Non-profit spends 50 hours of labour and up to 6 months to make each human-hair wig from donated hair


Of all the ponytails donated, not all will be made into wigs. In fact, many get eliminated at the beginning of the wig-making process. So how do they decide which ponytails to keep and which to toss

Cutting the hair is only the first step of the process and perhaps the easiest. From there, workers perform over 50 hours of manual labour to transform single ponytails into full-fledged wigs. This can take four to six months. 

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Hair We Share is a non-profit organisation that provides free wigs to people with hair loss due to a medical condition.

Suzanne Chimera, co-founder of Hair We Share, says: "So most people when they think hair loss they think cancer, we're way more than that. In the last month, we've serviced a motorcycle accident, domestic violence and two burn victims."

The co-founders enlist the help of 20 volunteers to sort through the donations at their New York headquarters.

The donated hair is sorted in categories of colour, texture and length. Sorters measure the hair to make sure it reaches the minimum length of eight inches (20.32cm), otherwise it can't be used. 

In addition to hair that is too short, a lot of other things disqualify donated hair, like hair that is highlighted, tangled or hair that has unnatural colours.

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"When we can't use hair, unfortunately, we discard it. We have tried to find companies that will use it to clean up oil spills and many of the companies we've contacted have said that they're getting too much hair," says Suzanne. 

The hair is sorted into eight colours, from black to light blonde to shades of grey. 

"When I look at hair I see 40 colours, I don't see eight hair colours. Once the hair is all mixed together, you're not going to know if it's light brown or medium brown and we all have more than one colour in our hair so it's perfectly fine. 

It takes six to nine ponytails to make a single wig. Those of similar colour, texture and length are packaged together and sent to Hair We Share's manufacturer. There, the ponytails go through a hackle to evenly trim the hair and remove any uneven or weak strands. During this stage anywhere from 10 percent to 60 percent of the hair could be lost, depending on the strength and health. But what is left is smooth blended hair.

The freshly heckled hair is then pressed to a holding card with tiny metal pins to ensure it doesn't get tangled again. Part of the hair is sewn into wax, which are then sewn onto the side and back of the wig cap. The rest of the hair strands are ventilated by hand - this is what makes the wigs look realistic. 

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Small strands of hair are pulled through a cap with a hook one by one. This is an extremely meticulous process that can take up to 10 hours per wig. After the last strand is ventilated, manufacturers send the finished wig back to Hair We Share where it's washed and styled. 

But not all of the donated ponytails are guaranteed to make to the manufacturer, even if they are perfectly usable. 

Co-founder of Hair We Share, Dean Riskin, says, "The ponytails cost us nothing because they're shipped to us. It's all labour intensive. Unless we have the financial donations this year we won't have enough money to create 3 700 wigs. Those ponytails have to sit in inventory until they're sponsored or funded."

But for the hair that does get made into wigs, it finds a new purpose with a recipient.

"I got used to being bald but honestly putting the wig on and having that beautiful... just this hair, makes me feel a little bit like my old self. It's a blessing," says Kristen Berggren, one of the wig recipients. 

Compiled by Phelokazi Mbude

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