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Human hair sweater? If your first thought is “Ew”, read this

Polly Polly 03 Dec 2022 Human hair sweater? If your first thought is “Ew”, read this

Think of your last visit to a hairdresser or a barber. Next to wishing that the shampooing would go much faster because your neck was hurting from the uncomfy sink or questioning your new haircut decision (the bangs will eventually grow out, don't worry!), have you ever looked at the hair waste around you and wondered, does it really have to end up in the trash?

Probably not. And you wouldn't be the only one. But there are people out there who did – and Zsofia is definitely one of them. Her idea was to turn human hair into clothes for humans.

Wait… what? Clothes from human hair?! Yes, you read that correctly. Remember how you're feeling right now. Because it is quite likely that Zsofia's story will change your mind about human hair clothes!

In this article:

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Human hair sweater from blond hairHuman Material Loop

Changing the perception & use of human hair: a chat with Zsofia Kollar

Zsofia Kollar, a designer, author of Object-Oriented Identity and also the founder of Human Material Loop, a project aimed at exploring the perception and use of human hair as a material in the textile industry.

How did you get the idea of using human hair in the textile industry?

“I have a conceptual design background, so I was always quite interested in changing perceptions of certain materials and objects. And human hair was just a truly fascinating material because across cultures, it carries many symbolic meanings.”

“Also, we treat hair as one of the most precious parts of our bodies and we take so much care of it – but once it is cut, it becomes neglected and seen as it has no value at all.”

“But hair is nothing more or less than a fiber made out of keratin protein, just like wool or other 'materials' from animals.

So, why are we viewing it as some disgusting waste? How come once we see our hair in the shower or on the floor at a hair salon, we don't want to touch it or even look at it? Yet, a few minutes ago it was a precious piece on our body.”

Fun fact #1: The structure of male and female hair is identical. So, from the hair that is cut off, you couldn't even tell the biological sex of the person it came from. 🕵️

“As a designer, I was wondering about the ways I can give this material its value back.”

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Zsofia Kollar reading a book called Human Material Loop

“It led me to many different routes, one of them being the textile industry. I realized that human hair could be a solution to many of its problems – ranging from the lack of raw materials, pollution and back-and-forth transportation to exploitation. So, by giving value to human hair as material, I am bringing a positive change.”

Some people might feel uncomfortable about human hair being a material in their clothes. What would you like them to know?

“I think transparency is the key.”

“I believe that the repulsive feelings come from people who haven't seen the product yet and just have a nasty image of hair laying on the floor.

I noticed that it helps when people first see the sweater made from human hair and only after that, do they learn what it is actually made of. This helps to break that 'ew, disgusting' association we have with human hair waste.”

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A man sitting on the grass and wearing human hair sweater Human Material Loop

“This way, people just see a nice sweater and how beautifully knitted it is. Maybe they think it is not their color or their style. But their reaction to it being made from human hair is then 'okay, weird, but why not, it's actually beautiful'.

And especially when they consider the environmental benefits of human hair as a material, they understand it better.”

Fun fact #2: Your hair grows faster in warmer climates – because then, you have more vitamin D which supports hair growth! ☀️

“Also, our hair is so close to us, we all know how different and beautiful it can be. We can't say the same thing about wool. The wool industry is so distant from us, we don't really know what is actually happening there.” 

“A jacket made with wool might look nice on a hanger, but if people could see how it is made, I think they would be more disgusted by that than by a sweater made from human hair.” 

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A woman laying down and wearing a black human hair blazerHuman Material Loop

The ethics behind human hair waste

Where do you source human hair from?

“We are now working together with The Green Scissors, a non-profit organization that collects waste from hair salons such as aluminum foils, plastic waste and also hair waste. They couldn't find a way to reuse the hair waste and that is where we came in.”

Fun fact #3: No need to worry about your privacy – the hair waste found in salons can't be used to identify you as it doesn't contain nuclear DNA. Only the hair that has been pulled from your head can be used for DNA analysis! 🕵️

“Some people think that we are taking hair from wig makers who create wigs for patients with cancer. But the hair waste we receive from hair salons cannot be used anywhere else.”

