Human hair is a rapidly growing natural resource, with the UK alone amassing approximately 6.5 million kg of human hair waste every year. The current placement of hair in landfills results in the expulsion of toxic gasses into the natural environment. This shocking fact inspired Sanne Visser’s 2016 MA project The New Age of Trichology, inwhich she explores how discarded human hair can be repurposed, by transforming it from a waste product into an abundant new design material.
“Hair is lightweight, flexible, biodegradable, oil absorbent and extremely strong. It is such a ‘normal’ material that you almost forget what it is made of and what strengths it has.”
The London based material researcher and designer started the process by collecting discarded hair from salons across London. Visser collaborated with both a professional spinner and ropemaker/knot specialist, who took the hair through traditional wool making techniques to transform it into a useful and pliable material. “Since I didn’t have any experience in either spinning or ropemaking, I was completely dependent on experts in these ancient crafts,” she explains. “It wasn’t particularly easy to find these craftsman, since there aren’t many people with the right skills who are open to new materials”.
While the material properties of hair pose some challenges (“it is a tough fibre to work with as it is very fine, slippery and prickly compared to other natural fibres”) Visser explains that the main obstacle to using it is the stigma that surrounds it. “A lot of people find the material unattractive and gross as soon as it is detached from a person’s head,” she says, “but I do think that we are moving towards an era where people are more accepting of the use of more unusual materials, either natural, synthetically grown or digitally fabricated, particularly when it helps the environment”.
The resulting objects created by Visser, including bags, swing ropes and even bungee cords – are utilitarian rather than decorative, thereby showcasing the incredible resilience and durability of hair as a design material. By giving a new lease of life to ‘dead’ hair, Visser hopes that this project will highlight the possibilities of repurposing a material which is so abundant, with more growing every day on heads all around the world.
“I hope I can inspire other people to get to know the process of ancient crafts, whereby handmade and machine tie together, as I think that the line between craft and innovation is an important intersection.”
Images Sanne Visser Website sannevisser.com Words Alex Mascolo, Emma de Clercq