Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Locks Market: The Truth Behind the Business of Hair Extensions


By Katherine Zoepf

There's just no way around it -- the bald women are alarming-looking. In this small city in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, they're also everywhere: grandmothers and gawky teenagers and pretty young matrons by the hairless hundreds, walking along the road or squashed into the backs of minibuses or waiting cross-legged in the shade in front of the municipal train station. It's impossible to look directly at them, at first. Despite their gold jewelry and bright saris, their palely gleaming scalps call to mind prisoners, cancer patients, inmates of a 19th-century insane asylum.

The women -- and men, too, though the sight of men with freshly shaved heads is far less startling -- are religious pilgrims visiting Tirumala, a temple of the Vaishnava sect of Hinduism high in the red granite hills above the town of Tirupati. Since the ninth century, devout Hindus have been coming here to pay their respects to the resident deity, Lord Venkateswara, one of the forms of the god Vishnu. And for many of these pilgrims, a visit to the temple is not complete without tonsuring -- a ritual shaving off of all their hair as a gesture of devotion and gratitude to the god. These devotees believe that if they give up their hair, the god will grant them any wish. But in recent years, the practice of tonsuring -- aided by the implacable forces of globalization -- has also helped to make Tirumala into one of the richest religious pilgrimage sites in the world.

For the reason, look no further than the pages of the nearest celebrity gossip weekly. The lush, high-quality hair extensions beloved by celebrities such as Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Britney Spears, and Jessica Simpson have helped create a soaring Western demand for "temple hair," as it is often called. Temple hair most often comes from Tirumala, by far the largest of the South Indian temples where tonsuring is practiced. And at Tirumala, the glossy, healthy, waistlength hair from the heads of young Indian women -- women who typically have not cut their hair since early childhood, and who have never allowed anything harsher than fresh coconut oil and herbal Ayurvedic soap to touch it -- fetches the highest prices.

Brett Butcher, the national program director for the American arm of the Italy-based high-end hair-extensions maker Great Lengths, is rhapsodic as he describes the strength and beauty of temple hair. Even after it has been sorted, cleaned, processed, stripped of color, recolored one of 56 available hues, stitched into extensions, curled or straightened, and bonded to a woman's natural hair, extensions made with temple hair can last for up to six months, all the while being brushed, washed, and styled just as if they were their wearer's own strands.

"It's the highest-quality hair that's available to the mass market in the world," Butcher says. "And the best part is that it's donated by these women, to pay tribute at the temples."

In fact, it can feel a little disconcerting for a foreign visitor to see just how freely thousands of women do give up their hair at Tirumala each day. In the temple's main tonsuring room, a line of women wait, barefoot, on a white tile floor that is grimy, slippery, and strewn with matted clumps of hair. The women are wearing their festival best, saris and shalwar kameez in shades of shocking pink or turquoise or tangerine, and some of them have garlands of jasmine wound around their long braids. One by one the women sit on the floor before a line of five impassive-looking female barbers with towels spread across their laps. One by one they lower their heads forward over the tiled floor.

The barbers are brisk, businesslike. They scarcely look up as they work, periodically dunking the razors in buckets of cold water and taking care to scrape off even the fine hair on the nape of a woman's neck or below her ears. On average, the temple goes through 50,000 blades a day. One by one the women stand up, staggering slightly, perhaps dizzy as the blood rushes from their heads. Their hair -- vast quantities of it -- is being swept into giant steel bins, about eight feet high and roughly twice the diameter of a standard New York City trash can. But most of the women leave the room quickly and don't even turn around to look. If they're aware that anything happens to their hair after they leave, they don't show it.

Teams of men empty the steel bins, methodically stuffing skein after skein of hair into burlap sacks. The sacks of hair are then brought to a central collection point -- several Quonset hut-shaped warehouses behind the temple's main marketing office -- where the hair is spread out and dried. An unmistakably scalpy coconut-oil smell emanates from the wide-gauge screen windows of these vast storage sheds. Inside, the dark piles of human hair are waist-deep.

