Wigs Make Big Bucks
What had happened after Della sold her “rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters” hair in O. Henry’s famous short story The Gift of the Magi?
A beautiful brown wig was made out of it, maybe for some woman of royal origin.
The demand for beautiful wigs of different size, shape, thickness, gloss and colour is growing day by day. According to Pradip Basak, proprietor, Hair Life India, the reason for this is that people today are more fashion conscious than they were 15 years ago. He said, “With pollution, problems of drinking water and irregular food habits, there is premature baldness. Many clients come to me for wigs after chemotherapy as surgical implantation of hair is impossible for cancer patients.”
Recently the news came out that actress Kangana Ranaut, who is playing a legendary actress in the film ‘Once Upon a Time in Mumbai’, has used 12 different wigs in the film costing a whopping INR 20 lakh. The growing demand for wigs by film industries across the country was highlighted by Sk. Ali Hossain of Uluberia. Being a part of the major wig manufacturing cluster of the country for the last 45 years, he said, “When we started the business, it was only 10 per cent of what we have today. Earlier we supplied wigs to the Tollygunge film industry, theatre and drama companies. Now there are too many channels showing mega soaps where the demand for wigs is very high.” The growth of the entertainment industry, especially Cable TV, has widened the wig market.
How is it made?
Like polished diamonds and software, human hair has become a lucrative international business for India. There are two types of hair nonremy (dead) and remy (live hair). Remy hair is collected from door-to-door by the local hawkers. Gathered from temples and hair salons remy (that still has the cuticle layer) hair is cleaned, chemically processed and knitted according to the scalp size and then sold in the form of high-priced wigs. At Tirupati temple, more than a tonne of hair is collected each day from the devotees. According to sources, the sale of hair brought in USD 6.17 million in 2003. Auctions of human hair fetched a revenue of USD 25 million in 2007.
According to Tanushree Das, owner of Eves Ladies Beauty Parlour, the remy hair is collected by the agent who supplies it to the manufacturers and traders. “My agent always looks for long and thick hair. Dark black hair today has high demand in the US and London. The price depends on length and volume. I bargain highly for good hair as the wig will be sold in the international market at 3-4 times the price I get.” Wigs made from remy and non-remy hair differ in quality, longevity and finishing. India is far behind China in processing and finishing technology. Basak, a wholesaler of imported hair pieces and accessories, said, “Keeping the customer’s satisfaction in mind I send orders to the manufacturers of China and Korea and import the final product piece wise.”
According to the manufacturers of Uluberia, the price at which they buy from local agents is about INR 1000-10000/kilo for non-remy hair and INR 2000-16000/kilo for remy hair. Manufacturers get order from wholesalers and traders. Price after manufacturing of wigs varies from 2000-10000 per piece (for non-remy hair) and 5000-20000 per piece (for remy hair). The price of wigs that is sold in the market differs according to length, volume, gloss and colour.
Jagadishpur is a village in Uluberia, Howrah in West Bengal where 25-30 manufacturing units make wigs and supply them to almost every part of the country. Nearly 500 people are engaged with the industry, including women. According to local sources, the annual turnover of the area stood at nearly INR 25 lakh. The country’s oldest and renowned wig cluster is facing trouble due to the shortage of skilled labour, government support and modern technology. It takes at least 3-4 years for a labourer to learn the skill and payment is offered during the training. When the worker gets trained he starts his own unit. The shortage of skilled labour leads to cancellation of orders. According to Ali Hossain, the local BDO office had started a training centre during 2004-2005 but it was closed after suffering a loss. There is no financial support from the government to construct a large manufacturing base. The manufacturers will benefit if the government provides small loans to buy various sophisticated chemicals for cleaning and processing purposes.
The traders, and not the manufacturers, make profit as they sell the wigs in the international market. The average profit stands at 10-20 per cent, but cheap wigs from China are a big challenge at both domestic and international levels. “The wig factories in China consist of 5000 labourers. Wigs that are made by modern machines and cheap labour are less costly than ours made manually in small units consisting of 20-25 labourers. To meet the orders in London or the US, we buy Chinese wigs and sell them,” stated Sk. Sikandar Ali, proprietor, Famous Exports. According to him, direct marketing can increase the profit level. Now, Bangladesh is emerging as a competitor.
The availability of raw material is another growing problem for the industry. According to a trader, women are becoming more fashion-conscious and they are flocking to parlours for the latest fashion cut. They are not growing their hair as long as they used to do in the past. As a result, manufacturers find it hard to get hair of the length required for wig making.
By Samarpita Roy from Kolkata