It is no surprise that when it comes to buying hair online that China is the world’s number one producer of wigs, hair and hair products. Those who wish to sell online turn to China for their hair and wig product needs. It seems necessary to share some of the vital information on China’s hair products industry.
The hair industry’s primary geographical locale in China
The wig and hair industry of China is rather concentrated with the primary focus being in Xuchang, Qingdao, Taihe, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Shaoyang. Some from the West who buy hair products find them in Yiwu, China. However, the Zhejiang province does not offer any advantages, pricing, quality, shipping and the like,when it comes to buying for the hair products industry.
Xuchang, Henan, the historical birthplace of the Chinese wig industry
Why is this city known for its hair and wig production? It is all because of a small sewing needle.
Dating back before the 19th century when the Qing Dynasty still ruled, all people, men and women alike, had long hair that hung to the waist. By 1911, China had a revolution, and the National Revolutionary Movement under the leadership of Mr. Sun Yat-sen overthrew the feudal monarch. This lead to a ‘braid cutting’ movement within the country. The idea of long hair was losing favor within the country, and this lead to an abundance of human hair with no apparent function or use.
German merchants coming from Europe saw the hair and immediately began buying it – seeing a valuable business opportunity. One German merchant in particular went into the deep parts of Xuchang, buying the previously cut hair and shipping it back to Germany for processing. These new hair products were sold across Europe and led to more and more Westerners buying wigs and hair accessories. Europe fast became the birthplace of the hair processing industry with Xuchang being the provider of the human hair needed.
The sewing needle part? At no point did the Germans use money for the hair. They bartered the hair for high quality sewing needles – highly needed and coveted by the people.
The Germans kept the hair processing in Xuchang for some time, but as the market grew and changed, the German people brought the tools of the hair processing trade – wooden combs, forks and platforms to detangle the long tresses. They also taught the local villagers the hair processing techniques. The villagers would do the rough processing work – pulling, straightening, separating the hair into lengths and tying together into bundles. The hair would then be ready for packing and exporting to the West.
The exportation of human raw hair continued to be Xuchang’s primary role in the hair industry, but by the 1930’s, the city started the basics of hair products and production. This represents the genesis of Xuchang and the Chinese hair industry.
By the 1950’s, hair production and products, with the modernization of the techniques in Xuchange, shifted from Europe to the East with Hong Kong and Taiwan leading the way.
Moving on to the 1960’s and 1970’s, the advancement in technology and relatively low labor costs catapulted South Korea to the top of the hair product production and processing, finally surpassing Europe. China, by now, was the primary source of raw materials for wigs, toupees and hair extensions. The people of Xuchang, already working with raw hair, saw the potential of the hair industry and took action. In the 1970’s, the rough processing of hair began in earnest.
December 18, 1978 proved to be a major day for the Chinese people and its history. The country decided to reform and open its borders to Western trade. Under the guidance of the government, the Chinese people began to trade and open private businesses independently of direct government influence.
By the mid-to-late 1980’s, Xuchang’s swiftly growing hair production industry shifted to deep processing technology of human hair. The rise of the Sino-foreign company concept, a cooperative of Eastern and Western companies, was key in the development of hair production and products. By now, China was no longer just a supplier of human hair but was leading the world with semi-finished and finished hair products.
Wig demand in Europe, the U.S. and Africa spread from the East, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the like, meaning the demand for human hair skyrocketed. Xuchang, by this point, had all but stopped producing human hair for export because of a lack of raw hair available.
The people of Xuchang responded almost immediately to the rising demands and flocked to the deep recesses of rural China. Hawkers, hired specifically for this purpose, would go through the villages in each province. They would call out, “I am here to buy your hair! I want any long hair that you have!”
Buyers would examine the hair for length, weigh and evaluate before payment. Much like the business of appraising and selling antiques, the hair evaluation process covered many different steps and elements before determining value.
The people of Xuchang were only the providers of the raw materials at this point. Profits were made during the post-processing and hair product production in the big three processing centers of Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea. The reason is simple: there was more to the hair than creating the wig. “Hair design” was the key. Some of the more fundamental hairstyles could be managed in the factories, but the real designs required the touch of professional hairdressers in salons with a stellar sense of fashion and key eye for design detail.
