Designers Turning to Human Hair as New Material

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Monday, August 4th, 2014
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Furniture designers are taking the use of organic materials to new lengths in a bid to salvage waste.

Recent designs have included the Terra stool made from the earth’s soil, mushroom furniture and even the Artichair – a chair constructed from artichokes, which are abundant in Mediterranean countries.

Now, leaning on a new kind of growth – the rising population – two designers have created a collection of furniture using human hair.

Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves of Studio Swine have created a furniture and homewares collection by combining the human hair sold to Chinese markets with a natural resin.

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Human hair is combined with a natural resin to create the designs

The project, entitled Hair Highway, has been documented in a short video showing the sourcing and building of the product. The designers go to the Shandong province of China, where hair is sold to merchants and then moved to a factory for production. Hair Highway also echoes the ancient history of the Silk Road, where trade and cultural interaction took place between the east and west of Asia.

Hair Highway leans on a 2011 experiment where the designers created a collection of spectacles through a similar process. Studio Swine is renowned for its research in “material innovation and creating new sustainable systems” and the result is surprisingly very aesthetically appealing.

The idea came about in a bid to investigate an alternative to wood, as China is one of the world’s largest importers of tropical hardwood and the largest exporter of human hair.

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Aesthetically appealing and biodegradable

The video shows the hair collected, bound and dyed before being shipped off to a factory environment. Here it is layered flat and a natural red resin is poured over it to bind it. Once dry, it is then cut and glued into place. This organic process ensures each furniture piece is completely biodegradable.

“We are interested in the future or resources,” Murakami and Groves told Dezeen last month. “Hair is one of the few natural resources that is increasing globally. Hair grows sixteen times faster than the trees used for tropical hardwood which can take 300 years to reach maturity.”

The designs offer a tortoise shell-like pattern and can resemble exotic, rich-coloured hardwood. The collection is inspired by 1930s Shanghai deco design.

While Studio Swine has achieved both beauty and sustainability, a previous attempt at hair furniture was a little more raw.

In 2012, Swedish furniture and product designer Ola Giertz created The Bare Hair Project, human hair pouffes.

Giertz worked with Studio Vastra Sandgatan, a salon in Helsingborg, Sweden, using human hair as a furniture material. The designer collected human hair from the floor or the salon – which would have otherwise been discarded or burnt – and stuffed clumps of it inside two plastic pouffes made from recycled plastic bottles.

He estimated that Swedes grow approximately 1,000 miles of hair per year. This was based on a rate of seven inches per year and the population of nine million people at the time.

“The project is essentially about finding possibilities and functionality in that which would otherwise be considered ugly,” Giertz said.

He also referred to the products transparency and ability to change colour and shape because the actual hair can be seen, though some critics found that a little visually overwhelming.

Both projects demonstrate a growing trend in discovering new materials and for a more organic approach in design application. They also ambitiously suggest a new wave of up-cycling for the hair-salon industry – one in which waste becomes resourceful.

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