How hair scavenged from Dandora dumpsite ends up in salon

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Stylist Julia Wanja has been selling second-hand hair for over a decade, but says there is more demand now since many people cannot afford new extensions.

She regularly picks her way delicately through piles of food waste, discarded masks, rubber gloves and other rubbish at Nairobi’s Dandora dumpsite, looking for used hair extensions she can clean and resell to customers.

The pandemic means fewer clients with less money and she is cutting down on costs by cleaning and reselling hair from the dumpsite.

“I started this hair business in 2008 by plaiting second-hand hair. If you come with new hair or second-hand hair I weave it on you. So I realized that many people like to use second-hand hair because of their economic state. Clients come with second-hand hair because it is way cheaper than new hair,” the mother of three told Reuters from her wooden stall near the Dandora dumpsite as vehicle horns blared in the background.

Wanja said she washes the used hair extensions carefully using detergent, Dettol and hot water. Most of her customers trust her to wash the hair well, she said, although a few like to clean it themselves as well.

Wanja’s customers say as long as the hair has been cleaned, they do not mind where it is from. The hair looks new: long, luxuriant locks hang from the walls in Wanja’s stall, or are perched on a battered styrofoam head.

“The hair bought new from a shop and bought used only differs in price. But once it is plaited, there is no difference,” said Cecilia Githigia as Wanja’s fingers worked a weave into her hair.

“We cannot allow anyone to enter the dumpsite without a mask on,” dump coordinator Denis Githaiga said, as he ripped through piles of plastic bags.

Githaiga and other officials direct trucks to dump their loads depending on where the waste has come from.

Domestic and commercial waste – which includes bags of hair extensions discarded by other salons – goes to different sections.

Medical waste is usually incinerated.

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