And so the journey started something like this:
L.A.: “How many ounces are in a kilo?”
Me: “Ehh…I don’t know. Five or something.”
TB: “Yea, I don’t know.”
L.A.: “Maybe we should put on one of Jeezy’s songs.” <–Seriously, we’re gonna go with Jeezy on this? Not a knock, just wondering.
L.A.: “Yea.”<–She was actually dead ass serious.
Me: “I mean we could just Google it.”
TB: “Nah, nah, nah, this gives me a chance to use my new conversion thing on my Mac. Hold on, gimme a sec.” <–LOL it should be said that TB is not the most technologically inclined compared to others. Now she’s not, as they would say, all thumbs at it, but she’s also not Genius Bar material…and to be fair, neither am I. #Imjustsayin. “Umm the answer is .0283.”
L.A.: “Yea that doesn’t sound right. I wish I had brought my iPod with me.”<–Still goin’ with Jeezy on this.
TB: “That’s what it says right here! .0283!”
L.A.: “Nah, that just does not sound right.”
Me: “We should Google it.”<–The unwritten 11th commandment: “Thou shalt Google when in doubt.” I’m pretty sure about that.
L.A.: “No seriously, how many ounces are in a kilo? I’m trying to do the math in my head, but I can’t.”
TB: “.0283. It says it right here.”<–The reason it didn’t work is because we put it into the conversion thing wrong. We put it in the converter the same way we were asking the question: ounces to kilo, when it should have been kilo to ounces.
Me: “Just Google it.”
TB: “Seriously, guys, we should probably know this off the top of our heads…like seriously.”<– FACT!
Me: “Just Google it.”
TB Googles the number of ounces in a kilo.
TB: “Umm it’s about 35.”
L.A.: “Wait! What!?”
TB: “Yea, there’s about 35 ounces in a kilo.”
L.A.: “Shut up. Noooo.”
TB: “Yea it says it right here, ’35 ounces in a kilo’.”
L.A.: “SHUT UP!”
Me: “I’m sorry I think I’m missing something.”
L.A.: “There are 35 ounces in a kilo!!”<–It was like watching a child on Christmas day. Her face was the sheer personification of elation.
Me: “Right…I got that. Significance, please.”
L.A.: “The amount of money I would pay for a kilo of hair–OMG there are 35 ounces in a kilo!!! Do know what that means?!?!”
Me and TB: “Uhh, no.”
L.A.: “Son, I can take that home and flip it and make at least 1,000% profit on it! AT LEAST.”
And then the silver lining is revealed.
Me: “So, you’re just gonna go back home and flip a ki, and call it a day huh?”
L.A.: “No. This is a business, man. Do you know how much I could make selling this in LA!??! Son!”
Me: “No, but from your reaction, I’d bet it’s a nice lil’ piece of change.”
L.A.: “Son! There are 35 ounces in a kilo! All those Jeezy songs make sense now!”<–
Me: “You said that you could potentially make a 1,000% profit on this?”
L.A.: “Yea. And that’s without any markup.”
Me: “Shit…that’s where it’s at.”
L.A.: “Tell me about it.”
Me: “I want in.”
Me: “No seriously.”
L.A.: “Ok. Tomorrow morning meet me out front at 8.”
Me: “Why are we meeting so early?”
L.A.: “We got suppliers to meet!”
Me: “Oh shit! You actually found people??! I mean I knew that the temple people gave their hair to was in the south and that they are Vishnu worshipers, but I didn’t know where the processors were. Though I figured they couldn’t be too far.”
L.A.: “They aren’t far at all! They’re in our state! It took me a while to find them.”
TB: “How long?”
L.A. “I’ve been working on this since we got here.”<–We got “here” mid-September. Yea…
Me: “So how many suppliers do you have lined up for tomorrow?”
L.A.: “Umm, I don’t know. About 4 or 5.”
Me: “Damn, you been putting in work!”
L.A.: “Yea! This is a business!”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you actively apply an MBA and a few Jeezy lyrics to real life.<–What are you doing with your life!?
What makes this whole thing funny is the fact that if you would have walked into the room, after we had said we were talking about hair, you would have thought we were talking about flipping weight. #RealTalk.
So now you may be thinking, “So freaking what! This is just so random.” And I would have to agree. But there’s always more to a story, right?
That whole conversation came about because TB and I were shopping in a giant outdoor bazaar in a town called T. Nagar, and as were were walking down this insanely jam packed alley, these two women spotted us and began to follow us up the alley, all the while shoving their wares in our faces.
