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Hair for the money

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, there exists a market for human hair which mostly attracts buyers from China

By Asad Zia |
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PUBLISHED October 29, 2023

In the bustling streets of Peshawar, an unusual announcement echoes through the air. Zeeshan Khan is making a curious proposition through the speakers of his donkey cart. He's on the lookout for a particular commodity that many might overlook: women's combed-out hair. Khan, along with his two-member team, has embarked on a unique venture of buying women's hair.

Every day, Zeeshan Khan's team travels through areas like Dalazak Road, Shami Road, Warsak Road, Boar Bazar, Duranpur and its surroundings, offering to buy hair by the kilo from anywhere between 5,000 to 8,000 rupees.

The hair they purchase mostly comes from women who have lost their hair due to illness or have chosen to get it cut. Zeeshan Khan assesses the quality of the hair carefully before making a purchase. He and his team are not merely collecting all this hair as a strange keepsake. They sell it to big merchants in Peshawar. A kilo of hair can fetch a handsome sum of 15,000 rupees, turning this unique trade into a profitable business.

Jabir Khan, a prominent businessman in Peshawar, began working on cleaning and processing hair for a major hair dealer in Islamabad in 2010. He now owns a shop dedicated to the human hair trade. According to him, Pakistan is the fifth-largest exporter of human hair globally, following countries like India, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Vietnam, Nigeria, Burma, the United States, Singapore, Brazil, Hong Kong, and China. Peshawar alone boasts a network of 18 major businesses involved in buying and selling human hair, with approximately 20,000 people linked to this flourishing trade.

"Local dealers purchase women's hair for 12,000 to 13,000 rupees per kg,” Jabir Khan said.” After washing and packaging, they sell it at double the price. After going through these stages, the hair is exported to China," he explained. His shop serves as a hub where people from various districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa bring their hair for sale. Chinese buyers visit his shop regularly, looking to purchase high-quality human hair.

It is estimated that Pakistan accumulates nearly one tonne or more of hair daily, resulting in over 30 tonnes of hair being exported to China every month. "Almost all Pakistani dealers are involved in exporting hair to China because it offers the right price and good profits," stated Jabir Khan.

Depending on the buyers’ preference a kilo of hair can be sold at 25,000 to 30,000 rupees.

The highest-quality hair in Pakistan comes from the women of Swat, Jabir Khan elaborated, while they collect a greater quantity of hair from Peshawar.

Taimur Khan, another stakeholder in the human hair trade, reveals that thousands of people in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are engaged in this business, with hundreds involved in buying and selling hair in districts other than Peshawar. After they have accumulated between 50 kg to 100 kg of hair which they can in a month’s time, they contact Chinese buyers or their agents in Islamabad.

"Chinese buyers come themselves to check the quality of the hair. After finalising the deal, we clean and package the hair, and then deliver it to them. They pay us in cash on the spot," explained Taimur Khan. A prominent dealer from District Mardan Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Shahid Khan, shared that he purchases hair and sells it in Islamabad, where it is then exported to China.

In China, various products are manufactured from the hair, primarily used for making wigs and in makeup brushes. Some industries use these hairs for specific applications, such as doll-making.

Taimur Khan explained that high-quality hair worldwide comes from Afghan women because their hair remains untreated and they usually do not use shampoo. These premium strands can be sold for 60,000 to 100,000 rupees or more.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, they also buy men’s hair in larger quantities but not from barbers, as they usually possess small, unusable hair reserves.

Some women in the region were initially unaware of the potential value of their discarded hair. They would throw it away or dispose of it in water. However, after hearing about the trade, some have begun collecting their hair, creating a source of income for themselves .

A woman, who wished to remain anonymous, shared that she and other women in her home were unaware that the hair they discarded when combing could be sold. They would throw the hair away or sometimes put it in water. Once they had gathered their hair and sold it for 550 rupees, however, she now believes that this was against her religious beliefs and did not sell hair after that.

Another woman from Dalazak Road Peshawar shared that after hearing the announcement in her neighbourhood, she started collecting her gray hair. After five months, she sold a kg of hair to a junk dealer for 4,500 rupees.

"It's better to earn some money from hair rather than wasting it. With the money earned, you can buy quality shampoo and hair oil, which can further enhance the hair's quality and length," Arshad Ali a resident of Mardan said with a smile.

Jabir Khan highlighted that his business is straightforward and profitable, but it also comes with challenges. They face opposition from the police, who consider it an illegal trade. Additionally, some religious scholars discourage it, citing Islamic reasons. He mentioned that if the government supports this business officially, millions of Pakistanis could earn a good income through it, potentially benefiting the country's economy.