When someone mentions South Korea, you might think of K-pop, technology, or just some really great food. But wigs? Probably not.
Wigs are a massive deal in South Korea, and it’s fair to say that they actually helped save the country’s economy after the Korean civil war. Read on to find out more about wigs in South Korea and why they’re such big business!
The History of Korean Wig Culture
To understand why wigs are so popular in South Korea, we need to go over a bit of history. Between 1950 and 1953, Korea found itself in an economy-devastating civil war, that led to the division that we all know today - North Korea and South Korea.
Several families were left with almost no money to buy basic necessities, evident in their record as the poorest in the world at the time.
Now, you can probably guess what the Korean people came up with as their magic money-maker: hair! For much of Korea’s history, hair was considered a precious family gift, so cutting it was not common. Because of this, there were thousands of people with long, luscious locks, and the country thought bingo! We’re going to cut our hair, create wigs and sell it, so we can finally feed our families.
Wigs: The Hidden Money-Maker
In the early days, people would walk the streets and sell hair to others. Workers, such as sweet-sellers or city employees, would shout, ‘come and sell your hair here!’, much like you might have scrap collectors coming around your neighbourhood.
This hair would be sent to small factories, where it was washed and gathered before being sent to Europe. Much of the global wig trade happened there, and the influx of Korean hair was a game-changer. Until the 1960s, European wigs were made of European hair. But Korean hair was stronger and thicker, so it arguably made better wigs.
Image | Korean Women Manufacturing Wigs
An Established Wig Market
Exporting hair to make wigs continued for nearly 10 years. But, by 1970, Koreans had realised there wasn’t much point in sending hair abroad to make wigs. So, they decided to set up their own wig production factories. It was so successful that wigs generated more than $93 million in annual revenue by 1970!
Opening factories helped solidify and better establish the wig industry in South Korea. It led to jobs and especially helped women, who were usually banned from traditional labour markets.
Although much of the global wig production market has shifted around the globe, it’s still popular in South Korea, and much of the country’s demand now comes from Korean women.
So, of course wigs weren’t the only source of cash in South Korea's crippling economy after the war, but they definitely played a big part in bringing it back to it's feet! The country had the perfect combination of hair culture and creativity to shape it's emerging wig market, and today, Korean wigs are one of the most sought after wigs today!