Sunday, June 3, 2012

Interview with Isadore Sternhill

Posted by Ask Chavi at 10:14 PM
I had the pleasure of interviewing Toronto-based Isadore Sternhill, high-end wig maker (sheitel macher in the most literal sense) and owner of FeatherLite Hair Systems.  She specializes in wigs made of unprocessed European hair.  She answered my tough questions about "virgin hair" and wig making.  More about Isadore's experience can be found here in this Forward article.   
Enjoy,
Chavi

Virgin European hair EHH, is the most expensive hair available, why is it so hard to find wigs made of Virgin EHH?
It is not that it’s hard to get Virgin European hair, it’s more complicated and labour intensive to make wigs out of virgin hair. It’s important to understand how regular wigs are produced before one can understand how virgin hair wigs are produced. For regular wigs, the factory receives a large quantity of hair, sorts the course hair from the fine hair, and groups hair according to general hair colour. Any differences in texture are corrected and made uniform by chemical processing and the hair is dyed to meet demands for various popular colours. The procedure for making virgin hair wigs is significantly more complicated. Firstly, you can only put hair together that is very similar in texture. If there is more than a slight difference in texture this can cause knotting. When working with wavy hair, each ponytail has to be grouped according to wave pattern. If a tighter wave pattern is mixed with a looser wave pattern the result will be frizzy. The matter is further complicated when dealing with curly hair. The second consideration when working with virgin hair is matching colours. There is almost always hair left at the end that cannot be matched or grouped into bundle to be blended together.  This hair will sit around until enough hair of the same texture, wave pattern, and compatible colour can be found to make a wig.
Is it hard to find virgin hair in ash tones?  A lot of my readers want light ash brown, ash blonde and even dark brown without hints of red?
Hair may grow out of our scalp ashy, but as the hair grows it tends to become progressively lighter and warmer toned as you move down towards the ends.  Since hair is normally collected by cutting it from a low ponytail at the nape of the neck, the ashy roots are not included.  Secondly, virgin hair reflects what is available in nature and some colors/tones are more common than others.  It is harder to find ponytails that are ashy from the roots to the tips.  Virgin hair wigs are almost always more ashy on average than dyed wigs.  For instance, a colour 8 in a dyed wig will look auburn while a virgin hair wig comparable to a colour 8 will just be a lighter shade of brown.

Is it true that its impossible to find blond virgin hair in long lengths?  
Its hard.  The wholesale hair industry is dominated my extension makers so much of the longer blond hair never reaches the wholesale market. 

How do you make your wigs to prevent knotting?  Is it true that processed wigs might knot less than virgin hair wigs? 
I wouldn’t say that there is a definitive answer to which type of wig knots the most. The factors that produce knotting in virgin hair wigs are totally different than the factors that produce knotting in processed hair wigs. Its actually normal for virgin hair to knot to some degree specifically because the cuticle is still intact. Because the cuticles from different ponytails of hair can be different shapes and sizes, and multiple ponytails of hair have to be combined to produce 1 wig, the cuticles from different ponytails will catch on each other whenever there is friction. Processed hair will have a tendency to knot if the chemical process was left on for too long or if the concentration was too strong for the specific texture of hair it was applied to. Static is also a factor that can produce knotting in processed wigs and less so in virgin hair wigs. Whether or not a given wig will knot, processed or virgin, depends on a large variety of factors and is, to large degree, unpredictable. There are steps in the production process that can be taken to reduce the chances of knotting which involved highly skilled work and experience with hair. Again, this is harder to apply this level of attention to detail and expertise when wigs are being mass produced and there will be a lot more variability in this case. As far as virgin hair goes, there are various hair coats and treatments that can be applied to the hair to minimize knotting in many cases when it does occur.  These treatments are less effective on processed hair.

