EXCLUSIVE: The 'exploited' girls paid as little as £25 for your £300 'Russian virgin hair' extensions doing a roaring trade in salons in the UK and US

  • MailOnline speaks to women in Russia who sell their hair for pittance
  • Booming trade aided by celebrities like Victoria Beckham and Beyonce 
  • Traders travel across country's 13 time zones for 'cutting sessions'
  • Women feel 'ashamed' and cry as they hair is chopped, reveals one dealer

These are the faces of the women and children in Russia who sell their 'virgin' hair for as little as £20 - so it can be weaved into the heads of fashionable females in the UK and US for £300 to £1,200.

An explosion in the popularity of hair extensions - fuelled by celebrities like Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Victoria Beckham - has seen huge numbers of women and teenagers across Russia selling their locks for a relative pittance to feed a booming industry in human hair.

In an exclusive investigation, MailOnline has followed the path the hair from the heads of struggling Russian women and children, through the treating and processing plants in tyrannical Uzbekistan and war-ravaged Ukraine, before it is sold to Western women in upmarket salons in Britain and the US.

Model Daria Dangilova  who is one of thousands of Russian women who have sold their hair

Model Daria Dangilova  who is one of thousands of Russian women who have sold their hair

Daria said she 'almost burst into tears' when she sold her hair. Russian hair is seen as the best in the trade

Daria said she 'almost burst into tears' when she sold her hair. Russian hair is seen as the best in the trade

Pictured after her dramatic haircut,  the wedding photographer received £120 for selling her luxurious locks

Pictured after her dramatic haircut,  the wedding photographer received £120 for selling her luxurious locks

An anonymous Russian redhead holds locks lopped off. While Russian women make next to nothing for selling their hair, women in Britain and the USA pay hundreds of pounds to have extension woven into their hair
An anonymous Russian redhead holds locks lopped off. While Russian women make next to nothing for selling their hair, women in Britain and the USA pay hundreds of pounds to have extension woven into their hair

An anonymous Russian redhead holds locks lopped off. While Russian women make next to nothing for selling their hair, women in Britain and the US pay hundreds of pounds to have extensions

In 2013, £42.8million worth of human hair was imported - 80million miles of hair - or enough to go around the world more than 3,200 times. In America quantities are far higher.

Known for its strength, quality and colour, Russian hair is seen as the best in the market and far superior to rival countries Brazil, India, and China, where the hair market is also thriving. 

High levels of demand for the best 'virgin' Russian hair - that has not been treated with chemicals or dye - has led to fears that children and teenagers have been targeted by unscrupulous dealers as the industry becomes an increasingly big and ruthless trade. 

One seller told MailOnline that business is so good, his firm now employs 350 people to cope with demand. 

He dismissed suggestions that the industry takes advantage of vulnerable people, insisting young women cut their hair voluntarily - but a fashion expert hit back, arguing girls 'sell their hair because they don't have any other choice'.

Former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, who is said to spend £25,000 a year on hair extensions, once joked that she had 'Russian cell-block H' on her head from hair taken from prisoners. 

Our investigation shows that that old stereotype is now considered off the mark, as is the perception of claims of hair from the dead sold by mortuary workers.

Instead thousands of traders travel across Russia's 13 time zones hosting 'cutting session' fairs in remote towns and cities for those ready to part with their hair for roubles by posting up adverts on lampposts in the places they travel through and on the internet.

Popstar Beyonce, pictured at the Met Ball Gala has used hair extensions to create different looks

Popstar Beyonce, pictured at the Met Ball Gala has used hair extensions to create different looks

Victoria Beckham is known to have used hair extensions
Kim Kardashian is known to have used hair extensions to thicken their tresses

Victoria Beckham and Kim Kardashian are known to have used hair extensions to thicken their tresses

Human hair, after it is washed, brushed and treated in the Ukraine, ready to be sold to Western markets

Human hair, after it is washed, brushed and treated in the Ukraine, ready to be sold to Western markets

Model and wedding photographer Daria Dangilova, 24, is just one of the women who traded in her 'dark, soft, well groomed' mane to fuel the West's insatiable demand for real hair. 

She received 9,500 roubles - around £120 - when she had lopped off in Moscow last week, but her hair will sell for many times more in the salons of London and New York.

Daria received a good price for her hair compared with many Russian girls and women who sell out of desperation - a trend that prompts fears that the trade, while legal, amounts to alarming exploitation of the poor to benefit the rich.

Wealth inequality in Russia in one of the highest in the world - while the federation has around 100 billionaires, around 18 million people live below the poverty line. 