Good-quality hair -- typically from young women -- that is more than 16 inches long can sell for 12,000 rupees (around $245) per kilogram or more, says Mayoor Balsara, who heads SDTC Exports, an independent company that buys temple hair from Tirumala, does part of its processing, then sells it to Great Lengths. "Because they understand that hair has value, they take great care that it's collected and stored in a proper manner," Balsara says of Tirumala's administrators. (SDTC Exports monitors the temple's storage procedures.) And for good reason: "We call it black gold," says O. Balaji, the chief accounts officer of the Tirumala temple, proudly. After the hair is dried, it is sorted into grades, depending on its length. The price for temple hair has more than tripled over the past five years, thanks to the burgeoning hair-extension industry -- a fact that "was really a big surprise for us," Balaji says. "Really now it is fetching a good amount. The hair must be given lots of importance here because of the amount of revenue it produces. Our deity is now the richest deity in the world."

Three or four times a year, the hair collected at Tirumala is sold at auction. Approximately 500 tons of human hair is sold per year, Balsara says. Before the hair extensions craze began, about ten years ago, the hair was sold to wigmakers or to furniture companies as mattress stuffing -- but far less of it was sold, and for far less money. The hair now brings the temple 100 crore rupees (approximately $20.6 million) annually. The money, Balsara says, is all poured back into the temple and the community: providing the free meal that each needy pilgrim is eligible to receive upon a visit to the temple, for example, and supporting local hospitals and religious schools.

"My favorite thing about Great Lengths, which I just love, love, love, is that the hair is a huge source of revenue for these needy communities," Butcher says. (Great Lengths is not the only company that buys hair originating from Tirumala -- hair extensions makers and wigmakers worldwide purchase temple hair -- but it is the biggest.) "The temple funds schools and medical centers," Butcher says. "It maybe looks a little brutal when you see the hair being cut off, but the pilgrims feel that it's really an honor for them to do this."

Fair enough, but are the female pilgrims to Tirumala -- whose hair fetches the money -- aware of what their hair is worth, or of the simple fact that it's being sold in the first place?

In the warm morning sunlight outside the tonsuring room, the mood among all the so-called "tonsure pilgrims" -- the roughly 10 percent of visitors to Tirumala who donate their hair -- has lightened, now that the ritual is complete. Hindu holy Muzak plays in the background and families mill around the gift shops, gardens, and snack stalls outside the main temple. Small children are wailing -- after having their own hair cut off or perhaps confronting a bald mother for the first time -- and the passersby shoot their parents warm, understanding looks. But among the adults, there seems to be a sense of giddiness and shared relief that the tonsuring ordeal has passed.

Para Sakthi, a 40-year-old pilgrim wearing a fuchsia sari and a large gold nose ring and clutching her 6-year-old daughter, Manju, by the hand, explains that she and Manju were both tonsured that morning as a gesture of thanks for the health of their cow.

"We had a cow at home that was sick," explains Sakthi, who is from the city of Vellore, in Tamil Nadu. "Everyone was earning money from the cow -- that cow supported us all. We asked God to please heal our cow, and it worked. Now our cow is better, so we have come to Tirumala."

Asked how long her hair had been before making her pilgrimage to Tirumala for tonsuring, Sakthi grins broadly and gestures at a point on her lower thigh. "I wanted to offer it to God," she says. "I have grown my hair since childhood. If you have a problem and God helps, this is what you do."

Sakthi furrows her brow momentarily when asked if she knows that the hair from tonsurings at Tirumala is later sold to make hair extensions. When told that hair extensions can cost as much as $3,000 at salons in the United States -- more than triple the average yearly per capita income in India, just over $800 -- her smile vanishes. She rolls her eyes skyward.

"Well, I didn't know this, that our hair was sold," Sakthi says. "But it doesn't bother me as long as the money goes to God."

But the money certainly doesn't all go to the temple. After the hair is sold at temple auctions to Indian hair brokers, it typically is sold to factories in India where it is sorted by length and goes through the first stages of cleaning, fumigating, and processing. Then it is sold to wigmakers or hair-extensions makers, who process the hair further at facilities in Tunisia and Italy. From there, it is sold to distributors in dozens of countries around the world, who in turn sell the hair extensions to salons. All involved take a cut.