Ok, that’s nothing new. As a matter of fact, we’ve become immune to it and pros at ignoring the phenomenon. This particular day, however…this day was different.
These ladies were shoving bundles of hair in our faces!
Pause: That’s right, I said hair. Yea get your life together. Wrap your mind around it. Now let’s go!
So, at first, TB and I were shocked. Like really shocked. Like all we could say back and forth to each other was, “Son,” in various tones and pitches.
These ladies had bundles of hair in these shoulder bags and they were selling it on the street! Now when I say bundles, you can think of the packs of hair you’d get at your local beauty supply store, minus the packaging.<–Right. Exactly. WTF, would be the correct response.
Now I’m intrigued, but I don’t want to talk to these ladies because I have communication issues with people who don’t speak English marginally well (It always winds up that we are never, ever talking about the same thing. EVER. Four months of this). TB, however, felt she should engage. She starts haggling with them about the price. They are pulling out 16, 18, and 22″ bundles of hair for us to look at. Now I broke the first cardinal rule of outdoor bazaar shopping, which is “Thou shall not take the wares in thy hand, unless ye intent is to buy,” because I wanted to inspect the hair.<–Umm, yea…I don’t know anything about hair. NOTHING! Which is part of the reason why I looked like Macy Gray’s lovechild in all that humidity.
Given my confession, I’m under the impression that what these women were hawking on the street is probably not top grade hair, but it can’t be that bad either. Right? *Shurg* I really have no idea. I needed an expert.
Me: “We should call L.A.!!”
TB: “We should!”
Me: “Yea. If anyone knows the really real, it’s her.”
I dialed L.A.’s number, but it didn’t go through. I wasn’t phased though because the amount of problems we had with our burner mobiles there was ridiculous!
I guess it would be a bit naive of me to say, now, I didn’t think the hair was real. I mean on the package at home it does say “100% real human hair,” but c’mon. If I were to take every thing for face, I’d get taken all the time! Anyway, TB got wrapped into this whole situation and bought 3 or 4 bundles of hair for about $15 USD (about Rs 700). Now, I will say again, neither TB nor I are “weaveologist” so we had no freakin’ clue if what she just bought is good quality or not, but we intended to show it to L.A. when we got back to get the verdict. So we finished up our shopping excursion and headed back to our apartment.
Once we got back, I called L.A. and told her to come over when she got a chance. She came over and we showed her the hair. I have never seen someone inspect anything as thoroughly as she did that hair. I mean, I’m pretty sure doctors don’t even look at x-rays as hard as she looked at that hair. And even though I’m saying she was looking at it very closely, she managed to do it in all of 2 minutes! Then she started speaking another language talking about how this hair couldn’t really be used as a weave because it wasn’t “weft” and it would, instead, be used for braiding or other like extensions. And that even if this hair had been wefted, it wasn’t Remy treated and wouldn’t have been worth much.
L.A.: “You’ve seen hair on a track. Well, hair that is on a track has been wefted.”
Me: “Oh, ok. What does ‘Remy’ mean? I mean, I see it all the time on the hair in the stores, but I thought it was a brand.”
L.A.: “Remy is an additional process they put the hair through after cleaning it to make it extra shiny.”
Me and TB: “Oooooooooh.”
Me: “Hm, you learn something new everyday.”
And that’s how that night ended. It had been settled that I was tagging along with L.A. to meet various hair vendors the next day.<– If anyone would have asked me if I, ME, would be roaming around Tamil Nadu, India meeting weave merchants, I would have said no, HELL NO, as a matter of fact! I tell you, life is funny.
Eight AM rolled around, and I was dressed and ready to go waiting out front for L.A.
8:25…STILL no L.A….WHERE IN THE HOT HELL IS SHE?!
…L.A. wasn’t even awake!<–Slackin’!
I called her and she said that she still needed to eat breakfast and whatnot, so she’d just come past my apartment to get me when she was ready.
Cool, no problem.
L.A. got to my spot about quarter after 9. We caught the bus and discussed a gamut of topics from how our iPods had been our saving grace as a means to drown out (or outright ignore) our classmates to how L.A. and Kerry Washington are “kindred spirits” (Lol her words not mine!) and how there are so many similarities in the life choices they’ve made to how much money could potentially be made in this “Remy connect” situation.
