Material Monday: Human Hair

Material Monday: Human Hair

Posted 8 May 2017 by Nirvana CPH

Traditionally hair is a substance we want to remove from our bodies but have remain on our heads. A sign of ageing perhaps but also a considerably strong renewable material source. This week Seetal Solanki of Ma-tt-er discusses the many attribute hair can possess as a potential material.

The UK alone produces at least 6.5 kg of human hair waste on an annual basis which decorates our landfills over a long period of time releasing toxic gases and clogging up our drainage system.

Designers are introducing hair as a potential resource due to its valuable properties. Whether the high tensile strength, thermal insulation, flexibility, oil absorbency or its lightweight nature hair can provide a useful and practical material use within design.

Sanne Visser ‘The New Age of Trichology’ collection is all about harnessing the potential of hair. Visser has created a series of utilitarian products which emphasises the tensile strength that hair naturally possesses with an investigation into different ethnicities. Visser explains that ‘Asian hair growth is the fastest, about 15 cm a year, whereas Caucasian hair grows 13cm a year and Afro hair 10cm a year. Focusing on its strength, African hair seems to be the most fragile, breaking under a strain of 60 grams after an elongation of 40%. At the other end of the scale, Asian hair is the strongest, withstanding a weight of 100 grams and an elongation of 55% for a single hair.’

So she then went on to create ropes that could withstand different weighted objects that look similar to a bungee cord that could hold an entire human.

Zsofia Kollar’s ‘Human Hair Transformation’ collection of woven textiles made from blonde human hair absorbs an essential oil to gradually scent the room it’s within. Kollar’s initial research explored the strength whereby ‘A whole head of hair could support up to 2 tons. Healthy hair, when wet, can stretch to 30% its original length. Hair is stronger than a copper wire of the same diameter.’

Finally Studio Swine’s ‘Hair Highway’ is an an exploration of hair outside of the beauty industry and its cultural crossovers. Designers of Studio Swine Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves travelled to China and visited a hair market in the area of Shandong to get a deeper insight into the hair trade, a region that processes human hair as a resale product.

This project was challenging preconceptions and about using hair as a material by applying it into a familiar context and dehumanising hair Studio Swine created a series of hair accessories that would traditionally be made from tortoise shell or wood. The process uses human hair and a natural resin and once set the material can behave in a similar fashion to a tropical wood. Therefore creating a deep and meaningful relationship between the raw material and the final product.

Could hair be a future resource?