Some argue that hair is neither toxic nor problematic for the environment. It’s something we come up against quite often in our Research and Development department which is largely focused on finding alternative solutions for human hair waste. We think it’s worth mentioning here that we aren’t necessarily only looking to avoid sending this material to landfill but instead we want to find ways to transform nearly valueless waste materials (yes, hair) into substitutes for materials that we would otherwise acquire from the natural world.
Did you know that about two-thirds of all textiles are petroleum-based? Most of that is virgin plastic and these yarns and textiles ultimately shed microplastics into the water...and end up in our food. And even the obvious natural counterpart, cotton, is incredibly (read: enormously) water and energy intensive to produce. Cotton makes up for most of that final third of the world’s textiles and as the World Resources Institute points out:
“Cotton is also a very thirsty crop, requiring 2,700 liters of water—what one person drinks in two-and-a-half years—to make one cotton shirt.”
We need alternatives
Green Salon Collective has witnessed the surprising application of hair in yarn before with our R&D partner, Sanne Visser, a PhD student and materials researcher at the Centre for Circular Design in London. Her incredible hair rope pieces inspired us and impressed us and we just had to work with her. We are now bringing her craft--and kilos of hair yarn--to our hairdressing community through a completely new workshop scheduled for the end of February 2022.
Sanne typically sources hair yarn from a local craftsperson who does the carding and spinning by hand. She then takes the yarn and uses her own created Rope Machine 2.0 to make hair rope. We’ve seen and felt her creations from that rope: belts and leashes, swings and fishing nets. These are genuinely beautiful, each a centrepiece and Studio Sanne Visser continues to push the boundaries of what she can make with this exceptional fibre.
Photos courtesy of Studio Sanne Visser.
As we continued to work with Sanne, supporting both her studio and PhD research, we realised that we not only really love these products, hair yarn and rope, but that we wanted to explore ways to scale up its production. The reason is, by working with artisanal craftspeople, sourcing even a kilo of the yarn is rather expensive and certainly not suitable for a wider market. High prices mean we cannot be as exploratory with it nor have as much fun. And we’re all about fun!
Introducing Natural Fibre Co
Now we are partnering with Natural Fibre Company, a British woollen mill, to find options for scaling up. Exciting! So far, they have created for us a 40% hair-60% wool blend which is carded and spun mechanically. Due to the microscopic structure of hair, it is unlikely we will be able to increase that percentage of hair by much without losing it through shedding. Nevertheless, any ‘waste’ created in this process is sent off to become carpet underlay. We are still experimenting with ratios and thicknesses and we hope to bring hair-wool rope to market by the time of our hair rope workshop with Sanne.
It deserves to be said at this point what a joy it is to work with the fantastic people at Natural Fibre Co on this project. They have a real keen interest in research and development and they have exhibited such contagious enthusiasm at every stage of our partnership. We are all about collaboration at Green Salon Collective and we consider ourselves lucky to be able to develop this novel solution for hair waste with such a positive, constructive and energetic group of individuals!
Photos courtesy of Natural Fibre Co.
Back to business. If there is real interest in our yarn, we will be able to divert hundreds of kilos of human hair waste from landfill whilst supporting this worthy local business. We will also be able to inspire a generation of hair and beauty professionals with extraordinary ways to make treasures from their industry’s trash. We hope to bring out the creativity in an already creative group, helping them to adorn their spaces with their very own crafted hair rope centrepieces.- - -
Sources and further reading