Xuchang did not have this capability as its focus was almost strictly OEM. There are a few who would sell hair directly to Europe and the U.S., but the numbers remained small. The majority of hair was collected in the various villages of the province, brought to Xuchang and sold to Qingdao, Shenzen, Hong Kong and other cities for additional processing. “Deep processing” helped drive the Japanese and Korean wig industries. Some countries would take the OEM wig, attach their own personal label and sell to a variety of consumers.
The 1990’s saw Xuchang ready to corner the hair production and product market for itself. The “Xuchang County Hair Products General Factory” bought the equipment necessary and began the deep processing steps for finished hair products. This included wigs of various hair styles and direct OEM wig orders from foreign buyers. Wig production was standardized and industrialized within the city. The Xuchang hair industry began its first steps to independence to self-production and sales.
Simultaneously, Japanese and Korean hair products and production was on the decline. Raw material resources and increasing labor costs meant more and more withdrawing from the hair production industry. Others continued with production in the Chinese cities of Shenzhen, Qingdao, Tianjin and Xuchang with sole proprietorship or Sino-foreign ventures. Still more shifted to the synthetic hair wig industry, allowing the human hair production to concentrate in mainland China.
In 2016, Xuchang wigs were the pillar industry for the city and province. Backed with the government and leading enterprises, large-scale factories and industrial parks became the norm. The wig industry by now was operating in large scale and regular fashion with production and processing leading the way. Xuchang became, and still, is the world’s largest distribution center and export base for hair products. The raw material and labor costs weighing heavily in their favor, Xuchang is a leader in the wig industry internationally. The African market is a large percentage of the customer base with Europe and the U.S. also forming solid customers. The Chinese wig industry also began serious research into technology and development, leaning heavily on scientific research institutions or establishing their own research facilities and teams. This had led to a variety of technical patents, increasing realistic synthetic hair fibers and closing the gap between Japanese and Korean synthetic hair production.
Moving to 2017 to 2021, the Chinese wig production industry is well diversified. Two major elements of hair production – China International Hair Fair and China International Salon Show – brings hairdressers from Europe, America, Japan, Korea, and China to design the most cutting-edge looks and fashions for the hair industry. The top teams are producing styles and products into the tens of thousands because of these two promotions.
Qingdao, Shandong – The second largest producer of Chinese wigs
Qingdao has an important geographic advantage. It is close to both Japan and South Korea. The wigs from this location rose rapidly in the 1980’s, with the port advantage bringing in a large number of high-quality customers from Europe and the U.S.
Changes in the trade laws and the hair product industry in general mean the Qingdao wig industry relies more and more on trade advantages and technological advances for their development. Wig companies in Qingdao are primarily small and medium-sized companies. There are more companies than in Xuchang, but the production and export quantity is much smaller. Additionally, there is no cost advantage in buying hair products in Xuchang, so the Qingdao wig companies are much more attune to the added value of their products. This means the unit price of Qingdao wigs is higher than the Xuchang models. Qingdao also trade primarily in 100 percent human hair products for the upper markets of Europe, the U.S. and Africa.
Geography plays a large role in Qingdao as a producer of wigs. Approximately 540 kilometers from Qingdao westward is the county of Juancheng. Here in Juancheng County, Heze City, Shandong Province has the moniker of the ‘hometown of human hair.’ This location represents the largest distribution center for human hair in Shandong and is the No. 1 distribution center for human hair raw materials north of the Yellow River. The equivalent location south of the Yellow River for the same is Taihe County, Anhui.
Juancheng has a long, rich history for human hair in China. Returning to the 1970’s, a group of farmers switched their focus to the human hair business. This increase of human hair businesses meant the Jindi human hairmarkets formed in Jindkou of Juancheng in the early 1980’s – one of the first professional markets in the country at this time. By 1993, Zhengying Township in Juancheng raised eight million yuan for a large-scale human hair market. This market covers an impressive 120 acres (49 hectares) with supporting facilities.
Backed by a supportive local government, the Zhengying human hair market continues to grow and thrive. A good number of foreign merchants have established themselves in the market and is now a leader in professional hair markets across China. In 1999, Gimje’s human hair market expanded a second time. It is now the Fuchun human hair professional market encompassing 54,000 sq. ft. (5,000 sq. meters).
