Hairco limited in the media
INTERNATIONAL HAIR FIRM’S GOLDEN JUBILEE
By a special correspondent
VIOLINISTS and hairdressers, artists and carpet manufactures, are all reliant on a small, but very international London firm, celebrating their Golden Jubilee this month, for product essential for their work. Founded in Liverpool in 1934, Hairco Ltd. Import, export and distribute throughout the world a fascinating variety of hairs, wools and bristles. “I do not know any firm that can offer the same variety”, says Mr Alexander Heckscher, chairman and one of the founders of the company.
His father was a Hamburg banker who suggested his son should gain experience in a practical commodity before –as then planned- entering the bank, so Mr Heckscher learnt his unusual trade in Germany before Hitler came to power.
It was decided to establish the new company in Liverpool because at that time the port was the centre of the important business, where auctions of Pakistan and Indian wools were held. Also, a great deal of South American hairs (such as alpaca) came through the port which could easily be transported to Bradford where, at that time, there were 400 wool and hair merchants.
Not only sheep’s wool was imported but considerable quantities of goat hair (some of which is still used in carpets). In 1953 a special disinfecting station had been built in Liverpool to treat this goat hair as it was thought to carry anthrax. However the labour costs of this operation compared to similar stations on the continent became very high and it was discontinued.
Another product common in the 1930s but now in limited supply is cow-body hair. The method of tanning hides then permitted the hairs to be removed undamaged which is not possible with the methods of curing. These hairs came in a great variety of shades. Mr Heckscher relates that one of their yarn spinning customers wanted to produce the colours of a bouquet of roses using undyed yarns.
With 37 different shades of red cow-body hair, the carpet was made.
With their range of products growing all the time Hairco moved to London in 1936. The many types of bristles and hair brash industry were an important part 0f the company’s business at that time. Other materials in demand included camel hair for coats, coarse wool of all kinds for the carpet industry as well as angora and cashmere.
After the war the company started work with wool spinners producing yarns for specific purposes. The first post-war cars need carpets. Made originally with natural fibre, these were gradually replaced by synthetic materials. When Crossley’s bought the first patent in the UK for a tufting plant, Hairco worked with them to produce the most suitable combination of yarns for the first tufted carpets. Curled hair, used extensively for upholstering furniture, has been largely superseded by foam.
Supplying animal and human hair is another area in which Hairco are well known. In fact Mr Heckscher introduction the wig-makers to the most suitable hair for making Afro-hairstyle wigs. And without the beautiful blonde horsehair, violin bows would be useless.
Climate has a great effect on the business of the company. For instance the quality of Angora rabbit hair can fluctuate according to weather conditions. Although geographically so near, French and German angora can be totally different and, at present, the best rabbit wool comes from China.
Nothing stays the same with this unique business. Sources from which particular fibres can be obtained maybe decimated by floods or droughts and the whole natural infrastructure is altered. Tragic droughts in Ethiopia and parts of South Africa have killed large numbers of animals. One source of both wool and hair, the yak, has suffered from the vagaries of climate conditions in Mongolia and as a result its products are now difficult to obtain, and expensive.
Although Hairco’s customers can rely on obtaining quality raw materials at short notice from many warehouses in this country and in continental Europe, there are many imponderables to contend with. The whim of a fashion designer can create a demand for a product which booms and then, suddenly fades again. Combine such demands with the difficulty of obtaining materials subject to the vagaries of climate and ecological conditions and take into account the problems of dealing in many different currencies-although the $ is used as the common denominator-and you have some insight into the complexity of Hairco’s business.
Because they are small, Hairco can be very flexible in meeting the requirements of individual customers throughout the world. Providinga very personal service, their agents and brokers in, many different markets ensure supply of top-quality products.
Mr Heckscher and his son, Alfred, now also director of Hairco, referred several times to the “Fair”. This turned out to be the six-monthly commodity market held in Canton, China every April and October. During this fair, Hairco have to keep in close touch with their representatives. Through them they hope to make the decisions most favourable to their customers. This can be difficult when, for instance, a commodity has risen by 60% since the last fair. Will this be too much for the potential customer, or must the risk be taken to buy because a particular business will need the materials?
Would the market for these natural fibres continue? Although the tradition of good wool suit
“Made-to-last” was now a thing of the past, particularly with today’s teenagers, the enthusiasm for everything synthetic in the US seemed to have peaked and the swing back to good-quality goods was returning. “We will see changes”, predicted Mr Heckscher, “but I think wool for clothing and carpets will be with us for a very long time.”