Journey along China’s “hair highway” and see how human hair can be used as a renewable resource in an unexpected industry: home decor. This captivating short film by design collaborative Studio Swine and filmmaker Juriaan Booij provides a fascinating view into China’s billion-dollar hair trade and explores an array of exquisite objects created using human hair as a key ingredient.
According to Studio Swine, “China is both the largest importer of tropical hardwood and the biggest exporter of human hair.” To provide a sustainable alternative to hardwood, the designers mix the hair with natural resins, creating a composite material that can mimic tortoiseshell, polished horn, or exotic hardwoods. This stunning short film captures the entire process from haircut to final product, revealing a revolutionary process that may change the way you look at home decor. We spoke with Juriaan Booij about his experience following the “hair highway.”
Where was Hair Highway shot?
China’s hair industry is based in Shandong Province, centered around a few small towns that are focused just on this industry. This is where you find the hair merchants, markets, and factories in a few long streets.
What aspect of Hair Highway was the most interesting for you to shoot?
Being granted access to the world’s largest human hair market was very interesting, mostly because it had never before been filmed. In a smog-filled, open-air market, hair of all lengths and colors are sold like loaves of bread.
Was there a particular process in the hair trade that was tricky to capture?
We were lucky enough to be allowed to film in one of the hair factories, where the hair is dyed, colored, washed, ironed, and sewn into wigs and extensions. The factory director did need some persuading before he let us film there.
Why were you drawn to this project?
Having not really known anything about the billion-dollar human hair industry before Studio Swine approached me with their project, I was immediately intrigued by it. They developed a technique to combine hair with a natural resin as an alternative to tropical hardwood. The material provides a sustainable alternative to the planet’s diminishing natural resources with an aesthetic that really resembles tortoiseshell, polished horn, or exotic hardwoods.
How long have you worked with Studio Swine?
Hair Highway is our fourth collaboration now, the first one being a short documentary called Sea Chair, which we shot in late 2012. It is about products made entirely from plastic recovered from our oceans.
Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’re working on?
Studio Swine is planning to take our first collaboration to a next level. So I’m lucky enough to join them for a new documentary focusing on sea plastic, off the coast of the Azores, later this year.
The Short Film Showcase spotlights exceptional short videos created by filmmakers from around the web and selected by National Geographic’s editors. We look for pieces that emphasize National Geographic’s mission of inspiring people to care about the planet. The filmmakers themselves created the content presented here. The opinions expressed are those of the filmmakers, and not those of the National Geographic Society.
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