The History of Retail Human Hair Industry

The Hair Retail Industry Before 1989:
Before 1989, the hair industry was relatively small. It primarily served the American and European wig markets. Clients included cancer survivors, women with alopecia, and orthodox Jewish women. Hair was sourced from Western Europe nunneries and convents as well as from smaller local collectors in rural areas. Collectors also sourced hair from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. European Remy hair extensions and wigs came in a variety of colors, and manufacturers were able to source the natural colors to match their clients’ needs. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the modernization of Europe, hair became scarcer, and manufacturers in Europe and the U.S. began searching for alternate sources.

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the hub of manufacturing for remy hair extensions and wigs began migrating from Western Europe and the U.S. to South Korea. The Korean diaspora in the U.S. began rooting itself into the distribution and retail segments of the hair extensions and wigs industry by opening retail stores progressively throughout the U.S. In Western Europe, the South Asian diaspora also entered the Remy hair industry, and their success mirrored the expansion of the Korean-American hair extensions industry in the U.S. Distributors and retail stores began to spring up, with Indians and Pakistanis owning 95 percent of the retail industry, but sourcing from Korean brands in the U.S.

The Hair Retail Industry, 1990 to 2000:
Remy virgin hair and recycled human hair have long been collected in India and used for various industries – the most dominant use being the extraction of amino acids from the virgin hair to be used in various retail consumption products. However, after 1990, Western demand increased, and India became the world’s largest producer and exporter of both recycled human hair and Remy human hair (also known as virgin hair and virgin Indian hair) for wigs and the growing Remy hair extensions market.

In the early 1990s, manufacturers did not distinguish between Remy hair (virgin hair) and recycled human hair. All virgin hair they received was processed, colored, and made into wigs and hair extensions in the same way. The processing and coloring treatments resulted in hair of a uniform quality, with cuticles stripped and pigment/color added to the hair. In the late 1990s, a few new Remy hair extensions companies entered the market. They began to use Remy Indian hair in its unprocessed form, which they sourced exclusively from Indian temples. These companies represented the first significant shift in the industry. They determined that the quality of Remy virgin hair—in its natural state—was much higher than processed recycled hair. Because Remy virgin hair featured cuticles that flowed in the correct direction from root to tip, the Remy hair extensions would perform as natural hair and could be reused by the consumer. This was the genesis of Remy hair extensions, or virgin hair extensions, as the industry calls it today.

The retail sales and distribution of Remy hair extensions and wigs in the U.S. also expanded during this period. By the year 2000, there were approximately 5000 Korean-owned beauty supply stores in the U.S., selling brands that were developed and marketed by Korean-American hair companies. African-American women formed their primary customer base. 100 percent of the hair sold in these stores was processed hair, with over 90 percent of it being recycled hair.

The Hair Retail Industry, 2001 to 2011:
Between 2001 and 2011, the demand for Remy hair and virgin hair extensions began to increase as discerning consumers began to grasp and appreciate the difference between Remy virgin hair and recycled processed hair. Due to the growing demand for virgin hair extensions and the fact that the supply of Remy hair came exclusively from the temples of India, the price of Remy Indian hair began to increase. Only a handful of companies in the U.S. were selling authentic Remy hair extensions. But because there were no regulations governing the human hair industry, all recycled processed hair being sold at beauty supply stores was also being named Remy hair extensions. Many consumers could not understand why the price of Remy hair extensions at the beauty supply stores (which was actually recycled processed hair) was dramatically lower than Remy hair extensions (virgin hair) sold by the handful of authentic Remy hair companies. This confusion arose as a direct result of the lack of industry regulations, with brands selling recycled processed hair and claiming their hair to be Remy hair facing no punitive consequences.

Facing little competition, no regulatory authority, and complete control of the supply chain, beauty supply stores were able to keep consumers in the dark. Most customers had no knowledge that the hair extensions they purchased and believed to be Remy hair was actually recycled processed hair. The deceptive nature of positioning recycled hair as Remy hair was evidenced by the marketing of certain brands that would promote “100% Remy hair – good for four washes without tangling.” However, true Remy hair will last through an endless number of washes without tangling as long as the consumer manages their Remy hair extensions as they would their own hair.

However, by 2005, Remy natural hair was also being offered by a new retail channel previously unknown to the hair industry – the internet. The advent of hair sales via the internet was the second significant shift in the industry because clients were now able to purchase hair from a retailer that wasn’t a beauty supply store. It was a slow and arduous journey for the nascent Remy natural hair (virgin hair) companies establishing themselves and trying to retail products in a competetive industry.

In 2007, Indique began using the label “virgin hair” to distinguish its remy hair extensions from the standard recycled processed hair offered at the ubiquitous beauty supply stores. Because the label “virgin hair” wasn’t being used by any established brands, it allowed Indique to clearly inform clients what the unique attributes of its virgin Indian hair extensions were. Demand for authentic Remy virgin hair extensions started to increase, and consequently the pricing from the temples in India increased.

