Since 1822, barristers have worn horsehair wigs in court. Invented by Humphrey Ravenscroft, these wigs are a common sight in the courts of law.
However, with veganism and vegetarianism taking the UK by storm, what's a vegan barrister to do? Well, come up with a vegan alternative, of course. Samuel March, a Pupil Barrister and a practising vegan, has taken matters into his own hands.
By partnering with Laura Bossom, a hemp textile designer, Mr March came up with the idea of a locally made, industrial hemp wig for barristers. Released through Cultiva Kingdom, a sustainable clothing brand, these wigs will be manufactured in the UK.
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Barrister wigs — then and now
Since their inception, horsehair barrister wigs served to distance barristers and legal professionals from personal involvement in the cases.
Horsehair wigs are now a court dress requirement and a clothing staple for British barristers. In fact, if a British barrister refuses to wear a wig, it's considered an insult to their peers in court.
This leaves vegan and vegetarian barristers in an unpleasant dilemma. Synthetic wigs exist, and therefore, vegan barristers have these as an option. However, these wigs ship from Australia, which severely increases its carbon footprint.
Furthermore, manufacturers source these wigs from synthetic material. This means that they aren't biodegradable, leading to more pollution if not properly recycled.
Hemp-based barrister wigs, a better option?
With hemp-based wigs, vegan and vegetarian barristers no longer have to choose between their personal principles and compromising on their career. In fact, Mr March drew inspiration from his vegan beliefs, when coming up with an eco-friendly, hemp-based option.
“I refuse to sponsor exploitation by buying expensive items made from animal products, as this adds value to the practice of owning them and selling them for parts,” he said.
A readily-available plant-based option could hopefully see other barristers choosing to go horsehair-free, too. After all, industrial hemp isn't unheard of, in Britain's illustrious history. In fact, over 100 years ago, the British army used industrial hemp to make sails and ropes for their ships.
Furthermore, hemp-based fashion has become increasingly popular over the past number of years. Laura Bossom, the founder of Cultiva Kingdom, is thrilled about the potential of even more hemp-based products. “It is exciting to see how we have brought this material back to life,” she said.
She also added how gratifying it was to apply hemp, “to a product which will be showcased in a legal setting, and can make a contribution to environmental objectives.”
According to Ms Bossom, the hemp plant can absorb four times more carbon than other textile plants. Therefore, hemp-based barrister wigs could offset carbon dioxide, while farmers grow the raw materials. This makes the hemp-based option far more sustainable than its horsehair counterpart.
Generally, reactions are positive
While horsehair wigs are ingrained in British legal tradition, the hemp-based option seems to be making waves — even before its official release. In fact, within 48 hours of proposing a hemp-based option, Mr March received over 30 order requests.
So far, estimates show that the wig could retail for up to £650. This puts it on the higher end of the barrister wig scale, with horsehair wigs retailing anywhere from £400 to £650. Despite its steep price tag, retailers such as Ivy & Normanton have shown interest in stocking it.
Miranda Moore QC, a head of Chambers at 5 Paper Building, expressed her support for the idea of a hemp-based alternative to the traditional horsehair barrister wig.
“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,” she said.