Another point that came up was my disbelief that this was REAL hair from another human being. Like, yea, I know, but seriously stop and think about that. It came off the head of someone’s mom, or sister, or aunt or cousin as a gift/offering to God. Whoa, that’s deep! I mean, I don’t know if I really completely ever thought it was REAL hair. L.A., however, looked at it from a different point of view. She would just point out the folks with shaved heads and say, “There goes another one supporting the cause.”<– It’s not what she says that will throw you off, it’s the matter-of-fact tone of voice she uses that will cause you to wonder,”WTF did she pulled that one from?” Her particular point of view, though based in the west coast way of doing things (obviously…different from my east coast POV, which she points out often) tends to always be a bit skewed to me. LOL I enjoy her comments because they seem so off kilter, not in a crazy way, but in that active kinda “I-get-to-see-the-world-through-someone-else’s-observations.” There is no lack of entertainment with L.A. on deck.
Before going forward and explaining the “weave merchants” meet and greets, I want to let you know some of the assumptions I am working from while writing this:
1. I assume everyone who is reading this saw Chris Rock’s “Good Hair.” If not, you should–it was interesting to say the least.
2. I assume you know that many of the people that have their head’s shaved are doing as a sacrifice to “God”. Now I put God in quotes because it’s not THE God, and when I say THE God I mean it in a monotheistic way. There is a large temple in the southern part of India where Vishnu (a Hindu deity) worshipers go to sacrifice their hair.
3. This hair business is a borderline black market industry.<–I didn’t know that until L.A. told me and one of the guys that we met with literally passed L.A. a shopping bag full of different lengths of hair under the table in the shady, ehh reasonably lit part of the mall food court.
Now let me be real, aside from the fact that my program in India was SUPPOSED to be cheaper than Paris (side eye, scoff, side eye), I wanted to see if a “Remy connect” even really existed, because after seeing “Good Hair” it’s clear that the Koreans have got things on LOCK!
L.A. and I were set to meet these weave merchants in the same town, ironically, that TB and I had first encountered the hair ladies on the street. Unbeknownst to me, L.A. had scheduled the appointments with the meeting location TBA. So we tried to find something in the immediate area, but there wasn’t anything that didn’t give off that shady, back room, God Father-eque feel. So I suggest that L.A. use her BlackBerry to find a US or European style hotel and we’d just use either their business suite or, if push came to shove, we’d just get a room for a couple hours.
As the results rolled in, we weighed the options of each hotel and its location. There was a Sabari Classic Quality Inn, which is a franchise that had been our clutch spot in case of, well, anything. We decided that because in the past this place had never been a wrong choice, that we should go there. So on the way L.A. called all the merchants and told them that we would be meeting them at the T. Nagar Sabari Classic and we’d give them the address as soon as we got there.
Well…let me just say that our whole plan of using the business suite or getting a room, was a no go! The business suite was in use and and all the rooms were all booked. Instead, I suggested that we just post up in the lobby sitting area and meet the merchants there. Why not? Now what made the situation come together as absolutely hilarious is the fact that one of the merchants L.A. was trying to give the address to just wasn’t receiving the information for some reason (both technological and verbal communication errors). So he looked up the hotel online and called the front desk and asked them to speak with “Michelle”, which, BTW, is NOT L.A.’s name. L.A. then got the concierge to give the merchant directions to the hotel, so we could have a meeting about hair in their lobby. YAY! And to sweeten the deal so that the front desk people wouldn’t say anything to us, L.A. and I ate lunch in their restaurant.<–Ahh, good times…gooood times. Sabari Classic, thanks for the memories.
As we were finishing up lunch L.A. got a call from the first merchant and, because I wasn’t completely done eating, I didn’t get to meet him, but their meeting didn’t last all that long anyway. Apparently the guy that L.A. met with was the son of the guy who actually ran the hair processing factory. He was there to show L.A. the goods and to ask her to come to the factory to see how things were done and possibly strike a deal then, because he didn’t have the power himself to make a deal now; only his father could. He was sent because the father had been called out of town on some other pressing business issue and wouldn’t be back until the following day. Now, as per L.A., this dude was well into his 50s, thereby meaning his father could be anywhere from his mid-ish 70s-early 80s. You mean to tell me that this cat hasn’t turned over at least some capacity of decision making power to you? Like not even a little bit, little bit?! Out of this whole situation, this is what struck me as odd. Not that we were meeting people about hair, which was dicey at best anyway, in a random hotel lobby, with the front desk staff looking at us all sideways and cross-eyed, but that this guy couldn’t make a sales call without the official OK of his father. Dag!
Needless to say, L.A. didn’t choose him.
