“Xuchang: The Capital of Wig Manufacturing” No matter: the taste of the fashion industry
This article was published in the 20th issue of “Sanlian Life Weekly” in 2019, with the original title “Xuchang: The Capital of Wig Manufacturing”
Whether you see all kinds of wigs in a high-end wig shop in Beijing, or wigs worn on the heads of Americans or Africans, half of them come from Xuchang, Henan. In Xuchang, wigs are a century-old business, and it is also a typical example of an industry from agglomeration to transformation. The average daily global sales of wigs produced here is 40,000 sets, with an annual turnover of 1.5 billion yuan. Every two seconds on average, a wig is bought and entered into global circulation.
In the production workshop of a wig factory, workers work an average of 10 hours a day
Reporter Dong Jining
Photography by Huang Yu
Behind the Fashion of Wigs
Wigs really have a taste of the fashion industry. A wig specialty store in a large shopping mall near the CBD of Beijing’s East Third Ring Road. Under the spotlights and in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows, wigs with complex or simple shapes and exaggerated or simple colors seem to form a show. The price of wigs here is mostly four or five figures. Some high-end products will indicate the origin of the raw materials like organic farming. A large brown wavy curly hair is marked with “Hair” (Brazilian girl hair), which makes people feel as if they can The bright sunshine of Latin America is overhead. In front of the dressing table, there are various fashion magazines and picture albums at home and abroad, and the clerk Zhang Miao can quickly tell which wig is the same style as a celebrity or a magazine.
On April 13, a weekend, several college-looking girls were choosing “equipment” for participating in the Comic-Con. The group has always been a relatively stable wig consumer group in China. One of them, Wang Yue, told me that the wigs here are too expensive, and they usually rent or borrow them from other groups, but this event requires a high degree of character completion, and I haven’t met a suitable one before. So I decided to try my luck at the wig shop. Zhang Miao knew that the students were not the main consumers here, but she still received them warmly. Wang Yue and the others talked from “Attack on Titan” to “Gintama”, Zhang Miao inserted a few words or gave his own recommendation from time to time, and told them the difference between chemical fiber and real hair. Although there was no consumption when he left, Wang Yue said, “But the price of a real wig has already been planted.”
Anime knowledge and fashion trends are the contents of the training for Zhang Miao by wig companies in the past two years. Zhang Miao feels that this is very different from when she first entered the industry 10 years ago. At that time, when people talked about wigs, there were always “secret” and “sickness”. Relatives and friends even thought that she was only dealing with patients with hair loss. Yang Xia, the general manager of a wig company, heard a story during market research before starting a business. A coal boss in Shanxi, in order not to let others know that he was using a wig, deliberately chose a weekend. The product team of a wig company reimbursed the round-trip air ticket, and made an appointment to come to the office to customize two sets of wigs for themselves.
But now, “young people finally feel that we are a handicraft that is related to image and beauty.” Zhang Miao said, “There are more than 50 processes in a hand-made wig, and the most complicated one is just the most complicated process, one stitch. To hook two or three hairs, a wig needs 10,000 to 20,000 stitches. It takes three weeks for a mature weaver to hook.”
Speaking of these, Zhang Miao’s face has a kind of satisfaction that his efforts have finally been recognized. However, when Wang Yue and the others weighed the wigs in their hands, it was difficult to think of these objects that weighed only two taels. Perhaps the raw materials came from India, which is thousands of miles away. Results in three weeks. And Zhang Miao probably doesn’t understand that the “transition to high-end” is also a “last resort” in Xuchang, Henan, the birthplace of the fake business 700 kilometers away.
At the door of Wang Shaosuo’s house in Zhangqiao Village, on the northwest side of Xuchang City, Henan Province, the production of wigs is not a production scene similar to handicrafts in the imagination, and there is no high-end feeling at the scene. Bags of woven bags of hair, like building materials, were piled up layer by layer and piled up on the roadside. Two workers operate a machine nearby, break up the clumps of hair in the woven bag, sprinkle with water, and then use a rake to spread the hair on the ground next to it like drying millet. Those hairs were knotted, mixed with dust and mud, and the color was dull. When the wind blew, there were even white dandruff-like dirty things flying up. The hands of the master worker were covered with a layer of black oil. “It smells like oil, and I can’t eat without washing my hands at noon,” they said.
There are few people under the age of 50 in Zhangqiao Village who are engaged in file distribution work
Wang Shaosuo’s family employed 5 workers to be responsible for the initial sorting. They sort the hairs of different colors, shapes and sizes and send them to the processing point in the next village responsible for the processing of hair. The so-called “file” means that the rough-processed finished products are divided according to their length. The 4-inch length is bundled with 2 white lines, which is called 2nd grade; the 6-inch length is bundled with 3 white lines, which is called 3rd grade.
