In the narrow lanes of south Delhi’s large, bustling INA market, among the shops bursting with uniforms, dupattas, fruits and vegetables, several signboards advertise human hair. On an afternoon in August, I entered a shop whose sign read “Pankaj International Human Hair,” climbed down a short flight of stairs, and found the owner, Pankaj Chitkara, in the basement. He was measuring brown hair extensions with help from his young assistant, and recording the lengths in a notebook. He showed me the six types of human hair he sold—straight, curly, natural wave, bulk hair, deep wave and wavy. They came in 11 different colours, including jet black, deep red and platinum blonde.
He said the demand for Indian hair—which is known for its strength and thickness—among Africans in Delhi has been growing since 2004. The shopkeeper of HSE Hair—a wholesale store in Patel Nagar—also told me that her most “regular customers” are people employed by embassies of African countries, who usually buy extensions in bulk.
The sale of hair to Africans in Delhi is part of a much larger hair trade between India and Africa. According to an article on Scroll.in, India’s hair export market was worth around Rs 2,500 crore in 2015, when the piece was written, and was growing annually by 10 to 30 percent. The article also reported that the market for wigs, weaves and extensions in Africa is worth about $6 billion per year. Though this trade may be growing, some people, including several African women I spoke with in Delhi, are choosing to reject wigs and extensions, acknowledging the political implications of using imported substitutes for natural hair.