If anyone knows how to turn a hairy situation on its head, it’s Studio Swine. The London-based design firm has created a series of decorative objects, from an Art Deco-inspired dressing table to tortoiseshell-like hair accessories, that appear like intarsia woodwork are actually made from resin-embedded strands of dip-dyed human hair. Hair Highway, which showed last week at the Design Miami/Basel fair in Switzerland, draws upon a technique the designers used to make eyeglasses in 2011.
“Hair grows 16 times faster than the trees used for tropical hardwood which can take 300 years to reach maturity,” explains Alexander Groves, who founded Studio Swine with fellow Royal College of Art graduate Azusa Murakami. “We were interested in the future of resources; it was meant to be a conceptual work, but we were really surprised by how many people wanted to buy them.”
The duo, which developed the collection as part of a five-month residency with Pearl Lam Galleries in Shanghai, was piqued by the notion that China is both the world’s largest importer of tropical hardwood and its largest exporter of human follicles.
After discovering that China’s Shandong Province houses the planet’s biggest hair marketplace, Groves and Murakami decided to make a short film about the hair trade, tracing a lock of hair’s journey from its original owner to the wig and extensions factory where it’s washed, dyed, and sewn.
“For us it was like visiting a silk workshop,” says Groves. “Everything is done by hand in the hair factories, and it becomes like any other material. We’re used to wearing silk, which comes from insects, and wool which is sheep hair. Human hair, too, has that moment where it becomes dehumanized.”