“Pull, organize, tear, hang, pull”, these are the five processes of file distribution. If you want to keep your hair neat, first put the sorted hair layer by layer on the bottom grate of the broaching bed to compress it, and pull out strands of hair from the gap; then neatly arrange strands of hair in your hands. , tie it with a rope, and beat it with a wooden bat; then put the patted hair back into the grate, and use tweezers to pick out the still untidy hair one by one. Zhang Fang, 50 years old this year, has been in this business for more than 35 years and can only handle a maximum of 20 kilograms per day.
The recycling and sorting that Wang Shaosuo is engaged in is the first link of the entire wig industry, and it is also the starting point for the development of Xuchang’s wig industry.
The history of “receiving hair” in Xuchang can be traced back to the end of the Qing Dynasty. According to the description of the local old man, this place was first used to make costumes, beards and other props for some Peking Opera troupes. According to the “Xuchang County Chronicle” in 1923, at the beginning of the 20th century, the village’s Bai Xihe and foreign merchants in China jointly established the hair village “De Xingyi”, buying domestic hair and selling it to German merchants to sell overseas. wig.
In Quandian in the northwest of Xuchang and several surrounding villages such as Xiaogong and Kao, this family-style hair processing business method of “production in the courtyard and trading on the street” has lasted for nearly a hundred years. In Wang Shaosuo’s impression, when he was a child, almost every household in the village had a wig business. Hair was piled up in front of and behind every house, and even on the side of the road. The village was as lively as a market. Lu Baoshan, the village director of Xiaogong Village, told this magazine that during its heyday, more than 80% of the more than 900 households in Xiaogong Village were engaged in the hair business.
This also directly led to the accumulation of wig design and production with higher added value in Xuchang after the reform and opening up. At the beginning of 1993, Xuchang Hair Products General Factory and American businessmen jointly established the present, which is the first company in Xuchang capable of wig design and finishing. Previously, the rough processed files in Xuchang were usually transported to Qingdao, Zhengzhou and other ports for export, and deep processing was completed by companies in South Korea and Japan. Since then, more and more Xuchang enterprises have been driven into the design process. According to the data released by the Xuchang Municipal Bureau of Commerce, by 2017, there were more than 240 enterprises engaged in the production, import and export of hair products in Xuchang, and more than 300,000 employees rely on wigs to make a living, and the number of exported wigs can account for 50% of the world wig market. . According to data released by AliExpress, a subsidiary of Alibaba, the average daily global sales of wigs produced in Xuchang City is 40,000 sets, with an annual turnover of 1.5 billion yuan, and an average of one wig is bought every two seconds.
Prosperity, however, appears to be becoming a thing of the past. Many bosses told me that in the past two years, the wig industry has been shrinking and transforming due to the rising cost of labor and raw materials.
Wig is an industry that is highly dependent on manual work. Even in modern factories, many processes can only be done by hand. In “Ruimei Real Hair”, Wei Mengqiang, who is responsible for rolling the wig onto the steel pipe, takes an average of 20 seconds to roll a set of hair. This includes combing the hair with a comb, and combing a position 10 cm away from the hair end according to the styling requirements. Special angles, and curling your hair onto a steel tube like a barbershop stylist. Each roll is enough for 100 steel pipes, someone will come to collect it once, and then send it to the oven. At a high temperature of 200 degrees Celsius, the hair can achieve a far more exaggerated shape than that on the human scalp.
Jin Liheng has been in the factory for 5 years. She is engaged in the last “high needle” process, connecting the already shaped wig and the hair cover. This process cannot tolerate deviation. The time is 20 minutes, and if the high needle turns are wrong, the whole thing will be reworked. Piece-rate wages are implemented in the factory. The workers work about 10 hours a day. The screen of the mobile phone lights up occasionally, but Jin Liheng has no time to take care of it.
And back to Zhang Fang’s wig factory hidden in the villagers’ homes, nearly 20 rural women like Zhang Fang sat in a tent made of plastic sheets, working from 5:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day , One hour off at noon, can only earn about 100 yuan in wages. At Zhang Fang’s age, she is still a young person in this industry, and the next generation of her family has no longer done this industry. She said that if it hadn’t been done at home before, she would most likely go out to work. In the local industrial agglomeration area, “Gangfa Street”, almost every company advertises job recruitment. “For four or five thousand months, I still can’t find anyone.” A boss told this magazine.
Lu Baoshan, the village director of Xiaogong Village, said that only about 40% of the families in Xiaogong Village are still making wigs.