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Zsofia Kollar leaving a hair salon with bags of human hair waste Human Material Loop

So, you only source human hair from hair salons?

“The vast majority of hair waste definitely comes from hair salons, but sometimes my friends or neighbors give their hair waste to me as well.”

Fun fact about Zsofia #4: “I have a scissor collection. I am collecting all types of scissors from all ages.” (And nope, apparently, it has no connection to her working with human hair as a fashion material, we asked!) ✂️

Have you just caught yourself thinking about the beautiful sweater your hair from your hair brush could be turned into? Well, we've got some good news for you. Even though Human Material Loop currently focuses on collecting waste from hair salons, they are thinking about creating a system in which you could donate your hair waste.1 So, you might want to keep an eye on it and keep your hair waste too. 😉

Would you consider or label your products made from human hair as vegan?

“Well, humans are animals too. So, I wouldn't use a vegan label on our products. But we would definitely label them as cruelty-free and guilt-free – because they are!”

WWVD: What would vegans do?

We asked more than 100 vegans about their thoughts and feelings on wearing human hair. Would they do it?

  • 14% would wear clothes made from human hair
  • 11% are still a bit hesitant about it
  • 75% said they would not wear human hair clothes

Interestingly, many of those vegans who were not open to this idea didn't mention the 'ew' association with human hair. They were more concerned about the ethical side of it. While the concept itself could be ethical, some worry that when money and living beings are involved, it creates room for exploitation, and greed unfortunately often wins. So on a larger scale, it is a “no” for many. Yet, if ethical sourcing is ensured and verified, they would be open to it, they explained. What do you think?

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A woman sitting on a chair and wearing black human hair blazerHuman Material Loop

The magic behind human hair: its qualities & properties

Is there an ideal type of hair to make clothes with?

“The ideal length of hair for us to use is around 3 to 6 cm long. And we use all types of hair, it doesn't matter if it is dyed or not.”

Fun fact #5: Men's hair grows faster than women's hair. 🧑‍🦰

What does the process of turning human hair into a sweater look like?

“The processing of human hair is similar to the processing of wool. But, of course, human hair is quite clean already. There is no dirt, blood, or feces as is the case for wool production, for instance.”

“Also, the whole process of turning human hair into a garment consists of 2 steps, while the processing of wool requires around 26 steps.”

“Other than that, transforming human hair works basically the same way as any other fiber-spinning process in the textile industry.”

Do you make clothes from 100% human hair or with a blend of materials?

“Our goal is to make 100% human hair fibers. Blending materials is a huge problem within the fashion industry because it makes recycling or reusing the product very difficult, if not impossible. So, we are working only with human hair yarn.”

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A man wearing blond human hair sweater and laying on the grassHuman Material Loop

What clothes can or can't be made with human hair?

“So, as human hair is very similar to wool, it can be used as a replacement for any wool-like or acrylic clothes. You can think of sweaters, shoes, fabrics for jackets, bags, curtains, carpets, and so forth.

Also, if you have a bag or a jacket made from human hair, you don't have to worry about getting completely soaked up in the water because human hair is water-resistant.”

Fun fact #6: The oldest human hair that was found on a mummy is 5500 years old. 👵🏻

“Currently, we are researching different applications and methods of processing human hair, so it could eventually enable us to create outdoor and workwear made from human hair.

Of course, we can't replace all types of fabrics in the market, so we are not going to make underwear or bikinis from human hair.”

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A close up of black human hair blazerHuman Material Loop

Human hair waste: a truly sustainable fashion material?

Is human hair a sustainable material?

“Yes! Our production is kept in a closed-loop system, which means that we not only work with waste material, but also that our own production waste is utilized in other industries.

Besides, the production of the current hair sweaters is almost climate neutral. We collected the hair waste from hair salons on bicycles, and little energy was involved to process it. And when you consider the waste we remove from landfill, human hair is actually very sustainable.”

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Zsofia Kollar on her bike with a bag of human hair wasteHuman Material Loop

“The fact that human hair as a raw material doesn't degrade any soil, uses no pesticides or other toxic chemicals and doesn't pollute any water makes it actually one of the most sustainable materials we can source.

