A strange sculpture has landed in the window of a salon in London’s trendy Notting Hill neighborhood. It’s tall, it’s furry, and it’s made of human hair.
The 12ft tall sculpture is made from 15kg of cut hair collected from salons across the UK and woven into a felt material. Exhibited as part of the London Design Festival. Although it looks like part of a Demogorgon from Stranger Things, has a serious mission: to highlight the untapped potential of hair scraps as a design material.
Hair is a funny thing. We braid it, we comb it, we adore it, but once it leaves our head and finds its way into a liquid soap, its creep factor skyrockets. But for Pareid, the London-based architecture studio behind the sculpture, hair holds enormous potential for designers. The studio has been researching the reuse of human hair for about five years. At Bangkok Design Week in 2019, for example, they used hair to measure urban pollution in the city and then made a tent using hair fabric.
Now, the architects have teamed up with Green Salon Collective, a British company that takes salon waste like hair and upcycles it into wool alternatives, particleboard-like sheets and floating sausage-shaped barriers that absorb oil spills.
To make the sculpture, Pareid used a felting machine in which several needles pierce the material, grab the hair fibers and press them together until they become 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 co-founders, explains that the process can only work with hair 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 intended as a challenge, but Lopez has many ideas for how hair can be used for practical solutions. “As a textile product, [hair] it’s good because it can be used as an acoustic material or insulation,” he says, noting that the company has also tested it as an aggregate in harder materials. Like straw in adobe bricks, hair could be used as fiber reinforcement, he says.
It may sound gross, but the potential of horse hair as reinforcement in concrete is already being explored. And designers are experimenting with other unusual waste materials, such as fish scales, mud and even orange peel. Why should human hair be any different?