If the rising labor price is still an inevitable trend of economic development, another huge dilemma faced by the wig industry is that when companies try to enter the field of high-end wigs, the raw material of high-end wigs – high-quality human hair, is becoming more and more Scarce and expensive.
increasingly difficult hair
At 7 in the morning, in a hair market transformed from an abandoned factory in Juancheng County, Heze City, Shandong Province, dozens of hair dealers spread their goods on the ground according to different lengths and hair qualities. The cool air is filled with a scent that is unique to hair. Li Huijie, a businessman from Xuchang, Henan, toured quietly.
Since he didn’t get admitted to university in 1997, Li Huijie rode a bicycle to go to a neighboring village to collect his hair. He has been in the wig industry for more than 20 years. In the third year of his entry, he replaced his bicycle with a motorcycle, and expanded the scope of his hair collection to the whole city of Xuchang; in 2002, he saved some money, and the motorcycle was replaced by a car, and the scope continued to expand to the whole province and the whole country. … In 2014, he took over the current factory and became the owner of a wig factory, but he still had to go out to collect his hair from time to time.
Li Huijie is a witness to the development and growth of the wig industry. He remembered that when he first entered the business in the 1990s, there would be hair dealers in Shandong and Anhui who would deliver wigs to his village, and whoever did this would go directly to the street to pick up the wigs. As the scale of the industry became larger and larger, Murakami’s supply of goods was not enough, and a group of people like Li Huijie were born all over the world.
In the hair market, buyers and sellers are savvy. Some sellers know that hair that is too short can’t sell at a high price, so they mix it with long hair, and they also declare that “you can’t pick it”. And people like Li Huijie who come to buy goods carry rulers and knives with them, and the price varies greatly for every inch of hair. And if the knife can scrape off a layer of oily substances on the surface of the hair, it means that the hair has been oiled, and it will also lead to a plummet in value.
It is said that there is no righteousness in buying and selling, but Wu Jian, a hair dealer, is annoyed by doing business. On the Shandong site, this Chongqing man in his early 40s pointed at a merchant who turned and left and scolded: “You northerners can’t do it, you don’t have integrity, I agree to the price you call out, and finally I agree to it. If you want to bargain, how can there be such a reason in the world!”
Wang Shaosuo’s house is full of hair recovered from various places
The young boss embarrassedly told me later that he had no experience, and seeing Wu Jian agreed so happily, he was afraid of losing money. In the industry, hair is called “black gold”, which means precious, and 10-inch long braided hair can sell for more than a thousand yuan per kilogram. This is a job that tests eyesight. How much a handful of hair is worth and whether it is adulterated with other animal hair is all in the eyes of the buyer. “Sometimes the original hair is directly collected from the barber shop, and the lengths vary. If the price of raw materials is high, it will be difficult to make up the cost later.”
The hair business is not doing well right now. This time Wu Jian brought 140,000 yuan of goods, part of which was the result of his wandering around in Chongqing and the surrounding area for more than a month, and the other part he received from his local counterparts. However, there is nothing valuable in this batch, “there are fewer and fewer people with long hair these days.” When he was about to go back, he settled the accounts, and he made less than 10,000 yuan this time.
Regarding the hair collection, there are various methods in various places. It is said that there is a popular way of “hair-for-needle” in the mountains of the northwest. People make a ball of hair that they fall out, and then they can exchange the hair ball and a vendor specializing in recycling for some small commodities. In more areas, it is still necessary to rely on hair dealers like him to collect hair from barber shops or from the streets.
Wu Jian’s haircut seemed to strike up a conversation – “Are we the only one in Chongqing who has haircuts? I was riding a motorcycle and going around the streets. When I saw girls with braids, I ran up to them and stopped and asked. They: ‘Beauty, do you want to sell your hair?’ If you sell it, move a stool, cut it with scissors, repair it with a razor, give the money and leave.”
However, now, “beauties” are increasingly unwilling to appreciate their faces, and some “beauties” have short hair. Now for Wu Jian, many schools do not allow junior high school students to have long hair, and it is already a good business opportunity for little girls to cut their braids during the summer vacation of “Xiaoshengchuchu”. More often, the hair collected in the barbershop is too finely divided and has no recycling value at all.
10 years ago, Li Huijie only needed to go to Shandong and Hebei, and he could usually find suitable hair. But now he travels to remote places such as Gansu and Sichuan, and he may not be able to find it. In Juancheng County’s hair market, the best hair that sold in the morning was a braided hair 1.8 meters long and weighing 7 taels, which sold for 2,000 yuan. “This is too common!” Li Huijie said. Ten years ago, he received the best hair in Gansu. “It was 2.6 meters long, weighed 1 catty and 6 taels, and spent 30,000 yuan.” According to the average speed of human hair growing 1 cm per month, this length will take about 20 years to grow.
