“The eye cannot see the eyelashes” is a Chinese proverb to describe seeing faults in others but being oblivious to your own.
There are others sayings too: if something is “as close as your eyelashes” it means it is ‘about to happen’ and if a matter is small or trivial it can be referred to as a “mosquito’s eyelash”.
What isn’t small or trivial is the amount of false eyelashes that China makes. The country now produces around 80% of global supply, according to ThePaper.cn.
In fact, it isn’t even China as a whole that dominates global production – the main source is one county in the eastern province of Shandong.
In Pingdu, a small county with a population of about 1.3 million, every second shop or workspace, is dedicated to making the substitute eyelashes . Photos of the main street show buildings plastered with signs all bearing the word jiemao, or ‘eyelash’.
The workshops there are almost entirely staffed by women who pack and assemble the eyelashes using magnifying glasses and tweezers. When harvest time comes many of them return to family farms for a few weeks to help get the crops in. “The factory is close to my home which means I can go home to cook lunch for my family, and during harvest time I can go back to farming,” a worker, Zhang Zhenfang, told the Economic Daily.
Eyelash production in Pingdu county began back in the 1970s when workers’ collectives were created to supply the South Korean market. According to ThePaper.cn, a villager started a private concern during the farming offseason in the 1990s. He soon made enough money to buy a truck. That got the villagers attention and other families took up the business as well.
Pingdu is now home to some 3,000 eyelash making companies. Many of them market and sell their products over e-commerce platforms. The sector directly employs some 50,000 people.
The sale of false eyelashes has risen exponentially in recent years as photo and video sharing apps like Instagram and TikTok have made people more image conscious.
Prior to Covid-19, market analysts predicted 5-7% growth over the coming years, with sales in the global market reaching as much a $1.9 billion by 2025.
The eyelash producers of Pingdu supply markets as diverse as America, Canada, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, Russia and Japan – with each region preferring a different style of lash. American and European markets prefer longer lashes, denser clustering and a bigger upward curve. Asian markets generally want straighter ones and often opt for adding individual lashes as opposed to a full strip.
One video clip from Pingdu shows a factory owner in front of her samples wall, which includes over 160 types of lashes ranging from the dramatic – long, bushy and made of a mix of horse and mink hair – to short and simple, made of synthetic fibre.
Even within China there is regional diversity in demand – with women in the north preferring longer lashes and those in the south preferring shorter extensions.
Of course, Pingdu is far from the only one-industry town. For instance, Xuchang in Henan province is known as the world’s “wig capital” for being the main exporter of fake hair to Africa (see WiC448).
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