HomeTop StoriesHow human hair can help tackle the challenges associated with climate change

How human hair can help tackle the challenges associated with climate change

Scientists say human hair could be the world’s largest sustainable textile that could be used to tackle some key issues related to climate change.

There is a movement quietly gaining momentum in the fashion world that is less about what is trendy and more about the material used.

As unlikely as it may sound, human hair is sweeping the catwalk and challenging our sense of style – and our ‘ick’ factor.

“Even when it comes to your own hair, you don’t even want to look at it on the floor. You don’t even want to touch it,” Zsofia Kollar said.

Kollar is the founder of Human Material Loop, a clothing design start-up headquartered in Amsterdam. The designer goes to salons and barber shops and picks up discarded hair.

With the help of scientists and engineers, the strands are converted into strong fibers that are sewn into couture pieces.

“We have developed few knitted pieces, also woven pieces. So then we can really show: okay, this can be an alternative to actual fibers or wool fibers,” Kollar explains.

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The use of human hair is part of an effort to reduce the environmental impact of the fashion world.

Industry uses an enormous amount of water. According to the World Research Institute, it takes 700 gallons to produce just one cotton shirt, compared to the human hair method, which uses no water.

From the catwalk to a chic hair salon in San Francisco, human hair has taken on a new role.

“I’ve been cutting hair for about 20 years,” says creative stylist Lisa Pomo.

Pomo starts cutting Philip Lam’s hair. But this cut is far from ordinary.

“The hair usually goes to cleanup mats for oil spills,” Lam said.

The strands of hair cut from the young man’s head are carefully collected and then turned into a hair mat, thanks to a San Francisco nonprofit called Matter of Trust.

“We have felt these fibers form mats that can enter storm drains and contaminated reservoirs and filter out any petrochemicals,” said Lisa Gautier, co-founder and CEO of Matter of Trust.

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The hair mats were invented by hairstylist Phil McCrory, who, while washing a client’s oily hair, saw a television news about the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill when the oil tanker ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound.

“It just clicked for him,” Gautier said. Hair absorbs up to five times its own weight in oil.

Matter of Trust collects hair, fur, wool and fleece and then uses a special felting machine to create incredibly strong hair mats.

Matter of Trust project manager Daniel Tulberg showed CBS SF how the device works. He swiped the hair mat a few times. The smaller strands serve as filler and the longer strands enclose the mat. He held it up and pulled on it from all angles, without a single strand coming loose.

“And just like that, we have a completed hair mat,” Tulberg said with a smile.

The mats have been used to clean up hundreds of oil spills in U.S. waters, including the 2007 incident involving the freighter Cosco Busan that accidentally struck the San Francisco Bay Bridge and spilled 58,000 gallons of fuel into the bay.

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The oil industry is one of the biggest causes of global warming and climate change.

As for Lam’s new haircut?

“It looks good! And it’s definitely a great goal,” he said.

Instead of ending up in the landfill, free hair is the latest sustainable fabric, saving water in the fashion industry while cleaning up the environment, one strand at a time.

To donate hair, animal fur, wool and fleece to Matter of Trust, there is a process to follow, listed on the Matter of Trust website. Interested parties can first register and follow the simple instructions to make a donation.

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