Known for its silky, lustrous texture and chemically unprocessed strands, the highest quality wigs and extensions on the market are made from what is referred to as “Remy” or “virgin” hair. Sourced from India, the hair is willingly donated by throngs of Hindu devotees across the country to temples such as Tirumala Venkateswara as an offering to the god Venkateswara symbolizing one’s religious devotion and surrender of ego. The temples then auction off the hair to outside buyers as means of raising funds for temple and community programs, as well as feeding the needy. For Indian temples, this is an extremely lucrative business. At the Tirumala temple—which is one of the country’s most lucrative—there is reportedly close to 200,000 pounds of hair auctioned off every other month, bringing in tens of millions of dollars a year.
What makes the hair so unique and prized by top beauty retailers and customers alike is that it is collected in a single cut. This method allows for the preservation and alignment of the hair’s shingle-like outer cuticle layer, allowing the hair to look the most natural, remain relatively tangle-free—even with frequent washing—and keep its durability as it’s worn for up to a year. “Not all hair is created equal. If you want the best quality hair on the market, this is it,” says Mark Yudell, president of Remy Capillus in Philadelphia—one of the few U.S.-based manufacturers of human-hair extensions.
In fact, while wearing Remy extensions has been promoted as a new, hot trend—thanks to Hollywood celebrities like Beyoncé, Jessica Simpson and Eva Longoria, who sport the fashion accessory on a regular basis—the commodity has actually been on the market since at least the early 80s. That’s when the Indian temples started realizing a profit could be made from the hair, which they used to burn or sell to other countries to use in fertilizers, says Yudell.
In recent years, it has been a combination of several factors—such as temples becoming more selective about the buyers they sell the hair to and charging more for the higher-quality strands, and the demand from more U.S. customers—that has contributed to the recent rash of thefts nationwide, suggests Yudell. “It all comes down to the basic principles of supply and demand,” he says. “Thanks to Hollywood, more and more people want the look, so the demand has gone through the roof. The temples realize this too, and they are getting smarter about what they charge for their best hair. “Like oil, there isn’t an unlimited supply of premium Remy hair,” he adds.
[Image: Courtesy of Anne Davis, owner of Hair Divas Distributors]