After their tonsuring, Sakthi and Manju join the line to get into the main temple. "Doing darshan," as viewing the statue of Lord Venkateswara in the temple's inner sanctum is called, typically follows the head-shaving ritual and can take 14 hours or more. It is a deeply emotional experience for many pilgrims. When, after a very long day in line (darshan is a strictly shoes-off affair, and there's lots of murky standing water -- with the occasional rat and submerged rock), the pilgrims come within sight of the statue, many burst into tears. So many pilgrims try to sink to their knees, or even faint, in front of the statue that temple workers sometimes physically push the crowd along.

In the train station, two sisters from Hyderabad, 25-year-old Rana and 26-year-old Mangamma, shriek with laughter and clutch each other in disbelief when told, in brief, about the economics of the hair-extensions industry, with the $3,000 figure translated into Indian rupees. Both sisters wear pretty paisley scarves tied kerchief-style over their newly bald heads; both say that their hair had reached below their waists until that morning.

Mangamma claps her hands over her mouth, then over her ears. "I didn't know this!" she exclaims, and repeats herself several times. "I didn't know!" Rana, with delicately arched brows and enormous brown eyes, recovers her composure more quickly. She asks again for an explanation of what hair extensions are and why exactly Western women like Indian hair so much. Then she nods, as if it all suddenly makes perfect sense. "It is for the god, and we are happy," Rana says firmly.

There is a moment of awkwardness as Mangamma absorbs her sister's words and nods slowly. Has her joy in the Tirumala pilgrimage been spoiled with crass talk of the international hair trade, the extensions industry, the coloring and processing and fumigating and stitching that the sisters' heartfelt sacrifice will soon undergo?

But Rana does indeed seem serenely happy: intrigued and flattered to learn that the beauty of Indian hair is known and appreciated by Hollywood celebrities, and even more proud of the gift she's just offered to her beloved deity.

Of course, thousands of young women like her aren't aware of what happens to their Tirumala sacrifice, their beautiful hair. Would it matter to them? Would they want to know? And if they don't know, and are happy, should it matter to us?



The hair-extensions industry has made it easy to get lush tresses. Answering the moral questions it raises is more complicated.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Morgan Freeman discharged from hospital

By Associated Press

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Morgan Freeman was discharged Thursday from a Tennessee hospital after the Oscar-winning actor was treated for broken bones and other injuries sustained in a weekend car crash in Mississippi.

Kathy Stringer, a spokeswoman for the Regional Medical Center, said Freeman was discharged but gave no other details.

The 71-year-old actor was hospitalized after the accident Sunday left him with a broken arm, broken elbow and shoulder damage.

Demaris Meyer, 48, of Memphis, a passenger in the car driven by Freeman, was also injured in the crash.

Accesss Hollywood reported Wednesday that Freeman's lawyer, Bill Luckett, said Freeman and his wife of 24 years, Myrna Colley-Lee, had been separated since December and are getting a divorce. Luckett was also quoted in several newspapers Thursday, but did not give further details.

There was no answer Thursday at phone numbers for Luckett or for Freeman's publicist, Donna Lee.

No divorce papers have been filed in Tallahatchie County where Freeman owns a home with Colley-Lee, according to Tallahatchie County Chancery Clerk Anita Mullen Greenwood.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Actor Morgan Freeman is critically injured in car accident

By HOLBROOK MOHR, Associated Press Writer

Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman is in a hospital in Memphis, Tenn., on Monday after being seriously injured in a car accident near his home in Mississippi.

Regional Medical Center spokeswoman Kathy Stringer said Freeman, 71, is in serious condition. The hospital is about 90 miles north of the accident scene in rural Tallahatchie County in the Mississippi Delta.

Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Ben Williams said Freeman was driving a 1997 Nissan Maxima belonging to Demaris Meyer of Memphis when the car left a rural highway and flipped several times shortly before midnight Sunday.

"There's no indication that either alcohol or drugs were involved," Williams said. He said both Freeman and Meyer were wearing seat belts. The woman's condition was not immediately available.

Freeman was airlifted to the hospital in Tennessee.

Clay McFerrin, editor of Sun Sentinel in Charleston, said he arrived at the accident scene on Mississippi Highway 32 soon after it happened about 5 miles west of Charleston, not far from where Freeman owns a home with his wife.

McFerrin said it appeared that Freeman's car was airborne when it left the highway and landed in a ditch.