In the U.S., Indique began to realize that clients needed to be educated on how to use and maintain their virgin hair extensions rather than recycled beauty supply store hair. The most important thing for consumers to know was that virgin Remy hair extensions are more durable and can be washed, colored, and reused for long periods of time. In other words, Remy virgin hair is a longer-term investment. Indique’s retail locations provided virgin Remy hair extensions and offered an educational experience for clients for the first time in the history of the industry. Clients were able to touch and feel the hair, understand why the hair had different textures even within the same product, and why the hair color was not consistent like the hair sold at the beauty supply store. In contrast, at beauty supply stores, hair was kept behind counters where it could not be touched, and sales associates were not trained or educated to sell hair. The opening of Indique stores signaled the third major shift in the industry. Now consumers could purchase virgin hair extensions from Indique retail locations focused on offering high-quality Remy virgin hair extensions and staffed by educated and knowledgeable salespeople who also wore the virgin hair extensions and understood the needs of the consumer.

Another industry development during this time was the export of virgin Indian Remy hair primarily to Brazil, but also to other countries in South America. Indians who had emigrated to Brazil in the 70s had uncovered the tremendous demand for virgin hair extensions in Brazil and began importing Remy hair extensions from India. Brazil became the largest importer of Remy human hair from India, and Europe (Italy and Spain) was second. As for recycled hair, China purchased 99 percent of all recycled hair from India, which they processed into recycled hair extensions and sold to the beauty supply stores in the U.S. and Europe.

As the volume of imports from India into Brazil grew, so did the news that Brazil was also a source for high-quality Remy Brazilian hair extensions. The Brazilian companies then began exporting the Indian hair as virgin Brazilian hair extensions to many parts of the world, including Europe, Africa, and the US. This was the advent of Brazilian hair extensions in the human hair industry as we know it today.

The Hair Retail Industry, 2011 to 2016:
In 2011, the Remy hair extensions industry faced a massive shock in the supply chain: the Indian temples, still the main source of Remy hair, stopped selling hair for 18 months, from January 2011 to August 2012. Manufacturers began to look for creative ways to sell recycled hair as Remy hair extensions. This was by far the most significant outcome from this event.

A few Indian manufacturers discovered that if they simply stripped the cuticles off recycled hair and finished the hair in a silicone bath, the hair, at the outset, would look and feel like Remy hair or virgin hair. How was this possible? Recycled Indian hair is simply inverted Indian hair with many impurities, such as dirt, lice, nits, oil, color, henna, grey hair, water, etc. Once this hair is washed in acid, most of the impurities are removed (except for the grey hair that must be removed separately), and the hair no longer has cuticles. This process is exactly what the Chinese used in their production of processed recycled hair for the beauty supply store market in the U.S. However, the Indian manufacturers realized that if they did not color the hair after the acid wash and only rinsed the hair in a silicone bath to help reduce tangling, then the hair would look and feel just like Remy virgin hair to the consumer. The uneducated and untrained consumer would be unable tell the difference between the two products—at least at first. The recycled natural hair was a lower quality hair that was characterized by dryness, tangling, and matting after a few washes (remember how the beauty supply store brand promoted their products?). This was the advent of recycled natural hair falsely sold as Remy virgin hair: the fourth major development in the Remy hair extension industry.

From the manufacturing perspective, purchases of Remy hair from the temples in India fell 90 percent due to the exponential price increase, and demand for recycled hair increased immensely after Indian manufacturers found a substitute product for pure virgin Remy hair – however the temples maintained their high prices as they are no dependent on demand. Exports of this Indian recycled hair to Brazil grew rapidly (labeled still as Brazilian hair extensions), and so did the number of manufacturers in India making recycled natural hair. Because importers in the U.S., Brazil, and Europe unknowingly purchased recycled natural hair as virgin Remy hair, the proliferation of this hair was tremendous. Chinese manufacturers caught on and began manufacturing the same product at very low prices, mixing the hair with plastic and animal hairs to reduce the price further and be even more competitive. By 2016, manufacturers in China and India began to latch on to any competitive advantage as the industry became dependent on cut-throat pricing with very little regard to quality. Therefore, these companies would promote this recycled natural hair from India as Brazilian hair, Mongolian hair, Peruvian hair, etc. The number one hair extension product exported from India is Brazilian hair extensions.

From the retail perspective in the U.S., an entire market was suddenly thrown open to entrepreneurs. Many new companies found a niche to exploit: selling so-called virgin hair, which is actually recycled natural hair, at very low prices via websites and retail stores. Unfortunately, most of these companies do not know what they are purchasing, the source of the hair, and how the hair has been processed. If the companies retailing this hair have no understanding, knowledge, and experience in what they are selling, how are they supposed to truly inform their clients? They cannot. That is why Indique stands apart from the competition. Indique only sells authentic Remy virgin hair, and our staff is trained to educate our customers on how to take care of their virgin hair extensions.

Source: Indique Hair

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