Mary Brown is a mother of four in Provo, Utah. And this autumn, she said goodbye to something very close to her.
“I rolled it kind of like a rope,” she says, “and placed it in the bag, and placed that into a mail envelope, and off it went.”
Need a hint about she was sending off: Well, Brown had a nickname growing up.
“A lot of my friends called me Rapunzel from the time I was a teenager,” she remembers. “I’ve always had long hair.”
In October, her long hair became that rope she placed in a bag. Brown had spent the last four years getting her hair ready to sell.
“I did a lot of research,” she says. “You don’t want to use heating products on your hair, you want to use very mild shampoos. It also helps if you are eating really healthily and taking multivitamins.”
Her sister had put her in touch with a hair sales website, and Brown put together an ad for her hair.
“My husband and I went and we took two or three days to do photo shoots around my hair, and picked the best ones we could – with my hair down, with my hair braided, so you could see the different shades of blonde,” she says.
In the ad, Brown’s hair was crazy-long, super shiny, and incredibly straight. A woman who makes hair extensions in Australia saw the ad too. She bought Brown’s ponytails, for a thousand dollars.
Brown’s ad was on Hairwork.com. Marlys Fladeland, who runs the website, says, “I am the first to start a business like this in the United States.”
There are nowat least four sites where you can sell your hair online.
Fladeland has seen hair sell from anywhere between $100 and $4,000. She charges people $25 to post an ad, and she gets about 20-30 ads a month.
“Everybody who needs money sells hair, I think,” Fladeland adds. “It’s actually more when the economy is bad because hair is something that you can grow back. And when people need money, they’ll find a way.”
She says she sees more people trying to sell their hair around the holidays, when wallets are especially empty.
But people aren’t just selling hair. They are also selling milk, eggs, even kidneys.
“It is horrifying,” says Nicholas Colas, a market analyst at the brokerage firm ConvergEx. “And obviously selling a kidney is actually illegal in the U.S., or purchasing one as well. But it is to my mind speaks to the kind of relative desperation that a lot of people still have about their economic condition.”
Colas says the stock market may be doing well, but the economic recovery hasn’t filtered to middle-class people. He doesn’t think that many people are actually selling their kidneys, but he sees hair and breast milk sales as a creative response to hard times.
“I find it very admirable,” he adds. “It requires a lot of ingenuity and it requires a lot of focus to do what it take to make things happen for you.”
Mary Brown says her experience has made her look at hair differently.
“I think that when I look at people now,” she admits, “with long beautiful hair, in my head I calculate how much they could probably sell that for if they wanted to. ‘You know she could he could probably get a good $300 for that ponytail.’ Or ‘Ooh, that hair is really thick, she might be able to get $1000, $1300 even.'”
Brown says she herself is doing alright money-wise. But she has a number of friends who aren’t, and she wanted to help them out. So far, the cash has paid for one friend’s school loan, and another friend’s car repair.