Moving to 2001, Yinma Township started human hair markets. This means the big three human hair markets in Zhengying, Fuchun, and Yinma increaded the volume of human hair transactions, international exposure and influence.
More farmers in Juancheng are working in the human hair industry because of the continual development and government support. Its footprint reaches across China and into neighboring countries like Vietnam, Myanmar, India and even Russia. Juancheng has a substantial human hair purchase and sales network with a steady supply of raw human hair. This makes Juancheng the largest distribution center for purchasing and selling of human hair for China.
Shaoyang, Hunan – The third largest producer of Chinese wigs
Shaoyang hair products and production dates back to the 1980’s with over 130 hair product companies of a substantial scale economic size capable of large production and over 100,000 hair product employees. Products made here include wigs, toupees, hair set extensions, accessories, craft hair and more. An impressive 4,000 varieties of hair products and accessories are exported to over 120 countries and regions across North America, the E.U., African and Southeast Asia.
Chinese hair products – The advantages
Focused origin and location
The Henan province leads Chinese wig production with almost 50 percent of the wig production coming from this one province. Qingdao, Shandong Province accounts for another 20 percent and the remaining 30 percent comes from several combined locations: Guangzhou and Shenzhen, Taihe in Anhui and Shaoyang in Hunan.
After 120 years of continual development and refinement, the Chinese wig industry is well-established, has a clear division of labor and scaled economies that can easily reduce production costs.
Full Government Support
Xuchang is the distribution center for the hair production industry with wig production being the local pillar industry. The industry brings a significant tax revenue and foreign exchange reserves. There is very little unemployment with a strong labor base. The Chinese government sees the wig industry at the macro level and assists in a development atmosphere for improved consumer quality. There is also significant assistance in the development of small and medium-sized industries. Chronologically:
- October 2009 – The People’s Government of Xuchang City, Henan Province passed the “Notice on Printing and Distributing the Planning for the Adjustment and Revitalization of the Hair Products Industry of Xuchang City” a document issued by the People’s Government of Xuchang City, Henan Province in October 2009. This planning notice required the gradual formation of an industrial chain from the raw materials to finished products in the main production areas of wig construction. There is also strong encouragement of enterprise, increased R&D, design effort, innovation, brand creation and leading trends of international wig products.
- February 2018 – The People’s Government of Kaifeng City, Henan Province passed the Opinions on Work Arrangements. This established a provincal-level export base for wig products, Qixian, in Kaifeng City.
Orderly development of the industry
The hair and wig industry has certainly changed significantly in the almost two centuries of continued development. There has not been, however, an internationally accepted standard for some time with many in the industry having different descriptions for various professional terms.
Development and standardization of this industry needed to be codified. On August 8, 2019, the “National Standard of the People’s Republic of China GB/T 23170-2019” was introduced and implemented on March 1, 2020.
Restrictions on the development of China’s hair products
Environmental protection requirements are becoming stricter
Changes in environmental protection from the government includes waste water treatment. Specifically, the different waste waters created in the production process – pickling, neutralization, rising, dying and other types. Post production includes shampoo waste and other elements.
China has really raised its environmental governance efforts. Some small and medium-sized companies have left the industry because of the requirements. They simply cannot afford the sewage treatment equipment as part of their production efforts.
Human hair is increasingly more difficult to obtain
Chinese hair has always been the best hair for wig production due to its thickness over that of the Western hair. The best hair is virgin hair, meaning the hair has not been dyed or chemically permed.
It is growing more and more difficult to find this specific hair in China as people are not willing to sell their hair. Most of the main source countries for hair have relatively backward economies, with India now a choice location.
A large number of people in India do not regularly dye or chemically perm their hair due to their economic status. The large number of religious orders and sects mean many women travel to the various temples and dedicate their hair to the gods. The temples then auction the hair to raise money, with a large percentage of the hair bought by the merchants in Xuchang and Juancheng. The hair is then processed and exported to the rest of the world. Much like China dating back to the 1930’s, India is a major exporter of raw human hair.
There is no doubt China has a deeply rich history, but its recent forays into high quality manufacturing of various products has helped bring the country into a 21st century international market on a variety of items, including the booming hair industry. What about you and your needs? Are you considering starting working with hair and the hair industry? If so, how can Sourcing Nova help? Let us know in a comment below.