Merchant number two came with two of those lovely Whole Foods-esque woven satchels full of hair. There was the main guy that was running the show and a friend(?). Main guy was nice, a bit intense for my tastes, but nice nonetheless. Friend guy actually didn’t say anything, he just watched. Apprentice maybe? *Shrug* Whatever. Main guy gave us his card and it was, then, apparent that hair processing wasn’t the only business this guy was into. It seemed that he had his hand in everything, and I do me EVERYTHING. He made wicker furniture, reusable woven satchels, door knobs, random plumbing fixtures and other oddly grouped knick-knacks–as well as their “core competency” hair processing.<–I swear, I have never seen a more hustling nation of people than in India. Everyone has a hustle, from the street kids getting you to pay them just to go away, to the restaurants making you pay extra for carry-out, to your partner school making you pay for your printouts and copies–that were in black and white, I might add. Everyone has a hustle in India. EVERYONE!
Now I should say that L.A. is no slouch, by any stretch of the imagination. She’s incredibly bright, swift on the uptake, and, after having witnessed her work, she has incredible business sense, prowess and savvy.<–Impressed!
Let me explain her process. First, she would commence with the pleasantries, asking the merchants if they had a hard time getting there, where they are from, how long they’ve been doing this, etc. Then she would ask to see the product, and allowed them to do their shpeel and tell her how great they’re processes where over the competition, so on and so forth. While they were doing that, L.A. was running her fingers through the hair, checking for shedding. She’d then go to the weft part and examine the stitching and the over lap of the hair. She’d do, what I’ll describe as a stress test, and pulled the weft part of the track to check for strength and quality of stitching (all the while explaining every move she made to me and why she’d done it in that order). She would also take the hair and, seemingly, inspect each strand as to check for 100% true color and texture constancy. The significance of this was to understand the initial quality of the hair. Hair that is all uniformly the same color and texture is worth more than hair that is 10% mixed which, actually only applies to color and means that 10% of the hair in a particular batch is grey. It’s used as a bulking agent or resource stretcher.<–Think along the same lines as adding water to the ketchup bottle and you pretty much get it. Essentially, a means to an end.
After her tests, L.A. would then ask about if all of the stitching was done by hand (another selling point, I suppose) and how long the entire process would take from “loose” hair in-take to the finished product, which the average was anywhere from 10 days to 3 weeks. She’d then start negotiating the terms of what she wanted her order to look like. She wanted to understand the capabilities of the factory in terms of being able to purchase a mixed kilo that had varying lengths of hair and textures (Texture meaning strait, wavy or curly. Curly was the hardest to come by) and if doing so would cost her extra. Unknowingly to her, I think, she managed to mingle pieces of our finance classes, with our strategy classes, economics class, and even some of our globalization class to better utilize the hair processors skills to further maximize her utility for the hair (in business that is the use of Economies of Scale and the bare minimum of the Utility Function in Economics…boring stuff). Never once did she mention price first (#1 cardinal sin in negotiation: “He who mentions price first loses”…unless you’re Walmart). She also managed to end the meeting in a style that never promised the sale to that merchant, but kept them hopeful and interested enough to answer any ancillary questions she may have during her consideration and selection process.
Merchant number two was the front runner at this point.
Merchant number three…this dude was a trip. He didn’t bring many samples of hair for L.A. to look through, however, the hair that he did have with him was…[wait for it]…still warm and wet because he had just taken it off of the processing line 25 mins before meeting with us!!<–Mind blown! Needless to say, all my suspicions had been laid to rest.
That shit is 100% REAL HUMAN HAIR!!!
Dude it was WET and HOT! Various things ran through my mind, one of which was, “OMG, this just, JUST came off of someone’s head!!” I know that is absolutely ridiculous, but I’m sayin though, think about that. It’s a little off putting, especially when you still don’t REALLY believe this came from another person.
Anyway, Merchant three was much more expensive than both merchants one and two, and he had limited line of products, thus he was out of the running. He did, however, give L.A. insight into a cheaper means of buying the hair that she could apply to the other merchants which would possibly allow her to pay less than what she was willing to.
So we finished the first 3 meetings and were preparing for 2 more, but there were a few issues. First, the woman we were supposed to meet with could not get to us in a reasonable amount of time because this hair trading business was her side hustle and she hadn’t gotten off of work yet. The other guy, couldn’t seem to find his way to the hotel and initially gave the impression that he wasn’t going to show up, though he did later change his mind. So with those things in mind, L.A. and I left the hotel and went in search of something to do for 3 hours while we waited for the woman to get off of work.