Daria told MailOnline she had long hair all her life, and bartered with dealers to get the best price after she was offered just 2,000 roubles, or £25, for her 190 grams of luxuriant hair.

'As it was being cut, I became scared. I started thinking, why am I doing it? I almost burst into tears but by then it was too late to turn back', she said.

'To be honest, my mother was shocked, but eventually she supported me, and even came with me to cut the hair and sell it. She said, if I have decided this is what I would do, she'd support me.' 

Daria Danilova, pictured before she had her hair cut off and sold it for £120. One salon in Knutsford charges more than £1,000 for a full head of virgin Russian hair extensions, seen as the best in the business

Daria Danilova, pictured before she had her hair cut off and sold it for £120. One salon in Knutsford charges more than £1,000 for a full head of virgin Russian hair extensions, seen as the best in the business

Posters from traders saying they will 'buy hair' decorate lampposts in Novosibirsk in Siberia, Russia

Posters from traders saying they will 'buy hair' decorate lampposts in Novosibirsk in Siberia, Russia

A shopping cart filled with real human hair, ready to be shipped to the UK and US where business is booming

A shopping cart filled with real human hair, ready to be shipped to the UK and US where business is booming

More than 10 years since Siberian schoolgirl runaway Valentina made headlines when she and her three friends, all aged between 11 and 13, sold their hair to pay for their next meal, MailOnline tracked her down for an interview.

Valentina, now 24 and a happily married mother-of-four, watched as a friend sheared her 14-inch hair with a pair of rusty scissors before it was sold to a dealer for a paltry 70 roubles, just £1.40.

After returning to her mother, Valentina realised they had been conned by 'sharks', and felt ashamed at pawning her hair - but said at the time she was desperate and the money paid for her and her friends meals for several days.

'It wasn't the easiest day of our lives when me and my friends went to sell our hair,' she recalled.

'We were in trouble with our parents, we'd been stupid to have run away from home, and at this point were scared to go back - but there was no food to eat as we wandered the city in the February cold.

'We noticed the 'Buy hair, pay lots' announcement stuck to a lamp post and thought this should provide us with good money.

Valentina, pictured aged 13, sold her hair to pay for food after she ran away from home  11 years ago

Valentina, pictured aged 13, sold her hair to pay for food after she ran away from home 11 years ago

Valentina, aged 13, pictured holding one of the Russian adverts urging women to sell their hair for money

Valentina, aged 13, pictured holding one of the Russian adverts urging women to sell their hair for money

Valentina said the one thing that gave her hope afterwards was that her hair might be used by a celebrity

Valentina said the one thing that gave her hope afterwards was that her hair might be used by a celebrity

'I remember we were were scared to cut our hair, and then sooner or later face our parents. But our hunger was stronger than our fear. Looking back, I understand how paltry was the money this dealer paid us.'

A caring adult, seeing the girls in such a plight, might have helped them back to their parents, or into the hands of social workers or a charity, rather than paying them a derisory sum for her hair to stay on the streets.

'The only thing that buoyed me afterwards was the rumour that my hair had gone to England, perhaps onto the head of someone famous like Victoria Beckham', she added.

'But when you are so young you only think about the immediate problem, and that time it allowed us to buy food.'

The dealer who bought her hair, Olga, said women who sell their hair to her can feel 'ashamed'.

'I see so many sad girls and women as I travel around Russia buying hair', she said. 'I would say a quarter of all the people who bring their hair to me are distraught. Some are upset because their hair is unsuitable; others don't want to sell their femininity for a few roubles, and feel ashamed. 

'I always carry a box of tissues along with my weighing-scales and tape-measure.' 

Dealers are also active in the economically-struggling Crimea, annexed by Vladimir Putin's military forces last years.

Ekaterina works the patch, publishing 'before and after' images of her clients, and holding up locks of hair like a hunter clutches his trophies. She promises local females - 'I will buy - and sell - your hair.' 

Before: A lady has her long thick hair wrapped into a ponytail before it is cut off by a Crimean buyer
After: the ponytail is cut off

Before and after: A lady has her long thick hair wrapped into a ponytail before it is cut off by a Crimean buyer

This Russian woman grew her hair down the length of her back, before selling it Crimean trader Ekaterina
This Russian woman grew her hair down the length of her back, before selling it to a trade

This Russian woman grew her hair down the length of her back, before selling it Crimean trader Ekaterina

Fashion historian and author Caroline Cox, from Stalybridge, Lancashire, said the sale of human hair was tantamount to exploitation.

While the use of human hair as extension has always been popular, she said the industry is bigger than it has ever been because people no longer hide about their use.