We are still working on the life cycle analysis of our products. Its sustainability will depend on the volume put into production and at which location it is made. But our entire process and operations are designed to have as little negative impact on the environment as possible.”

Not-so-fun fact #7: In Europe alone, around 6 million kg of human hair is estimated to end up as waste in landfill or choke our drainage systems every month. This means 72 million kg of human hair is wasted per year. 🗑️

How durable are clothes from human hair?

“Human hair clothes are really a normal type of garment. We will know more once the life cycle analysis is finalized, but it can last for many many years as hair doesn't decompose in the air.”

Fun fact #8: Human hair has a strength-to-weight ratio similar to steel. It can be stretched up to one and half times its original length before breaking. 💪

“So, garments made with human hair can actually withstand a lot. Of course, you might bump into something or tear it accidentally, but you can easily patch up the holes.”

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Zsofia Kollar with a basket full of blond human hair wasteHuman Material Loop

How do you care for clothes from human hair?

“Our goal is to make it possible for clothes made from human hair to be washed in a washing machine.”

The future of human hair as fashion material

Where do you see Human Material Loop in the next 5 or 10 years?

“We would like to develop more technologies that would allow us to utilize human hair waste in different ways so it can be used in different industries too.

And of course, there are some hurdles to overcome too. That is why we work with engineers and scientists. The more creative people are put together, the more creative outcomes will come out of it. And there is nothing unsolvable.” 

Fun fact #9: Humans are the only species that have a huge concentration of hair in one specific spot on our bodies. Well, except for horses. 🐴

A bit of a hypothetical question… As wool production is not 'just' about shaving the animals, but actually is a very unethical business where sheep are mistreated and exploited, I am wondering about the ethics of human hair material in the future. If human hair becomes more popular in the fashion industry, how can we ensure that humans won't be exploited for their hair?

“The exploitation of humans for their hair is already happening, mostly for hair extensions. The long threads of hair are the most expensive parts of hair and that is not what we are working with.2,3

We are using human hair waste that nobody else could use. So, our focus is really on waste sources. And I don't think this can become an exploitative business. People will go to hair salons to get a new haircut and hair waste will always be created.

Also, I believe that all ethical businesses need to set up their own rules. For instance, we are not going to process human hair if it comes from an unethical place. Various companies, for example from the Philippines and other Asian countries, that are working with hair extensions reached out to us and we didn't want to work with them because we knew that they are exploitative towards people and children.

So, it is truly important to set up a code of conduct and decide how you work and who you work with. If you have very strict rules, no ethical or environmental compromises will be made.”

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Zsofia Kollar working in her studioHuman Material Loop

When can we expect your first human hair collection on the market?

“Hopefully, in summer 2023!”

Could you share with us what kind of products we can look forward to?

“Most likely it is going to be sneakers.”

Wow, sneakers from human hair?!

“Yes! Of course, the sole will be made with recycled materials, but the upper layer will be made from human hair waste.

The human hair sweater prototype that we made was meant as a conversation starter. But sneakers are a great introduction to human hair products for people to wear as there is more distance between one's skin and the human hair product. Even though some people are welcoming the idea of human hair as a fashion material, some are still a bit hesitant. And sneakers can help change people's perception of this material and its use.”

Stay in touch with Zsofia and Human Material Loop

Human Material Loop

Zsofia Kollar

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A woman wearing a black human hair blazer and flipping her hair backHuman Material Loop

From now on, only good hair days

Maybe next time you're feeling like you're having a bad hair day, you can think back to this blog and realize how valuable it is. No matter what it looks like. 💚

Hair can be a wonderful material – and it is not only Zsofia who thinks that! For instance, Sanne Visser, a Dutch designer based in London, makes human hair functional products such as water bottle holders or shoulder straps, and Ellie Birkhead is a British designer who makes bricks with human hair!4,5

So, we've got a feeling that this is not the last time we hear about human hair waste material.

But until then, we're very curious to hear your thoughts on human hair clothes. Are you all hyped up for the human hair sneakers, do you want to try out how the human hair sweater feels on your skin, or do you still have some doubts and need to let this sink in? Let us know on our Instagram!