"They had to use the jaws of life to extract him from the vehicle," McFerrin said. "He was lucid, conscious. He was talking, joking with some of the rescue workers at one point."

McFerrin said bystanders converged on the scene trying to get a glimpse of the actor.

When one person tried to snap a photo with a cell phone camera, Freeman joked, "no freebies, no freebies," McFerrin said.

Freeman won an Oscar for his role in "Million Dollar Baby." His screen credits also include "The Shawshank Redemption," "Driving Miss Daisy" and "The Dark Knight," now in theaters.

He was born in Memphis, Tenn., but spent much of his childhood in the Mississippi Delta. He is a co-owner of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale.

The hospital where Freeman is being treated is commonly known as The Med, and is an acute-care teaching facility that serves patients within 150 miles of Memphis.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Cruise tries to reshape image on Oprah

By Tom Shales

Sofa, So Good: Tom Cruise's Mission: Oprah

"I never stop learning," Tom Cruise boasted proudly from his corner of the couch, and Oprah Winfrey beamed back at him from hers. Together again on "The Oprah Winfrey Show" (but this time on Cruise's couch) for their first powwow since Cruise made like a jumping jack three years ago, the two superstars put their heads together and tried to effect a little Cruise control.

Since leaping about on Winfrey's studio furniture as he declared undying love for third wife Katie Holmes, Cruise has bumbled through a series of embarrassing antics and tarnished his status as a box office barnstormer. Winfrey obligingly tossed softball questions his way during the first half of a two-part Cruise schmooze broadcast yesterday; Part 2, taped in a studio, airs Monday.

Arriving at the movie star's mountaintop mansion near Telluride, Colo., Winfrey gaped at the postcard views and gushed, "I want to weep, it's so beautiful." She hugged Katie and Tom in the mudroom -- where a pair of personalized moccasins awaited Winfrey's arrival-- and then got a tour of the woodsy house from Cruise, Holmes quickly making herself scarce. She and Cruise had made a point of holding hands, however, while on-camera together.

When Cruise showed Winfrey a collection of his movie scripts handsomely bound in leather, Winfrey exclaimed, "This is the coolest thing!" When he showed Winfrey his daughter Suri's miniature office, Winfrey shouted, "Oh, my God" and "Oh, that is perfect, Tom." Thrilled to pieces by the family kitchen, Winfrey said, "Oh, I love a great kitchen" and "It's so normal! It's so kitchen-like!"

The tour eventually over, Tom & Oprah took to the couch for questions about Cruise's behavior, starting with what Winfrey solemnly called "the sofa incident" of 2005.

"I was like, 'Wow, what was that?' " Winfrey recalled. "If you could take it back," she asked Cruise, "would you still jump on the sofa?"

Cruise said, "It was a moment and it was real" and "I just felt that way. . . . That was just how I felt."

So apparently the answer is yes.

Cruise tried teasing Winfrey: "You were egging me on," he said. "You were egging me on. . . . You were egging me on."

Finally he said that what he was feeling that day was hard to put into words, though that seems true of almost every feeling he has. "I can't even articulate it," he said. "It's something I just can't articulate."

Winfrey brought up other shenanigans Cruise has perpetrated in recent years, like offering unsolicited medical and psychiatric opinions on the "Today" show about postpartum depression to Brooke Shields and advising her to follow the dictates of Scientology, to which Cruise subscribes.

"What happened to you in that interview?" asked Winfrey, who then offered up a potential excuse. "Had you had enough sleep?" Said Cruise: "I was pressed." Of his drum-banging on behalf of his church, Cruise said, "I'm not trying to tell anyone how they should lead their life," adding that Scientologists don't do that because "we're here to help."

But Cruise's troubles continued. The paparazzi who stalked the actor night and day were becoming more brazen, especially as rumors circulated that the Cruises were about to begin a family. Poor Tom, said Winfrey: "It was really like being hunted like a dog."

She said the rumors "spun into something unimaginable," and Cruise imaginatively added, "Unimaginable, really."