But now, such hair is getting harder and harder to see. Li Huijie remembered that he once went to Chongqing to collect his hair and stayed for a week, but he did not see any goods at the right price. Finally, I heard that there is a suitable source of goods in Huili County, Sichuan. After clenching my teeth, I stopped three trains and walked for three days. I went to this small county in Daliangshan before I found a batch of suitable hair.
A few years ago, people from Xuchang, represented by Li Huijie, once went abroad to do hair collection business because domestic business was not good. Because of their religious beliefs, women in many Southeast Asian countries cannot cut their hair at will, but knowing that their hair can be sold for money, they use boxes to collect the hair that falls from the comb and the ground, and sell it to the hair dealers who walk the streets. Li Huijie usually goes to the port in northern Myanmar. Without going out, the local hair dealer will send the collected hair to the hotel to him. Compared with domestic, foreign hair is generally 3 to 5 dollars cheaper per kilogram.
However, the imported human hair was later regarded as “foreign garbage” by the Chinese customs. The customs’ requirement for the import of human hair was to complete the rough processing abroad before importing it. Therefore, most large enterprises importing wigs choose to invest in rough processing factories overseas. Since then, the hair collection business has become increasingly difficult to do. In 2014, Henan Customs cooperated with regulatory policies to carry out a series of special operations against smuggling of “foreign garbage”, and arrested several smuggling organizations, which caused a lot of shock in the industry.
Li Huijie had to return and continue to look for sources from the domestic market. He looked a little depressed. He was not very satisfied with this trip to Shandong. He spent 15,800 yuan to buy a batch of braided hair, but he felt that they were only worth 15,000 yuan in his eyes, but he couldn’t do it if he didn’t buy them. “If you don’t buy a factory, it will stop working.”
A market waiting for consumption to explode
In addition to the high prices of raw materials, the competition brought about by the popularity of e-commerce in the past two years has also continuously compressed the profit margins of the entire industry. Ding Renhe, chairman of “Ruimei Zhenfa”, one of the largest wig companies in Xuchang, told this magazine that around 2016, they felt that e-commerce had a huge impact on the entire industry, especially their investment in traditional distribution channels. The impact of resources on the business.
“Originally, wigs are an industry with high profit margins, especially in mature markets such as developed countries in Europe and the United States. Channel construction is equivalent to providing a set of brand and technical barriers for products, and can also guarantee a certain premium. However, with e-commerce The popularity of this set of barriers was quickly broken.” Ding Renhe said.
For example, in 2008, when Obama was just elected as the US president, they tried to launch a wig of the same style designed according to the hairstyle of the first lady Michelle, and named it “Michelle”. This version was patented by a local dealer, and it sold unexpectedly. It was out of stock for several months, and the company also made a lot of profits. However, this situation is impossible to meet now, Li Xiang, an employee of the e-commerce department of “Ruimei Zhenfa”, told me: “Now that Rihanna is holding a concert, her same hairstyle may be available on AliExpress the next day. It’s all over the place with Yibei.”
Wigs in Xuchang are a typical industry with flowers outside the walls. According to the “2018 China Wig Analysis Report” released by the research institute “Guanyan Tianxia”, the global hair products market reached 12.165 billion US dollars in 2017. Among them, the absolute main force of wig consumption is black women. At present, the size of the US market, the world’s largest market, is about 4.324 billion US dollars, and the second largest market, the African market, is about 3.159 billion US dollars, and the two occupy more than 60% of the wig consumer market. According to a data provided by the E-Commerce Office of Xuchang Municipal Bureau of Commerce, 83% of enterprises in Xuchang only have export business and do not involve the domestic market at all.
“It’s mainly determined by the hair quality of black people,” said Yang Dan, who was stationed in Nigeria for 10 years by a domestic wig company. “If wigs may still be accessories for Asians or white Europeans, for black women Speaking of wigs, they are just in need. They wear wigs, just like we wear clothes. Their natural natural hair is finely curly and fluffy. The market generally does not have high requirements for hair quality, especially in Africa, a large number of products are low-end chemical fiber hair, so the requirements for design and manufacturing technology are relatively low.
“Chemical fiber was applied to the wig industry about 20 years ago. It was originally regarded as a revolutionary innovation in the wig industry. On the one hand, it can reduce the production cost of wigs. Shape. However, for many small factories, they have not understood the characteristics of each chemical fiber until now, they only know that chemical fiber is cheap.”