'The use of hair extensions was huge in the late 19th and early 20th century, it was massive before women began to get their hair cut short in the twenties', she told MailOnline.

'But now the trade is bigger than it has ever been. It really infuriates me when people say women choose to sell their hair, when really they sell it because they don't have any other choice.

'In cultures in Russia and India, particularly Slavic cultures, that say long hair is beautiful, why would women choose to cut it off unless they had to? 

'There is little regulation of the industry, and there are still instances where hair is forcibly cut, people are mugged for their hair or it is shaved as punishment. 

'It's my opinion that people who buy human hair extensions don't care where the hair is coming from, and don't make the link between market supply and demand.' 

Crimean hair dealer Ekaterina (left) holds high long strands of hair she has cut off girls who have agreed to sell. Right, a girl with her hair recently cut off

Crimean hair dealer Ekaterina (left) holds high long strands of hair she has cut off girls who have agreed to sell. Right, a girl with her hair recently cut off,  while the rest of her hair is pictured jagged and uneven

A Ukranian advert shows pictures of children's hair being chopped off and advertised as '100% natural'

A Ukranian advert shows pictures of children's hair being chopped off and advertised as '100% natural'

A dealer from Bashkortostan, on the western edge of Siberia, set out the price list for hair sales in her posting.

Dark hair of 70cm in length sells for 2,500 roubles (£32) per 100 grams. The same length and weight of dark brown hair sells for 3,000 roubles (£38). Light brown gets 3,500 roubles (£45).

These dealers send the hair to wholesalers and hair processors like Natural Human Hair Company, run by 33-year-old Alexander Kalendarev, who swapped a profession as a doctor to sell 'virgin' hair, or 'Slavyanka' sourced in Russia.

Speaking from the heart of his multinational operation in Uzbekistan, he employs 350 staff in a number of factories who are tasked with cleaning and preserving the hair for well-off women, thousands of miles from the dusty streets of this central Asian dictatorship. 

Alexander Kalendarev, owner of the Natural Human Hair company, gives the thumbs-up as a young woman has her long hair cut off. His business now employs 350 people in numerous factories processing human hair

Alexander Kalendarev, owner of the Natural Human Hair company, gives the thumbs-up as a young woman has her long hair cut off. His business now employs 350 people in numerous factories processing human hair

Photos from the Natural Human Hair Company show how the hair is first washed by hand in soapy water

Photos from the Natural Human Hair Company show how the hair is first washed by hand in soapy water

Thoroughly washing the hair is the first step of the process, Mr Kalendarev explains, before it is brushed

Thoroughly washing the hair is the first step of the process, Mr Kalendarev explains, before it is brushed

The hair is carefully teased into a usable shape by a professional technician, who also study the type of hair

The hair is carefully teased into a usable shape by a professional technician, who also study the type of hair

'Russian virgin hair' is among the most sought-after in the world, like 'gold', said the factory owner

'Russian virgin hair' is among the most sought-after in the world, like 'gold', said the factory owner

'We have business relationships on every continent of the world,' he bragged.

'We continue to delight our customers in various countries, such as Britain, Slovakia, Czech Republic, United States, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, Germany, Australia, Russia, Ukraine, Israel and many others.

Married with children, he told MailOnline: 'I started this company by myself, with no investors or assistance. I didn't have an exact plan, just a vision.

'I'm a doctor by education so I can say that I was trained to work with the human body.

'And hair is the only part of the human which is easy and legal to buy and sell and it's always needed by the beauty industry, the medical industry and for religious needs.

'So I decided to start working with hair. And hair itself has no value at all. It's what you do with it that counts.'

Hair that arrives in one of Mr Kalendarev's  factories is washed,brushed, studied by specialists in a laboratory to define its types, then coloured or bleached if needed.

Only after those steps is it prepared as extensions.

The most prized hair, he explains, is 'Slavyanka' hair, from ethnically Slavic women in Russia and Ukraine, which makes up 20 per cent of his business.

'The value of "Slavyanka" is so high because of the great demand for such hair. It's like gold or platinum among metals', he said. 

'It's not just of high quality, soft, easy to work with and colour, but it's also very rare.  And if gold and platinum can be found in different countries, 'Slavyanka' as a hair type comes only from Ukraine, central Russia and Siberia.'

As fashions change the availability of 'Slavyanka' hair is diminishing, Mr Kalendarev adds - but as demand for hair extensions continues to grow, his operations will expand with it.

A technician gently pulls a strand of donated hair through a brush, smoothing it before it is treated

A technician gently pulls a strand of donated hair through a brush, smoothing it before it is treated

The hair is packaged and shipped to countries around the world from Mr Kalendarev's factory in the Ukrain

The hair is packaged and shipped to countries around the world from Mr Kalendarev's factory in the Ukrain

He hits back at claims that women are exploited, saying Western women have no need to feel guilty over their hair extensions.

