It's been almost a month now since my trip back to my home country of India, which I partly covered in this blog post. The memories of its stunning landscapes and vibrant culture continue to fill my thoughts. I've been reflecting on the beauty of its backwaters and the resilience of its people, all while recognizing the stark contrasts within its society. The wealth gap in India is a profound reality – the top 10% holds 80% of the nation's wealth, a disparity even greater than what we see in the United States. Among the 1.3 billion people in India, approximately 60% live on less than $3.10 per day, and a staggering 21% (equivalent to over 250 million people) survive on less than $2 per day.
Growing up in India before moving to the United States, I remember feeling fortunate and never lacking thanks to my parents and the blessings we received. However, the reality for many in India, then and now, is far more challenging. Hunger and poverty are pervasive issues, with countless women struggling to provide even the basics for their families. Unfortunately, opportunistic practices have emerged in response to this desperation, resulting in scams and a black market where people are willing to do almost anything to make ends meet. India has been taking steps to combat these issues, but there is still much work to be done.
In some parts of the country, buyers travel from village to village, offering a meager sum of around $7 U.S. for 500 grams of hair. Shockingly, they pay only half upfront, around 250 rupees or $3.50 U.S., but only if the woman provides more hair. This creates a vicious cycle that entraps these women, but the money they receive might provide a day's worth of nourishment for their families. In other instances, children scrounge for fallen hair wherever they can find it, from combs to drains – a distressing sight. This hair, collected through such ethically questionable means, often finds its way to China, the second-largest exporter of human hair.
It's a deeply troubling system, one that I find profoundly distressing. However, the silver lining is that salon and wig store owners are becoming increasingly aware of the human cost behind the hair we use and cherish. When I established Perfect Locks, I made a personal commitment to ensure that our business operated with ethical principles at its core, from the women who donate their hair at temples to the dedicated workers in our factories.
During my recent trip to India, my daughter accompanied me on a journey that was both nostalgic and purposeful. Our factory is situated in a quaint town in southern India, a picturesque drive from the airport through villages, farmlands, and serene rivers. As we arrived at the factory, we were greeted with smiles, a vibrant bouquet of flowers, and a handwoven shawl – a heartwarming display of respect.
The past five years have seen significant changes in the way business is conducted, with virtual meetings becoming more common. Nevertheless, I believe that personal connections remain invaluable, and so we embarked on in-person meetings and visits. Gathered around a large table were supervisors from various departments – hair procurement, sorting, cleaning, processing, quality control, and packaging. We discussed product updates, production changes, and market trends, fostering an organic exchange of ideas and expertise that's hard to replicate through digital communication.
For me, as a woman in business, direct involvement in every facet of the business has always been essential. It's not about micromanaging, but about staying informed and connected.
Following our meetings, the most gratifying part of my journey awaited – a factory tour and quality time with the remarkable women who craft Perfect Locks wefts, wigs, and extensions. Their gratitude for our business, support, and the impact we have on women dealing with hair loss or undergoing chemotherapy is genuinely humbling. They understand that their craftsmanship resonates with women across the globe, creating a profound sense of connection.
As we sat together, their stories flowed – tales of their families, challenges, and aspirations. Whenever possible, I offered advice and resources to assist them beyond their work responsibilities. Beyond just being employees, it has always been my priority to create a work culture where everyone feels valued, cared for, and appreciated – a place where they find fulfillment beyond their paychecks. The familial atmosphere in our factory mirrors the environment we've cultivated in California with our team.
Every knot tied, every weft woven carries a piece of their skill and dedication, forming a generational legacy as mothers work alongside daughters. We encourage career growth and ensure their hard work is rewarded, giving them opportunities that extend far beyond financial compensation.
In the time since Perfect Locks was established, we've extended our reach to employ hundreds of women in this small Indian town and its surroundings. We empower them to build independent lives and provide for their families while maintaining their dignity. We foster an environment where their opinions matter, which is especially meaningful in a society that often marginalizes women's voices.
Ultimately, we're united by a sisterhood, navigating our paths in a world that still has far to go in terms of gender equality. Just as we uplift our fellow women, we're committed to supporting our children, ensuring they have opportunities we may not have had.
I take immense pride in our achievements as a company, knowing that we have more work to do, more impact to make. With every visit, I find solace in staying true to our vision. Ethics is more than numbers; it's about recognizing the value of each individual, acknowledging the interconnectedness of our lives, and lifting each other up as we progress.
India, my beautiful homeland, until we meet again.