After someone at a doctor's office leaked the results of his wife's pregnancy test to "the media," Cruise decided to set up a better defense. He bought a sonogram machine and talked Holmes's doctor into coming to their house. An unauthorized biography of Cruise, Winfrey said, implied that little Suri wasn't even really Cruise's child, while mean old gossipmongers made such nasty cracks as comparing the newborn child to "Rosemary's Baby." Even nastier wisecrackers spread rumors that the baby was "deformed."

Through this recitation of misfortunes, Cruise maintained his composure; in fact, he usually managed to flash his somewhat nightmarish grin no matter how discomforting the memories.

Strangely, though, Winfrey didn't really grill Cruise on the biggest crisis of all: Fed up with Cruise's cuckoo behavior, Viacom CEO Sumner Redstone, well-known crotchety billionaire, "fired" Cruise by ending the relationship between the actor's production company and Paramount Pictures, one of Viacom's media properties.

"His recent conduct has not been acceptable to Paramount," Redstone said -- apparently with a straight face, though coming up with a definition of Conduct Unbecoming a Movie Star would be the neatest trick of the week. Winfrey didn't mention this, nor the fact that public displeasure with Cruise's obnoxiousness resulted in a lower box office take than expected for "Mission: Impossible III," Cruise's latest action thriller.

Said Redstone of his own wife's attitude toward Cruise: "Paula, like women everywhere, had come to hate him." Cruise, meanwhile, didn't mention Redstone or Paramount during the interview. He was seen earlier this year having lunch with Redstone in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel, sparking rumors of a reconciliation -- and perhaps of a "Mission Impossible: IV."

Maybe Winfrey will get into this kind of thing during the second part of what is auspiciously billed as "The Tom Cruise Interview." Part 1 was really devoted more to personal, warm, cute-puppy stuff -- as when the subject turned to Suri, who was off somewhere sleeping.

"Let's talk about that baby girl of yours," said Winfrey.

"She really is just magic," said Cruise.

"Magical is a great way to explain it," Winfrey said a little later. But Cruise had another way: "There are moments of real joy. Yeah, joy. She's just [pause] joy," he said, searching for the right word. He told a long story about dressing up as Santa Claus one Christmas and appearing at the front door. When he got to the punch line, he sounded like any other proud papa anywhere in the world: "And Suri looks at me and she says, 'No, Dah-Dah'!" Cruise said, exploding in laughter.

He thought that was easily the cutest, funniest, sweetest little old thing in the world, or so it appeared.

Earlier, Winfrey had announced an urgent need to "pee" as a way of breaking for a commercial. Near the end of the hour, she stuck a bare foot into the camera lens to demonstrate how "comfortable" she felt even though, she told Cruise, "I swear, driving up here, my heart started palpitating -- and it wasn't the altitude." Oh, come on, Oprah; are you saying you were just all a-flutter about confronting Tom Cruise again? Give me a break. Better yet, give me $20 million; you'll never miss it.

When last seen, Winfrey was zooming off into snowy woods on the back of Cruise's snowmobile, the actor handling the driving. "You've gotten to live your dream," she'd told Cruise earlier. "You've gotten to live your dream." Looking again at the vastness of the vista, she misted up and turned to Cruise.

"I wish for you the peace that this mountain can bring," Winfrey said. "I wish this for you. I really do." She seemed to be waiting for a heavenly choir to sing the words she'd just spoken, but none showed up.

Mariah Carey marries actor Nick Cannon

Yahoo! Movies

NEW YORK - Nick Cannon is cast as Mariah Carey's lover in her new video but has the superstar diva given the young actor a considerably bigger role in real life?

According to several published reports, Carey, 38, married Cannon, 27, on Wednesday. Neither Carey's publicist nor Cannon's manager returned requests from The Associated Press for comment.

If the pair did indeed wed, it would be a whirlwind romance. Word that the two were seeing each other first surfaced in the past few weeks. Last Saturday, Carey was seen sporting a huge diamond ring on her finger at the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of her movie, "Tennessee," in which she plays a waitress. Cannon was at her side at the party. Speculation swirled that the couple were engaged.

Latina.com was first to report that the two got married, at Carey's home in the Bahamas. Friday's New York Post also had the pair wed. People magazine on its Web site Friday quoted a clergyman, Bishop Clifford Petty of the National Church of God in the Caribbean, as saying he presided over the wedding.

