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Mon, Nov 23, 2009
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Crisis forcing hard-up Spaniards to sell their hair

Cash-strapped Spaniards are pulling their hair out over the economic crisis - literally.

Faced with the country's deep recession and soaring unemployment, many women are selling off their locks to pay the bills.

And Justino Delgado, who exports natural hair for wigs and extensions, couldn't be happier. He began his business 50 years ago, going from village to village to collect hair from women, before he started importing much of it from Asia, mainly from India and China.

But for the past several months women have been showing up at his warehouse near Madrid in growing numbers.

"A lot of women come to sell their hair, just this morning a young woman with a ponytail came in and we bought it from her," he said.

"It's worth between $100 and $310. There are some women who have a lot of hair, and as the price depends on the length and the weight, they can get well paid for it," he said.

But he has some conditions: the hair must be more than 40 centimetres (16 inches) long and have never been coloured.

Sometimes "pony tails have been kept for months in a drawer after being cut off at the hairdressers, but are still good quality," said Yolanda, one of his daughters who works at this family business employing about 30 people.

The trend has been particularly good for Delgado as "European hair is finer and very sought after, and sells for more than Asian hair for example," which is thicker.

He has about 90 tonnes of blond, brown and red braided locks spread out on a vast floor at the warehouse.

He now exports about 80 percent of the production, mainly to the rest of Europe and to the United States.

His business has also benefited from the growing fashion among young women for hair extensions, in which strands of hair are attached to a person's natural hair.

Before being sold, the hair must first be washed several times. Then some of it is coloured by "secret machines which have been specially adapted for us by an engineer," said Delgado, who bars visitors from even seeing the machines.

It is then dried, carefully combed and then braided. The company has tried to adapt to the needs of its clients.

"Countries in northern Europe for example are looking for particular colours," said Yolanda. Germans prefer the light chestnut colour, which is less common in Spain, she said.



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