A strange sculpture has landed in the window of a hair salon in the trendy neighborhood of Notting Hill in London. It’s tall, it’s furry, and it’s made of human hair.
The 12-foot-tall sculpture is made of 15 pounds of chopped hair that was collected from hair salons around the U.K. and woven into a felt material. It’s on display as part of the London Design Festival. Though it looks like part of a Demogorgon from Stranger Things, it has a serious mission: to highlight the untapped potential of hair waste as a design material.
Hair is a funny thing. We braid it, we style it, we cherish it, but once it leaves our heads and finds its way onto a wet bar of soap, its creep factor skyrockets. But for Pareid, the London-based architecture studio behind the sculpture, hair has tremendous potential for designers. The studio has been doing research on reusing human hair for about five years now. At Bangkok Design Week, in 2019, for example, they used hair to measure urban pollution in the city, then made a tent using hair textile.
Now, the architects have partnered with the Green Salon Collective, a U.K. company that takes salon waste like hair and recycles it into wool alternatives, particleboard-like sheets, and sausage-shaped floating barriers that absorb oil spills.
To make the sculpture, Pareid used a felting machine in which several needles stab through the material, catch on the hair fibers, and squeeze them together until they turn into a solid surface. They then draped the felt over a wooden structure that gives the sculpture its shape. Deborah Lopez, one of Pareid’s two cofounders, explains that the process can only work with hair that is longer than 5 centimeters (about 2 inches), which complicates things a bit, but the fabric requires no other binders, which can be harmful to the environment.
The sculpture is meant as a provocation, but Lopez has many ideas for how hair can be used for practical solutions. “As a textile, [hair] is good because it can be used as acoustic material or insulation,” she says, noting the firm has also been testing it as an aggregate in harder materials. Much like straw in adobe bricks, hair could be used as a fiber reinforcement, she says.
It may sound gross, but the potential of horse hair as reinforcement in concrete is already being explored. And designers have been experimenting with other unusual waste materials, such as fish scales, sludge, and even orange peel. Why should human hair be any different?
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