For the first time in 200 years vegan-friendly barrister wigs made from hemp will be produced in the UK. All thanks to Sam March - pupil barrister and animal rights activist.
Sam made it his mission to break a 200-year-old tradition of barristers' horsehair wigs and create an alternative option suitable for vegan lawyers.
"I am a pupil barrister at 5 Paper Buildings and in my spare time I volunteer with Advocates for Animals, the UK’s first specialist animal protection law firm. I will be on my feet in April and sometime thereafter will be the first time I wear the wig in court," he told TheVeganKind.
"As a vegan, I oppose all forms of animal exploitation, from gratuitous cruelty like bull fighting or fox hunting, to the industrial-scale cruelty of factory farming, to more subtle forms of cruelty which nevertheless involve the ownership and commodification of animal bodies. For me, horse hair is at the latter end," he added.
Barristers have been wearing wigs made from horsehair since 1822 when they were created for the first time by Humphrey Ravenscroft. Their use was formalised in English common law in the 1840s. The wigs are a part of barrister's uniform and are supposed to distance the wearer from personal involvement in the court case.
Currently, the only alternative for white horsehair is plastic, as the only vegan-friendly wig options are synthetic. And synthetic wigs are only available to order from Australia which makes them expensive and unsustainable. Shipping them across the globe comes with a huge carbon footprint.
"To my knowledge the only vegan options for barrister’s wigs are synthetic. I had not heard positive things about synthetic wigs and it was looking like I might have to order quite an expensive one to be shipped from Australia. As someone who no longer gets on planes, I wanted to keep things as local as practicable. The wig is deeply symbolic, I wanted it to be something I would be excited and proud to wear, and I just didn’t get that feeling from the idea of a synthetic wig. I didn’t want a highly artificial material masquerading as something else; I wanted something that was natural, distinct, had some character and proudly different," he said.
Currently, Sam March is working with hemp brand Cultiva Kingdom, to create the first vegan barrister’s wig made from hemp. The wig is 100% biodegradable and sustainable as hemp is easy to farm and is one of the strongest and most durable natural fibres in the world. Hemp requires less water to grow hemp (uses 1/3rdof the amount of water that cotton does) and it absorbs 4 times as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than the average plant.
"Hemp was my father’s idea initially" Sam said. "We both found the idea of wearing a plant so closely related to cannabis into the criminal courts delightfully disruptive," he added.
Laura Bossom, owner 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”.
Last week, Sam posted a photo on social media and wrote: “The prototype has arrived. This is the world’s first hemp barrister’s wig. 0% horsehair, 100% vegan friendly.”
“If a person can take from and sell parts of an animal, even if that immediately does not harm an animal, then it incentivises an industry based around commodifying and selling their bodies.”
His recent posts on Twitter and LinkedIn dragged up the old debate about whether barristers should be wearing wigs at all.
"I am concerned by accounts that the wigs are alienating for clients or people considering coming into the profession who don’t want to dress like an 18th century gentleman. However, I have also seen some heartfelt and compelling defences of the wig by junior barristers or those who might have felt or feared being “out of place” in the profession, and who appreciate being able to simply put on the uniform and instantly assimilate," he said.
"I am not sure they will last another century, but Robert Buckland has made it clear that they will not go on his watch. For as long as we use them, there should be vegan options available." he added.
For now, he wants to start the production of his wigs by the end of the year and hope they will be popular in the courtrooms. He says the wig will retail at around £650, and will be more expensive than traditional horsehair wigs which range between £400 and £700. But he claims that a hemp-based wig is a cruelty-free planet-friendly option and will last for the duration of a lawyers’s career.
Laura Bossom said: “I really like the idea of long-lasting resilient and sustainable hemp wigs, I like the image of them being passed down to incoming pupils by retiring barristers, leaving a legacy behind of a wig which won't pollute the planet or harm any animals.”
Edie Bowles, co-founder of Advocates for Animals, said: “It is very important that those with vegan beliefs are able to access products that align with their values. Sam has now paved the way for other barristers in need of animal-free courtroom attire.”
Sam says the first reactions to his product are very optimistic and he starts creating a business plan for his company.
“There’s been so much positivity and a lot of demand for such a niche product. My main concern now is being able to produce enough in the UK to meet it. I want to make them locally and ethically but I also want them to be accessible within those parameters if practicable. I’d not been expecting to be dealing with this level of interest at such an early stage, so now I have some thinking to do about how to turn a prototype into a business model.”