One of central Russia’s most precious harvestable commodity is human hair, much of it naturally blond.
For the global beauty industry, this is golden treasure.
Buyers of human hair, most of them small-scale Russian and Ukrainian itinerant operators who sell to hair processors like Kuznetsov, flock to poor regions like this. Cash in hand, they pay small sums for a head’s worth of tresses sheared from women who often have few economic alternatives.
Long sought for wigs and toupees, human hair is now in particularly high demand for hair extension procedures in more affluent countries.
Dark hair from India and China is more plentiful, but blond and other light shades are valued for their relative scarcity and because they are easier to dye.
The largest market is the US, where thousands of beauty salons offer hair extensions. African-American women have long worn hair extensions, but the trend among women with lighter hair has been popularised by celebrities such as Jessica Simpson and Paris Hilton.
The estimated American market for hair extensions is $250 million annually. The average price for extensions is $439.
The extension business is also growing in Europe.
But as more of the world’s light-haired woman have climbed the economic ladder, the search for poor blondes willing to part with their locks has become ever more difficult.