Ciara Imani May is ready for the world to meet Rebundle. After founding the plant-based hair company in early 2019 and launching in 2021 to an incredible response, the St. Louis-based entrepreneur spent more than a year re-examining her company’s product and process. And now, May is relaunching Rebundle’s flagship product, braidbetter.
“We learned a lot from what I would call a limited launch, really introducing the product to the world and calling attention to the problem,” May says. “We saw a lot more demand than we could supply, and a need in the space that merited more funding to put behind our efforts.”
The problem, she explains, is that one in three women are experiencing scalp irritation due to plastic hair extensions. Synthetic hair, especially the most common types used in hair braiding, are usually made of PVC, nylon, polyester or acrylics. Not only is this not environmentally friendly, it can often lead to itchy and uncomfortable, yet costly, braids.
“It’s a well-known thing in the hair industry, so there’s not a lot of convincing we have to do for people who experience scalp irritation,” she says. “Synthetic braids are made in China by people who don’t wear hair extensions, and they’re sold through beauty stores, which aren’t owned by people who wear hair braids, either.”
With a background in business – May earned her bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Missouri and her master’s degree in social entrepreneurship from the University of Southern California – she turned to scientists and material engineers through pitch competitions to help her develop braidbetter.
Braidbetter braids are made from naturally extracted banana fiber, non-toxic dye, grapeseed oil and aloe vera juice, and are designed to match textured hair. The banana fiber comes from the usually discarded banana tree stumps left behind after harvest, giving, in May’s words, what was waste a second life.
Named a 2022 Startup to Watch by St. Louis Inno, Rebundle has taken the last two years to perfect this process. Braidbetter’s latest iteration earned the USDA’s Certified Biobased Product label; none of its ingredients are on California’s Prop 65 list of banned chemicals.
“We deployed our raised capital into product and operations, so we could scale to better meet the demand,” May explains. “What we’re relaunching with is not just a better and more innovative version of the product, but a much stronger foundation around key areas of our operations, including supply chain and overall manufacturing and production.”
Rebundle’s environmental mission doesn’t stop with plant-based braids. Since the 1950s, May says, synthetic hair extensions have been mass-produced for use in hairstyles primarily worn by Black women, today resulting in millions of pounds of waste from these single-use plastics.
In stark contrast, braidbetter hair is biodegradable after use and can actually be disposed of along with yard waste. The company also offers a free program to recycle synthetic hair not on a weft. All you have to do is box up any brand or color of synthetic hair (free of rubber bands, bobby pins or any other accessories) and Rebundle will recycle it through a partnership with 5 Media. So far, they’ve collected 278 pounds of synthetic hair, which will eventually be used in outdoor furniture, decking and more.
“It was part of the initial problem that I had recognized in this space,” May says, “and I wanted to make sure that, regardless of our product, people always had the opportunity to choose sustainability in a different way – recycling and changing behavior around the disposing of plastic hair extensions.”
Another resource Rebundle has added to its offerings is an online braiding directory, featuring braiders in California, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and of course, Missouri.
“Our customers connect us with their braiders, or braiders reach out to us saying that they want to be a part of the directory,” May says. “It’s another element of word-of-mouth, and making sure that braiders, who are a really important part of the hair ecosystem, are included in what we see as the future of hair extensions.”
Braidbetter braids are available directly to consumers via the Rebundle website, but May stresses that it remains a women-led, Black-owned, St. Louis-based company, with a production facility in Maryland Heights.
“St. Louis has been a great ecosystem for our company to grow in,” says May. “We’re Arch Grant recipients, and we’re part of the BioSTL Fundamentals program.” Arch Grants provides grants and resources to help early-stage startups grow and scale, and BioSTL Fundamentals is an entrepreneur development program focused on medical and plant biosciences.
For Rebundle’s late 2022 relaunch, the braidbetter extensions come in three colors in 22 or 30-inch bundles: Jet (“deep inky tones for a classic, sleek look every time”), Honey (“a warm, golden, blonde tone that is perfect for highlights or feed-ins”), and Natural (“a mixture of rich brown tones that is the perfect complement to any complexion”).
May says consumers are asking for even more colors and complementary hair products. Rebundle plans to expand based on customer requests and market needs, but their number-one consideration is remaining plant-based, staying true to their mission of dramatically reducing both the health and environmental disparities in the hair extensions industry.
“We had this sort of crazy rise, and it reaffirmed my belief around the need,” May says. “We know we’ve been super quiet since the initial launch, but I made the difficult decision to roll out this way, because I felt it was necessary. We did our best to prioritize what we felt customers wanted most. I’m just excited for people to see what we’ve been working on.”
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Shop Rebundle’s braidbetter hair or find a braider on the company’s website.
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