.

Data shows that 70 per cent of the products are made out of cheaper synthetic hair and India accounts for the rest of original human hair.

India’s hair exports shot up to $367.3 (Dh1,349) million in fiscal 2020, up from $254.1 (Dh933) million in the previous financial year.

“There’s huge potential for India to raise its exports and also generate additional employment by tapping the market,” said Sridhar.

“I’m confident the industry can be revived within six months if adequate steps are taken by the government,” he added.

Sridhar said the government should ban the export of human hair to other countries where they are processed and sold at much higher rates. “If we can ban the export of raw leather and granites, why not impose such restrictions on human hair?” he asked.

Some Indian exporters have expanded their operations and are producing Remy hair, which is considered to be the most sought after internationally.

It is smoother, shinier and healthier and sustains multiple washes.

It is estimated that around 800,000 people are involved with the human hair collection and processing operations, including the traditional collectors of pre-loved goods, who have been involved with the task for decades across the country, to modern collecting agents.

It's a flourishing business that could boost employment in a big way and may lead to a significant jump in revenues.

Nithin Belle

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