Apparently, in India, going to the movies in the middle of the day is not something that people do. It was about 2:30pm and the first movie started at 4:30, quarter to 5 at the movie theater in the mall, which we’d gotten to via rickshaw. Thinking this was an isolated phenomenon, L.A. and I left the mall and headed to the theater that was less than 5 mins away (It should be said that for something, anything really, to be 5 mins away in India was nothing short of a miracle! #RealTalk). Same story at the other movie theater.
Damnit! So now what are we supposed to do for the next two hours and fifty minutes!? Instead of standing around looking lost, which is what I often did while in India, L.A. suggest we just go back to the mall and hang out there since the woman was still at work and the guy was still on the fence about wether or not he was going to meet us and our classmates were coming into the city so it made no sense for us to go home to have to trek all the way back with them. Welp…back to the mall it was.
Once at the mall there was really nothing to do. I mean it was a mall, much like any other mall, it was filled with things that I didn’t need nor wanted. So I did what any contemporary, bored up and coming yuppie would do–I found the closest thing resembling a Barnes and Nobel/Borders and posted up there. While perusing the books (Read: thumbing through the books looking at the pictures), L.A. was working deftly hard to give the last guy merchant directions to the mall. Again, like always, verbal miscommunications prevailed and it was obvious that the merchant thought we were still at the hotel, in spite of L.A. sending him the address of the mall. Thankfully, one of the guys that helps you on the sales floor was close enough to hear that L.A. was having some communiqué issues. He offered to explain the situation to the merchant in Tamil, the official language in Chennai. Once everything was relatively straiten out, the merchant informed L.A. that he’d be to the mall in about half an hour to 45 mins to meet with her. In that time we looked at the great coffee table books about India and compared the quality of each. Our criteria for whether or not it was a good book was to compare the pictures to our actual experience at the many locales shown in the book. The book that won was the one that had the most locations we actually went to. Go figure.
Finally L.A. got a call that the merchant was at the mall. We staked out a corner table in the unfinished part of the food court because the hair trading business was a bit of a black market phenomenon. As L.A. explained it to me, think about it, this is someone’s hair, that they THINK they are sacrificing to god, but in all actuality that isn’t happening. Imagine the uproar that would happen if many of these people found out that their temples were selling their sacrifices for wealthy gain.<–I guess that would be the same as me giving tithes and finding out my church put the money in some type of mutual fund thing, and when it went big, I didn’t get my cut. Loose interpretation, if you will.<– Side note: I wonder if tax codes would allow churches to do things like this? I mean if they promised (were forced) to apply the money to the needy community around them, how could it really be bad? (LOL yea there are about 495017861290563986597 ways that could be or go bad, but it’s still a good idea…in theory.)
So in this shady little corner of the mall, myself, L.A. and merchant number four went to work. This particular merchant had an interesting technique that was used for hand stitched tracks (as opposed to the machine stitched) that would allow for optimal laying of the track against the users head because this particular track was much thinner, that would minimize the raised track effect when it was close to re-do time. It also made this particular track easier to put in and take out. L.A. was intrigued. However, upon further inspection, L.A. found that the cleanliness of this merchant’s products that vastly lacking. She even found traces of dandruff in the tracks! She asked about his cleaning process and all it seemed he did was rinse the hair with water. He also didn’t do the Remy process as well as the other merchants had. This guy was definitely OUT!!
L.A. put in a final call the woman because as a fellow woman and minority, L.A. wanted to support her business, or at least give her a chance. Unfortunately, things just weren’t going to come together for them, and we had to cancel the meeting with the last supplier. It didn’t seem to matter though, L.A. had already made up her mind as to who she was going to use, and entertaining this woman would have been more out of respect than anything else.
After a hard day’s work of debunking fallacies and misinformation, opening your eyes to a world of new experience; actively applying what it is you’ve learned day in and day out and seeing that it really does matter and it most certainly can be applied to almost everything you do; and, finally, coming off of your own high horse and re-examining something and someone that you’d dismissed as having been frivolous and vain, and realizing that she was merely able to get in where she fit in. L.A. managed to evolve a passion to be on her shit at all times into an extremely lucrative potential business endeavor.
I can’t be mad at that.
So after a day like this, it’s only right that you get together with couple friends…
Eat some good food…
Toss back a bunch of drinks…
Have some laughs…
And do what anyone else in our position would do…
Whip your hair.
Speak your mind…
Note: In case you didn’t catch the reference…the title stands for “What would Willow Smith do!?”