For the past eight years, Angie has been wearing extensions, but she says she's never thought about where the hair originates. Each year, Mara says more than 1,000 tons of human hair are imported into the United States and used to create extensions and weaves. "Some of the best quality and most desirable hair comes from India," she says.
Where do they get all these long locks? Some of it originates at the Venkateswara Temple in southern India, one of Hinduism's holiest sites. Many of the worshipers who visit this temple leave a special offering for Lord Venkateswara—their hair. "It's part of a ritual called tonsuring, the cutting of hair for religious reasons," Mara says. "Every day, thousands of Hindus sit before the temple barbers to offer their hair and please the God."
Annually, Mara says the temple earns about $18 million selling this hair to exporters. "As soon as the hair leaves the devotee's head, it starts the journey to someone else's," she says.
New York City stylist Jay Ferrara uses "temple hair" in his extensions. "When this hair comes from India, it's beautiful," he says. For short extensions, Jay says he charges clients $2,000, and if you want longer hair, it will cost you as much as $4,000.
Mara says temple hair accounts for just 25 percent of the Indian hair market. The rest comes from women who collect the hair that comes out naturally and sell it. "It's called the dead hair market," Mara says. "You may have 60 women in one village who pool their hair together, and they'll sell it for $2. So they're getting pennies for this."