E Online quoted a relative of Cannon's as saying that he called his family and confirmed the news.

"He called us and told us all about it. We are happy for him. If that is what he wants, then we are happy for him," Linda Cannon, identified simply as a family member, was quoted telling E.

People reported Friday that Carey had obtained a marriage license on the island of Eleuthera, in the Bahamas, where she has an estate.

Cannon has put out a rap album but is best known for his role in the movie "Drumline" and a Nickelodeon TV series (yes, Nickelodeon Cannon is 11 years Carey's junior). He's featured in Carey's upcoming video for "Bye Bye."

While Carey and Cannon (or is it the Cannons?) were playing coy, the famed jeweler Jacob & Co. was quick to publicize its apparent role in the reputed union with a news release touting the ring Cannon reportedly gave her.

The release described it as "crafted from platinum and features a square emerald cut fancy light pink diamond as the center stone surrounded by 58 intense pink diamonds and two half moon diamonds on each side.

"The total carat weight of the ring center stone is 10 carats is a jaw-dropping 17 carats with a value of $2.5 million."

Cannon does have experience with engagement rings. The actor, who has previously romanced singer Christina Milian and voluptuous reality star Kim Kardashian, last year gave a 15-carat stone to Victoria's Secret model Selita Ebanks as he proposed in grand fashion on the Jumbotron in New York's Times Square. Cameras were flashing as she said yes. They split just a few months later.

The Carey-Cannon match is already getting considerably more ink, leaving some to wonder whether it's a publicity stunt: After all, she's just released a No. 1 album ("EMC2" is on the top of the charts), and he has at least four movies due out this year.

But then again, Carey is one of the most successful artists in music, and hardly needs a marriage to get attention: She's already scored a No. 1 hit off the album with "Touch My Body."

This would be Cannon's first marriage but Carey's second. She famously wed top music executive Tommy Mottola in an extravagant wedding in 1993. They had a bitter divorce in 1998.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Actress SJP wears £4.50 dress to premiere

Yahoo! News (Yahoo! Movies - UK & IRELAND)

What would Carrie say? SJP steps out in £4.50 dress

Her Sex and the City character Carrie Bradshaw is famed for sporting stylish and expensive outfits, but Sarah Jessica Parker showed her thrifty side, stepping out at a recent premiere wearing a £4.50 dress.

The actress wore the budget frock, which is cheaper than a cinema ticket for the forthcoming SATC movie, at the premiere of Then She Found Me in New York last week.

The budget blue and white strapless gown is part of her own Bitten label, which is available in US fashion chain Steve + Barry. She said, "I had never heard of Steve + Barry's (before signing up with them), and I didn't know anyone else who had. But I loved their manifesto and ideas."

Other items in the range include jeans, dresses, jumpers and shoes, and they all sell for less than a fiver.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Beyonce and Jay-Z finally tie the knot

Yahoo! News

US singer and actress Beyonce has married her longtime companion, hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, at a private ceremony in New York, People magazine reported on its website Saturday.

The weekly quoted an unidentified friend of the couple as saying the couple had tied the knot at Jay-Z's penthouse apartment in the exclusive Tribeca area of the city late on Friday.

"Jay wanted it to be a really private affair -- close friends and family," it quoted the friend as saying.

Guests at the party, which was reportedly decorated with more than 50,000 white orchids flown in from Thailand, included former Destiny's Child members Kelly Rowland and Michelle Williams, and the couple's friend Gwyneth Paltrow.

Speculation had mounted since earlier this week that the couple were about to tie the knot after it was reported they had just taken out a marriage license -- good for 60 days -- in New York state.

Beyonce, 26, found stardom with the R&B group Destiny's Child before embarking on a solo music career in 2003 with the album "Dangerously in Love."

Her second album "B'day" was released in September 2006. Also an actress, she starred as Foxxy Cleopatra in "Austin Powers in Goldmember," going on to appear in the latest "The Pink Panther" movie and "Dreamgirls."

Jay-Z, 38, born Shawn Carter, was head of Def Jam records and has sold more than 35 million albums as a rapper since 1996.

He was this week reported to be on the verge of signing a 150 million dollar deal with concert promoter Live Nation -- which would be one of the biggest ever deals in the music business.