This is something Angela Su leans into. ‘I would say getting the “ick” response is a compliment,’ says Su. ‘Perhaps when hair leaves the body it signifies sickness, old age or even violence. I think these all [pose] interesting questions.’ While many people would baulk at wearing a garment made of hair or putting a work of art made from it on their walls, few seem bothered when it comes in the form of wigs and extensions, if the $6 billion global hair industry is any indication.
Hair is also used in industrial applications, including cosmetic brushes, sutures, fertiliser, oil spill remediation, and even as a source of amino acids in food and pharmaceuticals. Via the global supply chain, we are all truly connected by hair. It is also used to make sustainable composite building materials because of its tensile strength – one option to reduce the environmental fallout from the bio-degradation of waste hair in drainage systems and landfills.
‘I think it’s good to talk about sustainability and finding solutions [for] using human hair,’ says Alix Bizet. But in addition to knowing the source of waste hair and considering the ‘ethical aspects of using other people’s DNA’, Bizet says, ‘there is this question of biopolitics: when you stop controlling your waste and then it’s been taken, and then it turns into gold, where do the profits go and which community gets what out of it?’