Women mint money by turning used wigs into carpets, doormats

Sarah Adero and Linet Akoth weave waste weave hair into door mats in Kisumu. [Michael Mute, Standard]

Every morning, Sarah Adero, a mother of two, leads a group of women to raid dustbins in salons that dot Kisumu city to collect waste synthetic human hair.

The trip starts with visiting various dumpsites where they scavenge for wigs and braids discarded by women.

For women keen on enhancing their looks with the latest brands of wigs and braids, synthetic human hair waste is worthless. For Adero and her crew, however, the waste is changing their fortunes.

The women recycle the hair at a workshop located in Mamboleo estate and weave them into carpets and doormats. Most of the used wigs are made of synthetic and is a major threat to the environment.

The hair industry in Africa is worth billions and women go to great lengths to look presentable using wigs, braids weaves, and hair extensions has become a vital part of their beauty routine.

With more women replacing their hairstyles frequently to enhance their beauty, the environment suffers due to pollution caused by waste.

They contribute to pollution and some of them are made of plastic, which does not decompose and ends up polluting the environment. It is this negative impact on the environment that prompted Adero to come up with the idea of recycling human waste hair.

When The Sunday Standard visited their workshop recently, the women were busy crafting new carpets from waste human hair they had just collected earlier in the day.

"We thought of the best way to turn used weaves, braids and wigs into something useful after witnessing how they contributed to environmental pollution," Adero said.

The process, however, is not a walk in the park and requires patience and creativity to come up with a good-looking carpet.

After collecting the used wigs and braids, the women place them in a container and sort them out before beginning to knit the collection into threads.

They use a locally assembled wooden machine to make the threads from the weaves.

After they are turned into threads, the process of weaving the doormats and carpets begins.

"It is easy to learn but you have to be hardworking. We always ensure that we make enough threads every day," said Adero.

After making threads, the environmental enthusiasts pick them and place them in a wooden machine and begin to thread a doormat.

It takes about four hours to make a doormat from the threads for a mid-sized piece while a larger size takes her about six hours.

They said through the initiative, they have been able to provide for their families.

Adero said she took advantage of the fact that women like changing their hairstyles frequently.

In their conservation efforts, the women have mastered how to transform the waste from synthetic hair into mats, carpets and textiles. They later sell the items and earn profits from them.

Each woman at the workshop makes up to 10 carpets per week and 50 a month.

"We are saving the environment from pollution and at the same time we are also earning an income from the venture," she said.

A small doormat goes for Sh500 while a big one fetches Sh2,500.

They get orders from clients who mostly live outside Kisumu, making them work twice as hard to make quality products.

Linet Akoth, a member of the group, said the type of mats and carpets they make are washable and are also long-lasting.

"These mats can last many years before being replaced. They can easily be washed using hands," said Akoth.

Emma Odima, a mother of three, said she is able to feed and educate her children from the money she makes out of her business.

"Most of our materials are freely available and the only thing I had the carpenter make for me was the weaving frame which cost me Sh600. The money I make goes to my children's school fees and saving for the future," she said.

She said since she has been doing the weaving for five years, she is able to make three small-sized door mats without a hitch.

Newton Owino, who hosts the women in his workshop, told The Sunday Standard that he had been training them on how to weave the mats.

"Since I was a young man, I have always aspired to be a creator of jobs and not work for people, hence the move to train the youth, old people and vulnerable women on how to be innovative using environmentally unfriendly materials," said Owino.

Michael Nyanguti, the CEO of Magnum Environmental Network and also an environmental activist decried the high rate of pollution in Lake Victoria.

He said most of the plastic waste from salons are swept into the lake after being dumped around the lake.

"If we could find a way of preventing plastics from getting into the lake and filter them using nets along the waterways, we would protect the lake," he said.

He said that rivers emptying their waters into the lake were also heavily polluted with plastic waste, thus hurting the lake and aquatic life.

Scientists say human hair is a material considered useless in most societies and therefore is found in the municipal waste streams in almost all cities and towns of the world.

In rural areas or areas with low population density, the hair is thrown away in nature where it slowly decomposes over many years, eventually returning the constituent elements, namely, carbon, nitrogen, sulfur, and so forth, to their respective natural cycles.

In urban areas or areas with high population density, it often accumulates in large amounts in the solid waste streams and chokes the drainage systems, posing challenges due to slow degradation.

Over time, leachate from these dumps increases the nitrogen concentration in the water bodies, causing eutrophication.