Ding Renhe, chairman of “Ruimei Real Hair”, analyzed: “Since Rebecca and Ruimei took the lead in introducing technology and talents from South Korea in the 1990s, Xuchang wigs have always followed a path of catching up. From low-end products to low-end markets The price of buying real wigs has gradually gained a dominant position in the market, and in the process, some companies did not think about future transformation, and the competition intensified and they fell behind.” Shen Peng, who was in charge of quality inspection at Rebecca, told me. , Since it involves industrial production, wig designers actually need to understand various knowledge of aesthetics, material science, and industrial processes. For each wig designed, a production process manual similar to the manual must be compiled for the assembly line. Many small factories do not have this design capability, so they have to imitate.
Compared with the international market, the domestic market has been a market dominated by high-end products from the very beginning. “Miaoyang Wig” is a Xuchang wig brand that has been focusing on the domestic market. The owner, Yang Xia, told me: “From the very beginning, domestic consumers could not accept the word ‘fake’. Human hair is the main product, and the price remains high. The domestic wigs have higher requirements for enterprise technology and finesse, but the order volume is much smaller than that of the international market, so few companies are involved.”
Ding Renhe is in the company’s exhibition hall. The update speed of wig products is very fast, and hundreds of styles will be listed every year.
The “2018 China Wig Analysis Report” mentioned that the United States, the world’s largest hair product market, has an annual per capita consumption of hair products of US$15.75, which is equivalent to 108 yuan. The annual per capita consumption of hair products in China is only 2.55 yuan, and the per capita consumption gap between China and the United States is 42.4 times. According to the “China Hair Loss Population Survey” released by the China Association for Health Promotion and Education, there are about 250 million people with hair loss in my country, including about 160 million men and 90 million women. This is also a very large market. However, compared with the popular hair planting technology in the past two years, the market recognition of wigs seems to have not been strong.
“In fact, everyone only sees the ‘fake’ side of wigs. Wigs are convenient, harmless to hair, and can achieve changeable styles in a short period of time. These advantages have been inadvertently ignored. These advantages correspond to such as taking pictures and attending parties. Such non-rigid demand may instead be the growth point of the future industry explosion.” Ding Renhe analyzed.
Yang Xia said that the reason why she insists on being in the domestic wig market is because the unit price of this market is high and the competition is smaller, and on the other hand, it is also because she always believes that this market will explode sooner or later. She always remembers a story she heard during market research: a person in his early thirties who looked after the gate of a kindergarten in Beijing earned a salary of 2,000 yuan 10 years ago. In order to talk to the object, he spent 10,000 yuan to buy a wig.
Yang Xia feels that domestically, the demand for wigs is not illusory, but it has not been taken seriously. When the competition in the international market becomes saturated, people start to look at the domestic market again. In recent years, including Ruimei and Rebecca, they have begun to vigorously promote offline stores.
“The biggest barrier in China is still in the consumption mentality.” Yang Xia said. Going back to the original wig shop in Beijing’s East Third Ring Road, although there are more and more customers like Yang Yue who know how to appreciate the beauty of wigs, but after 10 years of wig sales, the clerk Zhang Miao has never answered the most questions every day. Changed – “Will I be seen wearing a wig?”. The wigs she sells can appear on the heads of Milan Fashion Week, Grammy Awards and even some dignitaries, but she still has to face the “soul question” of consumers every day, “and it’s a one-vote veto, as long as you The answer made them a little worried, and most of them turned around and left immediately.”
Zhang Miao has encountered this situation countless times – the ladies who try on wigs are extremely satisfied with their own image in the mirror, but they cannot pass the threshold that the wig is “fake”. This even affects the naming of wigs. The Xuchang Hair Products Industry Association meets every year, and some representatives say that the name “wig” doesn’t sound good. Can you change it to something better, such as “hair makeup” or something.
Yang Xia found it a little funny. She said that when tennis star Agassi took off her flowing blond hair and showed her bald head, she was disillusioned by a hero, and the girl’s heart was broken. After 20 years, people’s ideas have not changed much. She has been trying to promote her wig brand to some high-end hairdressing salons since last year, hoping to tell people that wigs can actually become a more active choice, “for example, you can try long hair styling when you have short hair.”
She liked the attitude of Japanese elderly people towards wigs when she was studying in Japan. “They have four or five wigs in their house. Every time they go out, they carefully choose one to wear, and then take it off and set it up when they come back. Don’t you just want to look better? What a simple wish, why can’t it be generous? Speak it out.” (At the request of the interviewee, Zhang Miao is a pseudonym in the text)
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