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Hair trader

6 minutes

How Western demand drives the market for human hair in China

A second-generation hair trader, Zhang Ming Ye makes his living as a broker operating between factories that produce wigs and hairpieces and the collectors who travel village to village across Asia in search of people willing to sell their long hair. According to Ming Ye, the hair trade is relatively stable and lucrative due to high demand, especially in the West, and because the quality of human hair is impossible to replicate. However, competition from online traders has recently put a dent in his business. A brief dive into the complexities of the Chinese hair trade, this short documentary by the Shanghai-based US photographer and filmmaker Noah Sheldon peers into a peculiar corner of the Chinese economy to hint at its larger context. In fact, the human hair trade is a vast, largely unregulated, billion-dollar global industry which, it should be noted, has developed a reputation for exploitative practices. The film is part of Sheldon’s Work-is documentary series, which ‘sets out to catalogue the labor force of China in a more intimate and granular way, using voices and personal histories to color the notion of what it means to be working in modern China’.

Director: Noah Sheldon

Producer: Jean Liu

Composer: Nick Zinner

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