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Cocaine and guns? Nah, the real money is in stealing hair weaves and vanilla

By David Amoruso

Crime is a flexible business. It can go from dealing in cars to trafficking cigarettes in the blink of an eye. Hell, it can do both at the same time. It can take bets and break skulls in the same inning. But crime usually revolves around a certain number of products and vices. Well, prepare to have your mind blown.

You see, though we tend to associate crime with drugs, guns or prostitution it isn’t centered around any of these things. Crime is based on a product’s worth and availability to criminals. Apple is worth billions, but most if not all criminal masterminds are not in a position to steal or manipulate it.

They can steal Apple’s products though, you can get an iPhone or iPad at some very shady street corners around the world. Drugs and guns just offer a higher profit margin to gangsters, so they tend to stick with that product line. Sometimes, however, the market seduces them to take on a new product.

Crime is a hairy business

Hair for instance. Human hair. Used for making hair weaves. With economies in Asian, African, and South American countries growing stronger, demand for hair weaves has rocketed. Rich and middle-class women in these countries want hair weaves made from the finest quality, creating a booming market in the process.

It is estimated that the hair weave business in South Africa alone is worth $200 million U.S. dollars annually. Not surprisingly, criminals have latched onto the trend. One South African man who proudly wears long dreadlocks recalled how he was almost robbed of his hair on the streets.

“I was lucky that some passersby were able to free me,” he tells Dutch newspaper Trouw. “These kind of robberies are occurring more and more. It’s dangerous. If you resist, they will violently pull the dreadlocks from your head.”

With his dreadlocks going for $1700 U.S. dollars, it’s not surprising these thieves are willing to go the extra mile. Wigs and weaves at a South African hair salon sell for $350 U.S. dollars. If you want them custom-made they sell for even more.

The owner of this hair salon gets ‘her’ hair from Hindus in India who shave their heads and donate it to their temples. The religious leaders then sell the hair to be used in weaves and wigs. The price of hair online is around $300 U.S. dollars per kilogram. A profitable business for those seeking to make a quick, easy, and illegal buck.

This has resulted in an increase in violent “hair jackings” in the African country, as well as in other nations such as India, where many women are targeted by gangs who shave their heads and make off with their hair. Indian hair is highly valued as many of these women live in poverty and have not subjected their hair to chemical products for care or coloring.

Vanilla violence

Ah, that sweet powder. White and brown. The good stuff. No, we’re not talking about cocaine or heroin. We’re talking about vanilla. That stuff you taste in your ice cream, cookies, cake, and so many other delicious products.

The country of Madagascar is the world’s main supplier of vanilla and as the price of the most-wanted flavor went up, so did robberies and murders. Locals tell The Guardian newspaper they can sell a kilogram for $460 U.S. dollars, more than ten times the price of a few years ago.

Farmers now find themselves having to form vigilante squads to ward of groups of robbers. Villagers told the BBC that in “a nearby village, a machete-wielding crowd descended on five suspected gangsters - hacking and stabbing them to death.”

Death by machete is not a thing that pops into one’s mind when eating a vanilla ice cream. But it is all too real. The constant disbalance between demand and supply continues to create unrest in various parts of the world. If the price for whatever product goes high enough, criminals will seek to make a profit by force.

In this world nothing is free.

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