The Dutch Blond Sweater
Design studio Human Material Loop was founded in 2021 to explore the possibilities of human hair waste as a material and its integration into the textile industry. Their goal is to develop high-performance textiles with the lowest carbon footprint possible.
In Europe alone, an estimated 72 million kg of human hair waste is generated. Waste hair ends up in landfills, causing the expulsion of toxic gases into the environment. Waste hair accumulates in large amounts in the solid waste streams, choking the drainage systems. It takes several years for human hair to decompose. While we think of human hair only existing on top of our heads, beauty salons generate huge amounts of waste, whereas waste management in cities only focuses on collecting the waste. Human hair is a natural filamentous biomaterial and chemically, approximately 80% keratin protein is present in human hair. The durability of keratins is a direct consequence of their complex architecture with extremely high molecular weight.
Looking at human hair as a material offers many advantages. Human hair and its abundance quantity, non-toxic, non-irritating to the skin and anti-allergic material to work with. Hair has a strength-to-weight ratio comparable to steel. It can be stretched up one and a half times to its original length before breaking. Due to the light weight of the material the collected raw material can be transported by carbon-neutral bicycles within our cities. Its thermal insulation can be applied within construction and heavy-duty work areas. Its oil-absorbing capability can revolutionise how we scent our spaces or how we clean up oil spill disasters.
The world’s population is rapidly rising, and waste management and the change to local materials and production are a must for a sustainable future.
The textile industry is the second-largest polluter just after the oil industry. Textile production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, and the fashion industry produces 20% of the world’s wastewater. Cotton cultivation severely degrades soil quality and requires a huge amount of water. The production of sheep's wool is more polluting than acrylic, polyester, spandex, and rayon fibres. The current sourcing and manufacturing processes in the textile industry cannot be maintained and continued in a unsustainable way.
If we want to maintain our planet for future generations we need radical changes. The solution? The solution is on top of our heads. Human hair can become a game-changer for the textile industry.
What does the future hold for recycling? Two words: zero waste. The growing population and the rising standard of living around the world will continue to put increasing demand on the finite resources of our planet. As more and more people, companies, and communities commit themselves to zero waste, the concept of waste changes. Waste is no longer waste, it is a commodity with value. What is the value of human hair waste? Can we position humanity back in the ecosystem and recycle everything that we discard even if it is part of us?
Shed hair has no nuclear DNA. Nuclear DNA comes from the cell nucleus and is inherited from both parents, half from the mother and half from the father. Each person’s nuclear DNA is unique — except for identical twins, who have the same DNA.
The hair follicle at the base of human hair contains cellular material rich in DNA. In order to be used for DNA analysis, the hair must have been pulled from the body – hairs that have been broken off or cut off do not contain Nuclear DNA. Therefore hair that has been cut off by a barber or hairdresser does not contain any Nuclear DNA and no person can be identified from it.
Human Material Loop collects and processes waste human hair from beauty salons. Unlike other materials in the textile industry, human hair does not require any cultivation, the material itself is taken care of by individuals until it is cut off by a hairdresser. At the current stage, the material is spun in yarns and woven or knitted to applicable textile pieces. Current developments explore the physical and chemical properties of human hair and exploration for different industries.
The sweater is made of 100% recycled Dutch blond hair from Amsterdam, spun and knitted in the Netherlands.
Information submitted by the maker and edited by the Future Materials Bank.
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