Indian hair exports not threatened by religious boycott
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Indian hair exports not threatened by religious boycott

In India, human hair is big business for some religious sites; human hair and related products brought $70.26 million into the Indian economy 2003-2004. The majority of the hair exported from India comes from religious temples where devout Hindus go to shear their locks as an offering to the gods. Hair from thousands of pilgrims who visit India’s temples each day is collected and turned into high priced wigs for export.

Most Indians who offer up their hair as a sign of religious devotion are unaware of the booming business their donations make possible. Human hair has become a lucrative international export product for India, a business that may have been threatened by recent proclamations made by Orthodox Jewish rabbis in Israel. The rabbis decreed that wearing wigs with hair that was ritually tonsured constitutes idolatry and is therefore forbidden. After the proclamation, thousands of Orthodox women in the US burned their wigs, and rushed out to buy new wigs guaranteed to be made of European hair. Many more have decided to forego wigs entirely, choosing instead to cover their hair with hats or scarves.

Thus far, prices for Indian hair have not been impacted by the Orthodox boycott. The Tirupati temple in southern India receives 50,000 pilgrims each day, and collects over a ton of hair from them daily. Last year the sale of hair brought in $6.17 million to the temple’s coffers, and prices this year are on the rise.

Every other month, when the temple has collected two warehouses full of hair (over 200,000 lbs), the Tirupati temple hosts a hair auction. Notices of the auction appear in newspapers and on the internet, and highly competitive bidding commences. A kilogram of Indian hair, highly prized because it is fine, lustrous, and usually free of chemical treatments, was sold for $166 at a recent auction.

Hair sold at auction is then processed to make it into hair suitable for wig making. The time taken to process the raw hair from Indian market and manufacture it into high end wigs and hair pieces can be almost a year. The hair is sorted into varieties, washed, sun-dried, categorized by size, bleached, and stitched, all in India. Much of the processed hair is them sold to Chinese hair factories where it is dyed and converted into wigs and extensions, most of which are then exported to the United States and Western Europe.

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