Tag Archive for 'Human hair trade'

The Temple of Do

How 50,000 Hindu pilgrims keep Lady Gaga looking hot. Scott Carney at Mother Jones:

In any case, those seeking a high-end look know what to ask for. It’s called “remy” hair, which is more or less synonymous with hair from India. Top salons prize it for the way it’s collected, in a single cut, which preserves the orientation of the hair’s shingle-like outer layer, and thus its strength, luster, and feel. That’s what defines remy, and that’s the reason it commands a premium price. “If you want cheap hair,” sniffs one supplier’s blog, “you’re going to get a cheap looking hairstyle.” BeyoncĂ© wears remy hair, as do Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, and any Hollywood starlet who’s been within a mile of a first-class weave. “The only hair worth buying is remy,” says one of Brown’s clients, her hair wrapped around enormous curlers. “They say that it’s cut from the heads of virgins.”

But also mothers, fathers, little kids, and not-so-pure American reporters. To see the whole process up close and personal, I have traveled to Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, a sprawling Hindu temple in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. Tirumala is the planet’s top supplier of remy hair and point of origin for at least 30 percent of the Indian trade, a fact that doesn’t seem to bother devotees of the resident god Venkateswara—an incarnation of Vishnu.

A throng of ripe humanity presses me through a series of wrought-iron gates and into the Kalyana Katta, the temple’s tonsuring center. As we inch slowly toward the inner sanctum, cracked concrete floors give way to cool white tiles. After 15 minutes, a uniformed man hands us paper tokens imprinted with a bar code and a picture of Venkateswara. The next official I encounter, clad in a stained brown shirt, hands over two razor blades: one for my head, one for my throat.

The crowd of men and women proceeds down a wide staircase whose landing is covered in a soggy mixture of tepid water and black hairballs. The air is moist and smells of rancid coconut oil. The stairs end at a vast, tiled chamber resembling a neglected Olympic swimming facility, where long lines of men face tiled benches running along the walls. (Women are herded into a separate room.) In the center are four massive steel vats. More: