When thieves struck Lisa Amosu’s hair salon in Houston, the robbery was unorthodox, to say the least.
Instead of emptying the cash register and making off with the flat-screen TV that Amosu uses to display hair styles, the thieves emptied the store of a commodity altogether more valuable: hair extensions.
“They knew exactly what they were doing, there’s no question in my mind,” Amosu told the Star of the recent robbery. “These jokers walked right past my register, walked right past a beautiful flat-screen TV and didn’t touch them.”
The thieves, she said, stole an estimated $120,000 worth of hair extensions.
“They cut a perfect square of glass out of the window pane and stayed low once they were in the salon so they wouldn’t set off the motion detectors. It was definitely a professional job.”
Robberies like the one experienced by Amosu are becoming more common across the United States as thieves realize they can make a quick buck on the black market by meeting increasing demand for high-quality human hair extensions.
• Thieves recently hit two salons in California and made off with human-hair bundles valued at $70,000.
• Then there was a robbery in Atlanta last month that saw thieves drive a car through the front window of a beauty salon and make off with $10,000 worth of hair.
• In March, criminals shot and killed Michigan beauty-shop supplier Jay Shin when they targeted his storage facility looking for hair extensions.
• An April robbery of one Chicago hair-supply store saw thieves lift $90,000 worth of extensions. Chicago police have so far declined to comment to the Star about their ongoing investigation of the theft.
Hair extensions can sell for as much as $500 for a small bundle at salons, but Amosu says crooks are selling them out of the trunks of cars and on eBay for as little as $25.
“They sell it to hair stylists who work from home and the average person on the street who is looking for a high-quality product but who doesn’t want to pay for it,” she said.
Hair extensions are part of a lucrative trade for salon owners. The extensions are either sewn or woven into a customer’s real hair to create long, voluptuous locks — a process that costs even more money.
In addition to creating financial hardships for hair salon owners, robbers create victims of the customers who need the hair, particularly cancer patients who have ordered specially made hair pieces, Amosu says.
“It’s tragic. One of my clients, a bride, had a special order because she was a cancer patient and needed hair for her wedding. But the thieves stole her order.”
High demand for “remy” hair — rare unprocessed and uncoloured hair mainly from Indian women — is partly what’s driving the black-market trade. Many salon owners have developed business relationships with suppliers in India to ensure a steady source of the desirable product.
“High quality is really hard to obtain,” says Amosu. “That’s why it’s been the latest craze.”
Neal Lester, an English professor at Arizona State University who has written on race and gender politics surrounding hair, says the robberies show how much our hair has become part of our identity construction.
“We seem to be fascinated by long, straight hair,” Lester told the Star. “Just look at television ads and movies, and you’ll see long, straight hair that seems to be valued, not cornrows or dreadlocks. This sense of an ideal is everywhere.”
People’s fascination with those in the media spotlight, such as Beyoncé or Jennifer Aniston — each famous for constantly altering their hair styles — will lead them to seek to emulate those they admire, even if it means doing so in a less than legal way, Lester says.
“This isn’t just for the rich and famous. These are your everyday folks getting hair from the trunks of cars,” he says. “But this is no laughing matter. This is people’s livelihoods.
“Once upon a time, people stole money. Now they’re stealing hair, if you can believe it.”