What’s On

Vietnamese farmers make their millions from harvesting... hair!

By Cong Ly, Kim Thuy   June 6, 2016 | 04:41 pm GMT+7

Traveling all over the country and overseas in search for human hair has earned hundreds of Vietnam’s poor farmers a fortune from a business that does not even require a marketing strategy due to ever-increasing demand.

Buying hair is ridiculously simple. The buyer goes around with a speaker or microphone to let people know they are in the market for hair. If anyone wants to offer their hair, the buyer cuts it and bargains to get the best price.

Nguyen Xuan Quang from Hong Da Commune in Phu Tho Province goes on regular “working trips” to the neighboring countries of Laos and Cambodia to convince locals in remote areas to cut and sell their long hair. Each trip lasts about two months.

“It is such an exciting experience. I can earn money and have a chance to stretch my horizons. Traveling to other countries for hair, I get the opportunity to visit many famous historic sites. It is really interesting,” Quang said.

Like Quang, about 400 locals in the commune are involved in the hair business at present, making tens of millions of dong (up to $4,400) per month. Some even pocket hundreds of millions of dong. Farming is no longer tempting; hair is what locals are after.

thirsty-for-hair-how-vietnamese-farmers-turn-millionaires

A local with some hair he had bought. Photo by VnExpress

“Even the most creative mind could not imagine how much you can make from hair,” said local hair merchant Nguyen Thi Nha.

Hundreds of big houses have sprung up in the poorest village in the northern province of Phu Tho in stark contrast to the 80s when locals, even the elderly and kids, mostly lived off collecting garbage and scrap.

No one really remembers when the village stopped collecting scrap and started harvesting hair, but at some point they got out of the rubbish business and started traveling around the country in search for hair.

When domestic supply was no longer able to meet the demand, they took a bold step to sustain the business by driving to remote areas in Laos and Cambodia for more locks.

“In the remote areas, life is harsh. They seem to lack everything. Many need salt or sauce more than money. Sometimes, even several packages of noodles can be exchanged for a huge amount of hair,” a local said.

The main barrier is language. They usually hire an interpreter for about $9 per day, but many have learnt the languages themselves to reduce costs.

In the village, there are even wholesale agencies that buy large quantities of hair.

thirsty-for-hair-how-vietnamese-farmers-turn-millionaires-1

A local sorts out hair. Photo by VnExpress

The story is similar to Dong Tho Commune in Bac Ninh Province, where old and young are skilled at sorting through different kinds of hair.

After preliminary treatment, hair is sold to fashion shops or exported to China, Thailand or Korea.

Occupational hazards

The highly profitable business also carries with it many risks, mainly traffic accidents and robberies in remote areas.

“Only after stepping into my house did I believe that I was still alive. In a remote area in Laos I visited, the population was very sparse.  Sometimes you had to travel tens of kilometers to find a house. My sister and I had to store gas in a big can in case we ran out […] Everything comes at a price,” Nguyen Thi Nha, a local said.

Sometimes, hair buyers could be beaten for…no reason at all. There was a time when rumors said that vendors can do some hypnotism to rob or kidnap kids, many hair buyers were alleged to be among these criminals. They were beaten right after locals heard their voices.

Despite these dangers, locals are still thirsty for hair, and many have abandoned farming to go on the hunt for this strangely profitable commodity!