Vegan barrister wigs to be produced in the UK for the first time

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Max Stephens
·3 min read
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Barristers have worn horsehair wigs for nearly 200 years
Barristers have worn horsehair wigs for nearly 200 years

Vegan barrister wigs are to be made in the UK for the first time, using hemp in place of traditional horsehair.

Barristers have worn horsehair wigs for nearly 200 years after their invention in 1822 by Humphrey Ravenscroft, whose company still manufactures court attire to this day.

However, this could change within the space of “a few years” after a vegan pupil barrister showcased a 100 per cent biodegradable wig made from hemp.

Samuel March, a 29-year-old pupil barrister at 5 paper buildings chambers, unveiled the prototype on social media on Saturday.

He posted on Twitter and Linkedin: “The prototype has arrived. This is the world’s first hemp barrister’s wig. 0% horsehair, 100% vegan friendly.”

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Up till now, vegan-friendly synthetic wigs have only been available to order in the UK from Australia.

Cambridge-educated March envisages the product being in production by the end of the year and to be the norm within courtrooms in the space of “a few years”.

Mr March estimates the wig will retail for £650, placing it at the higher end of the market with traditional horsehair wigs ranging between £400 and £700.

Ivy & Normanton, the UK’s first legal outfitter for women, told The Telegraph they were keen to stock the product.

Karlia Lykourgou, founder of Ivy & Normanton and practicing criminal barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, said: “There’s definitely a positive conversation to be had and we are interested.

“I’ve actually been shown a synthetic wig and it does not have the same quality as a horsehair wig. The legal garb that we wear is significant and it means something.

“We do not want to dilute the quality of this garb that we wear, it’s a sacred uniform and it takes a lot to get there. A hemp wig sounds like it might have a similar quality to horsehair, there’s certainly a conversation to be had.”

Mr March, who turned vegan three years ago, conceived the idea for the product last August before partnering with hemp manufacturer Cultiva Kingdom to turn it into a reality.

Working alongside a “master” wig maker in England, the company was able to manufacture a 100 per cent biodegradable wig made entirely from hemp.

Appetite for a vegan-friendly wig appears to be growing among young barristers with Mr March receiving 20 requests for orders just 24 hours after the product's unveiling.

Mr March told the Telegraph: "Wigs are traditionally made from horsehair. Admittedly, it’s at the milder end of animal exploitation if you consider gratuitously killing animals in things like bullfighting or fox hunting.

“If a person can take from and sell parts of an animal, even if that immediately does not harm an animal, then it incentivises and industry based around commodifying and selling their bodies.”

Laura Bossom, owner and founder of Cultiva Kingdom, said the wig was “designed with longevity to allow it to be passed down to the next generation of barristers of family members”.

Meanwhile the product has drawn praise from Labour’s Shadow Minister for Legal Aid, Karl Turner, who described it as a “brilliant idea”.

Miranda Moore QC, one of the heads of Chambers at 5 Paper Building said: “Sam is fully supported by Chambers, as I made clear to him when he first mentioned the idea to me some months ago.

I am generally supportive of the practice of wearing wigs, but consider that appropriate court attire should be inclusive and what it is made out of is immaterial.

“People should be able to express themselves in line with their values, whether that means a Sikh being able to wear a turban instead of a wig or a vegan going out and sourcing something suitable."