Désirée Malessa

How about human hair for mass production?

British designer Ellie Birkhead uses local human hair to make region-specific bricks.

What if we could use human hair to replace finite materials used in building houses? Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Ellie Birkhead decided to experiment with this idea. Birkhead is the developer and maker of “Building the Local”: Bricks, made out of clay, human hair and other local waste products.


Bricks out of hair by designer Ellie Birkhead - credits:  elliebirkhead.com

When first seeing the design, most of the reactions show confusion and disgust. What's all about these hairy filthy clay bricks? With her social design project “Building the Local”, Buckinghamshire-based designer Birkhead tries to create awareness of dying local industries and therefore also extincting cultural identities due to economic pressures caused by globalisation. By exploring the values of crafts-based industries and local organic and industrial waste products, such as human hair from a local hairdresser, she represents a way to re-think local manufacturing. Birkhead works with crafts and traditional industries that are at risk in the UK. With her focus on the last active brickyard in the region, Chiltern Hills in southeast England, she introduces a new way of the traditional brickmaking process: mixing waste products from neighbouring industries with local clay. In a conversation with Birkhead at the Eindhoven Graduation Show 2018, the designer describes that she is using hair for in her clay mixture, as an alternative fibre to bind the clay together. 

Should hair be seen as a new additive sustainable material for mass production?