'Hair itself is garbage,' he said dismissively. 'Girls cut it off and throw away. We take it or buy from them and turn it into a high quality product, and that's what adds the value.'

Women like Daria are following a predictable pattern, Mr Kalendarev claimed.

'The whole hair sale business revolves around women's psychology.

'You see, women until the age of 24 dream about cutting off their hair... but then women between 30 and 40 dream about having long hair, and it's really hard for them to grow it.'

Brushing aside fears of exploitation in his trade, he said: 'I would not call it an abuse. We just help women to follow their natural instincts.

'Younger women want to cut the hair, do it voluntarily, do it anyway, but we are ready to pay - so they also get money.

'And then we prepare the hair to be used by older women who are ready to pay to feel more feminine and beautiful.

'In that way we create the balance and it's also the idea for business.

'There are no negative feelings involved, all the steps are done naturally by women who feel this way and it makes them look more beautiful, confident and happy.' 

As demand for 'Slavyanka', or 'Russian virgin hair' grows, it is becoming easy to source. Mr Kalendarev said his business helps women to 'follow their natural instincts' and help older women feel 'more feminine'

As demand for 'Slavyanka', or 'Russian virgin hair' grows, it is becoming easy to source. Mr Kalendarev said his business helps women to 'follow their natural instincts' and help older women feel 'more feminine'

Women don't choose to cut off their hair unless they are forced to, claims fashion historian Caroline Cox

Women don't choose to cut off their hair unless they are forced to, claims fashion historian Caroline Cox

Another dealer Varvara, based in Volvograd since 2003, boasts on an online announcement that they have buyers from Israel, England, Italy and USA. 

She seeks 'child' hair, not coloured, in other words girls are persuaded to part with their ponytails for pocket money. There is huge demand for 'real Slavic hair', her advertisement reads.

Recently she travelled to Elista, an oil capital on the Caspian Sea, announcing proudly she had bought 'six kilograms of child hair, not coloured, silky and long.'

She said: 'Elista was great as always, the purchase has been more than successful.'

The Hair Extension Boutique in Knutsford, Cheshire, is just one salon in the UK that offers 'the very finest, hand-picked' virgin Russian hair.

Prices range from £310 for 10 inches, to £1,140 for 22 inches on a full head.

Describing the business of hair extensions as 'unique and bizarre', salon stylist Helen Roche said they source through a supplier based in the UK, as well as organisations in Europe.

Their clientele range from fashionable women wanting to emulate the stars of The Only Way Is Essex and other celebrities, to cancer sufferers who have lost their hair in chemotherapy looking for a realistic wig,

After, she is pictured with a much fuller and longer head of hair. The 'hand-picked' hair can cost more than £1,140 to achieve.

Images provided by The Hair Extension Boutique in Knutsford show how a woman's hair has been transformed after it was boosted with Russian virgin hair. Their clients include people suffering with cancer

Shows like The Only Way Is Essex, pictured, have seen demand for authentic hair extension rocket 

Shows like The Only Way Is Essex, pictured, have seen demand for authentic hair extension rocket 

Russian Lengths, based in Manchester, advertises 'slavic virgin Russian hair' sourced from northern Russia

Russian Lengths, based in Manchester, advertises 'slavic virgin Russian hair' sourced from northern Russia

Helen, aged 33, said: ‘We will only buy off very reputable suppliers, who have worked in the industry for decades and you hope the girls are getting a decent price for their hair.

‘They assure us that their means of collections is ethical, and at the end of the day there is a long supply chain between the donor and the client receiving the hair.

‘For women who donate the hair it’s nowhere near the amount of money they should be paid. In an ideal world I would love to go out to Russia and pay the donors properly.

‘I’ve seen a massive increase in prices since I first started doing extensions 10 years ago – it’s partly due to reality TV shows and celebrities.

‘We don’t make any money on the hair – we charge for our fitting service, but we don’t do a mark-up on the product.’

Lee Margaret Webster, head of policy at Womankind Worldwide, said unrealistic standards of beauty put 'immense pressure' on women to have the perfect hair.

'On the other end of the ‘demand’ for real human hair, there is a murkier story of supply', she added. 

'If women are coerced, forced or otherwise exploited into parting with their hair against their will, this is a fundamental violation of their rights. 

'Furthermore, governments and the international community must tackle the underlying causes of any forced sale of hair, which include poverty and gender inequality, and should take urgent and robust action to ensure women’s rights are protected.' 

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