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A Dutch startup is revolutionizing the fashion industry by creating textiles from human hair, challenging perceptions and addressing environmental concerns.

Human Material Loop, a Dutch startup, is pioneering a sustainable approach in the fashion industry by turning human hair into a viable textile. This initiative is not just about offering an alternative material for clothing but also addresses the significant waste issue in the hair industry.

Zsofia Kollar, the co-founder, inspired by the potential of hair as a fabric, initiated this project amid a personal crisis as a designer during the Covid-19 pandemic. She turned her attention to the environmental impact of hair waste. Salons in the United States and Canada contribute to a considerable amount of waste every minute, leading to greenhouse gas emissions when the hair decomposes in landfills without oxygen.

The process at Human Material Loop involves spinning short hairs together to create a continuous thread, which is then dyed using pure pigments. Their initial prototype was a sweater with a texture similar to wool, chosen for its feasibility and relatability. The company has since explored other prototypes, including an outdoor coat insulated with hair, tested in extreme conditions on Argentina's Aconcagua mountain.

Although these innovative products are not yet for sale, the company's aim is to supply this unique material to other designers and brands. As production scales up, they anticipate that the cost of this human hair textile will be competitive with traditional wool.

Kollar is aware of the public's hesitance to embrace clothing made from human hair. However, she emphasizes the material's durability and sustainability. The company sources its hair from salons in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, focusing on hair that does not contain nuclear DNA to ensure privacy. They are also developing a documentation chain to trace the origins and destinations of their materials.

Kollar explains that using the hair fabric is not that different from knitting a sweater with any other material. Short hairs are spun together and transformed into a continuous thread to make a yarn, and then dyed with pure pigments. She added that as the company scales up production it may dye the yarn or fabric, depending on which is most efficient.

Historically, human hair has been utilized as a textile in various cultures. Examples include the Kiribati tribe in Micronesia, who incorporated human hair in woven armor, and the 13th-century inhabitants of the Southwestern United States, who crafted socks from hair. In Japan, human hair ropes were used in the reconstruction of the Higashi Hongan-ji Temple after a fire.

Sanne Visser, a Dutch material researcher and designer not associated with Human Material Loop, echoes the challenge of overcoming the taboo around human hair as a resource, especially once it is cut. According to CNN, in her "Locally Grown" project for London’s Design Museum, she explored "hair farming" and reimagined a barber's chair to facilitate hair collection.

Visser acknowledges the complexities of integrating human hair into everyday products and sees a future where it becomes more accepted as a material. This progression will require a shift in public perception and valuation of human hair as a resource.

Human Material Loop's venture into transforming human hair into a textile represents a significant step towards sustainable fashion. It also challenges traditional views on waste and resource utilization, potentially changing the way we think about and use materials in our daily lives.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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