Q. Where does real elephant hair come from?
A. From real African elephants and their tails.
Q. Why is it so popular?
A. In the very old days the local herdsman would collect elephant hair pieces that had been caught in the local thorn trees. To relieve their boredom they would weave them into the magic bracelet shapes their forefathers taught them. Thus became the beginnings of the popular elephant hair bracelets we know today.
Q. What is the problem?
A. Thanks to the popularity of these bracelets in their natural format, hunters have driven a demand for them and now hair is sold loosely on the streets of some African towns and villages, with no accounting for where the hair comes from. When elephants are poached, the ivory is quietly smuggled out of the country (and off to Asia in most cases), as everyone knows it is illegal. But the rest of the body parts find their way into all sorts of tourist products – including bracelets, once again driving the vicious cycle of poaching.
Q. What else are elephant hair bracelets made from?
A. For years, tourists, workers, missionaries and hunters alike have returned from African with “elephant hair bracelets”, especially from Kenya for over 50 years. But these souvenirs were made by artisans in silver or even sometimes professionally from gold. They follow the same style, unfortunately have the same name, but are of course completely legal as another form of jewelry that should follow jewelry standards for sterling silver and carat gold as well.
Q. What is the allure?
A. Don’t we all love a souvenir of Africa? Also of such a magnificent beast? Plus it is a product of nature embraced by both men and women that endures for years and years.
Q. Why is it illegal?
A. The commercial importing and exporting of wild animal products requires buyers and sellers to have the right permits. For the last few years elephants have been on the endangered species list and so no permits are issued. In fact, with few exceptions, even the hunting of elephants is banned in most African countries today.
Q. What are my options?
A. There are still plenty of variations of elephant hair bracelets, made from copper, pure sterling silver, tarnish resistant silver, gold, gold fill and artificial or synthetic hair.
Q. Could I be allergic to any of these?
A. We have not yet found anyone, anywhere who is allergic to artificial elephant hair. If you order a copper bracelet it is possible some of the green copper color will come off on your wrist, especially if you sweat excessively. But this is really just a transfer of some of the patina and it easily washes off. Some people do have a silver allergy and so silver bracelets may cause a rash. If this has been your case with other jewelry products then please select some other materials, though it should be noted silver rashes are more common with inferior grade silver products and wire that does not meet the European nickel free standards. We are still testing our newer sterling 930 tarnish resistant silver, but believe it affects less people than regular 925 sterling or the cheaper silvers sometimes coming off the recycled streetside silvers in Africa.
Q. What is the difference between artificial and synthetic hair? How does it compare to real hair?
A. According to the dictionary, and the way we see the product lines, synthetic implies a chemically created man-made product, whereas an artificial product is one that starts synthetically and then is processed further (usually via hand labor) to create the more realistic final product.
When done properly, only an expert can tell the difference between real and artificial elephant hair, though artificial elephant hair does tend to be more consistent in diameter, color and quality. In fact about the same as medium thickness elephant hair, which, coincidentally is about the same as thicker giraffe hair.
Q. How long will an artificial hair bracelet last?
A. Like real hair, knot bracelets made of artificial hair should last years and years, even if you wear them day and night continuously. Do keep them away from sharp knives or blades though and push the knots tight if they ever loosen up.
Q. Why don’t you just use giraffe hair instead?
A. For many years we have supplied real giraffe hair bracelets and other products, since my brother pioneered the use of real giraffe hair in jewelry. Today we continue to offer a few limited products with fine and finer giraffe hair in some pieces, but we can no longer secure a consistent and quality supply of thicker hair as required for the bangles. Incidentally, giraffe are not on the threatened or endangered species at all. In fact, in many countries they have been breeding too well as they have no regular predators. A lion would rather catch a fat juicy zebra than tangle with the legs of a bony giraffe. Plus hunters don’t care for them either as they are no challenge to hunt and don’t make good trophy pieces either. They are more likely to come and stick their face in your vehicle and breathe their stinky breath all over you (he says from personal experience) than run away and feel threatened.
It takes an expert to tell the difference between giraffe hair and elephant hair (and often a microscope or lab as well). Similarly when artificial hair is done right.
Q. What about horse hair or some other animal?
A. American Indian people sometimes use horse hair as part of their weaves and also as part of their designs in pottery and other products, but it is too fine and fragile to make bracelets. Similarly we have not found any other suitable hair products, especially in the lengths and strengths to make a hand-tied bracelet. But some people in Africa, where time does not have the same meaning as in the west, carefully select and treat certain kinds of reeds until they look like larger size elephant hairs. Once tied in the magic knots, many people are fooled by these as they look very real initially, but will not last. Another give away is that they are usually at ridiculously cheap prices – under $10 say.