How long are virgin-hair wigs expected to last?
That depends entirely on the frequency of wear and whether or not the hair is being styled or worn in its natural state. I normally recommend that clients purchase a wig with a natural texture that is as close as possible to the texture the client wants to wear. So, for instance, if you are going to wear your wig straight a lot, don't buy a curly wig just to have the versatility of being able to wear it curly a few times. This will most definitely decrease the amount of damage your wig will incur over time.
What are other benefits of buying a virgin hair wig over a processed wig?
1.  The colour will always be the most natural looking because it is natural.
2.  The colours are almost always more ashy than dyed wigs and will tend to reflect less of a reddish tone in the light.
3.  The wig will not develop a "hallo" or red at the roots over time, and will not become lighter at the roots than it is at the bottom.  It is a natural tendency of hair to be lighter at the ends than it is at the roots, not the other way around.  In fact, I always have to repeat to new customers who are used to buying wigs darker to accommodate for the eventual colour change, that they should just get a wig in the colour that they want. If you're waiting for it to change colour its not going to happen for a very long time if ever. I find that people with darker hair find a lot of relief in this. Blond hair, which has a natural tendency to highlight in the sun, will do so over a larger span of time than a dyed or bleached wig when exposed to intense sun light. Some blonds will have this tendency more than others based on the specific biological makeup of the hair. It will most definitely not turn orange or red though. That is not a tendency virgin blond hair.
4.   You virtually eliminate the need of having to dye the wig over and over which can add up over time. The colour also becomes less accurate the more times it’s dyed. If you do choose to dye the hair, however, the most accurate colour can be achieved when starting with virgin hair. It is much harder to achieve a specific colour with hair that has been previously dyed or processed. Keep in mind we do not recommend that you dye your wig.  Once the wig is dyed you will always have a problem with colour change from that point on.
5.  The hair wont do anything your own natural hair wouldn't do.  The way that you see it in its natural state when it hasnt been styled, is the way it will look if you get stuck in the rain.
6.   You can wash it your self, if you have some degree of facility with hair. There are no specifications about water temperature, or special products. The hair is simply ultra high quality hair in its virgin state. I would recommend asking your sheitel macher for some minimal instruction or pointers if you have never washed a wig before, such as "don't brush the wig upside down while wet", but for the most part washing a wig involves basic common sense and can truly be learned by anyone. I provide a brief tutorial on how to wash your own wig for anyone purchasing a wig from me in the store

Now some questions about your brand and the services you offer. How are your wigs produced?  Are they hand-sewn, machine sewn? closed wefts, open wefts?  do you make full handsewn pieces.
The standard cap of our home brand is a hand sewn multi-directional silk top, with a closed wefted stretch back cap.  The silk top is made lager than most companies in order to accommodate deeper hairlines and deeper side parts.  The cap is produced with a strong emphasis on detail to ensure a high level of craftsmanship.  It is made to contour the head very well and eliminate points of tension around the head.  We make hand sewn pieces by custom order only.  

Do you make wigs in different sizes?  I have a lot of readers who have trouble finding size small and size XL?
Occasionally we get some small or XL pieces, but the majority are size mediums. 

Do you make headband falls, hat falls, toppers?
Yes, by order

Who are your main customers?  for example, is it mostly Jewish women looking for sheitels, or do you do a lot of business in bulk hair and extensions to non-Jewish customers?
Mostly Jewish and non-Jewish women looking for various types of wigs and hair pieces made specifically of virgin hair.  We are a popular choice for integration systems such a illusion falls and toppers as well.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very good artical. What brand are these comparable to?

Anonymous said...

I just want to say thanks so much to both of you for all this information. I am researching some wigs before I buy one and found this info so helpful . You literally answered 3 of the questions that I could not get a straight answer to. This site is a great idea!

Bassie said...

Wow, just saw a link for this article & it is so imformative...more than I've ever heard before and I'm wearing a Sheitel for years. I saw this brand Sheitel at the Sheitel macher I use in Toronto & they looked gorgeous so I inquired & was told it's by Isadore so I recently ordered one with a lace cap...I'm so looking forward as the hair was authentic "virgin" & seems to be so natural!
Thanks for this detailed info!

Anonymous said...

I've always wondered why it is so hard to find ashy hair... thank you for the explanation!

sarah said...

This is a very good article, i ordered two featherlite wig 3 years ago while i was living in israel. they were custome wigs in exactly the color i wanted, and it hasn't changed color at all, while wearing them in israel for three years. she is by far the most knowlegable person with hair and wigs.

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