A couple of bundles of quality 100% virgin hair extensions can cost you hundreds of dollars. Many consumers consider these purchases to be an investment, as the hair can last eight to twelve months. However, as in any industry, there are many hair companies who misrepresent their products only for the customer to learn weeks or months down the line that what they believed was virgin hair was actually a blend of synthetic and “fallen” or “dead” hair. Many of us have been there at one point or another—including Riqua Hailes, owner of the Just Extensions hair salon chain. A client purchased extensions from Hailes’ shop in Los Angeles and returned one month later with matted and tangled tresses. The entrepreneur ordered the hair from a supplier in China. She was apparently under the impression that she was stocking her salon with top-notch extensions and paid the supplier as such.
“I’m not going to pay $10,000 for $200 hair extensions,” Hailes told Refinery 29. “I picked up the phone, I told China I was getting on the plane, and then I went, and I brought the girl.”
That experience inspired Hailes’ Just Extensions documentary, which documents her six-week journey through China, Cambodia, India, Brazil, and Peru to learn exactly how hair extensions are sourced and processed. Her findings were equally intriguing and disturbing. For example, Hailes recalls watching as workers dumped “fallen hair”—split ends and dead hair that sheds from women’s hair on a daily basis—into buckets and proceeded to soak them in germ-killing solution before mixing them with synthetic fibers and creating extensions. Hailes had a similar experience in Brazil where she discovered that horsetails are being sold as extensions.
“I want them to know where their hair is coming from, so they can put a value on that,” she says. “I’m not saying you can’t buy fallen hair; there’s a use for that. However, I don’t want to pay $500 for that, and I don’t want you to pay $500 for it either.”
Hailes also recalled meeting women in India who shaved their heads for religious reasons. The hair was later collected to be auctioned off in China.
“To have so much faith that I’m going to cut my hair, cut my children’s hair, because I believe they’re going to be blessed by God — they have no idea where their hair is going,” says Hailes.
Hailes hopes that the documentary will not only inspire her clients but consumers across the country.
“Everyone in this salon has extensions,” she says. “That’s why I did this — so people who come to me know exactly what they’re getting.”
Just Extensions is now available on iTunes.