It matters that Candera Thompson’s ruby red hair is still visibly pigmented. To make sure Bask & Bloom Essentials’ products — in addition to offering an array of benefits — wouldn’t fade color-treated hair, Thompson dyed her own hair and tested them out. Lightly fluffing her textured strands, Thompson smiles and says the consistent curl pattern of the two-day-old twist out currently framing her face is owed, in part, to Bask & Bloom’s More Moisture Creme.
The creme is one of more than a dozen products from hair-care brand Bask & Bloom Essentials, a line for all women with all hair types. Based in Bridgeton, the company designs products specifically to support healthy postpartum hair and fight the loss, breakage, thinning, and drying that many women experience after giving birth. Thompson emigrated from the Bahamas to the United States alone at 16 years old on a track scholarship to attend Lindenwood University in St. Charles. Unsurprisingly, the midwestern winters were a shock at first.
“I knew it was cold, but I didn’t even realize it snowed and there’s ice on the ground,” Thompson recalls. “I got this little windbreaker. I’m like, oh, it’s cold, cold. Like, I need a coat coat. The first winter was torture.”
“We didn’t have cell phones,” she adds. “I was calling my parents using a calling card, which was a-dollar-ninety-nine-a-minute to talk. With my $10 card, it was — I had like five minutes to talk to them. But it really allowed me to be more of a problem solver for whatever I was dealing with.”
Thompson combined that sense of self-sufficiency with her marketing degree and entrepreneurial drive to transform her postpartum challenges into a search for a solution, and transform that search for a solution into a small business. Thompson first launched Bask & Bloom Essentials after experiencing hair shedding after giving birth to her first child in 2010, and then severe hair loss following the birth of her second child in 2015.
“I had a bald spot in the middle of my head,” Thompson says. “I had to cut all of my hair off. It matted up in the shower when I was washing it and I just had to throw a towel on and went straight to the salon. I couldn’t comb through it or anything, so we just had to cut it all off. And then I realized when (my hairdresser) shaved the side, there were just patches on the side in the middle.”
Like many Black women exploring ways to care for their natural hair, Thompson joined an online community to ask questions and crowdsource tips and advice. The Facebook group Thompson was part of had 50,000 members. Stories of mothers struggling with their hair after giving birth were common. Faced with her own hair loss, she made an appointment with her OB/GYN and a dermatologist, but neither offered a solution. The hair-care industry also didn’t have much to offer on the market, so Thompson started researching ingredients herself and partnered with a Black woman chemist to experiment with different formulas.
“She started helping me with the formulas and stuff that I had in mind, and the research that I was already doing to see the path that I really wanted to take,” Thompson says. “No one was speaking to postpartum in itself. There were products on the market that were for, you know, curl definition, moisture, and hydration. But there weren’t a lot of products that talk about protecting your hair from breakage and reducing shedding and strengthening the hair. Back then it wasn’t a whole lot of that.”
The women in her Facebook group cheered her on, eventually becoming the earliest customer base to try Bask & Bloom’s first two products: a hair oil and the More Moisture Creme. She reached out to professionals in scalp care, trichology, and dermatology to get their expertise and feedback. After being laid off from her corporate job, she put her marketing degree to work, confident that the multi-billion-dollar beauty industry had enough room for a new company catering to an underserved consumer base. She pulled from her savings to get things up and running and threw all of her time, energy, and focus into building the company while balancing motherhood. Becoming an entrepreneur, she says, is about ignoring the “noise in each space” and concentrating on your vision and the resources that can help you bring it to fruition.
“It was all bootstrap and really just me putting myself out there online in the digital space so people can know about me and who I am,” Thompson says. “There were long, long nights where it was just like, OK, now I have to learn email marketing. So, I’m waking up at one o’clock in the morning breastfeeding, but I’m also learning how to run ads on Facebook. I’m learning how to email customers. I’m learning how to put a brand ambassador campaign together — all just by researching. I wasn’t in the position to go to a million networking events with two small kids at home.”
It took a little over two years for Thompson to perfect Bask & Bloom’s range of formulas, working with experts in development and running 90-day tests on real people and real hair to gather feedback and determine measurable results. They tested for hair fullness, stronger strands, more length retention, and less breakage over time. They used ethically sourced fragrances, and avoided additives, fillers, and any known endocrine- or reproductive-system disruptors. Soon, the sales started coming in, and Thompson realized she had an international customer base on her hands, with a steady stream of purchases from across the Caribbean, Canada, and the UK.
This past year, Bask & Bloom won SELF magazine’s 2023 award for Best Leave-In for Natural Hair, and has been featured in Elle, Allure, Essence, Cosmopolitan, and on Oprah.com. Thompson says her long-term goal for Bask & Bloom products is to connect hospitals and maternity wards to reach new postpartum parents directly. The company made progress on that vision this past year, announcing a new partnership with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), which will be providing Bask & Bloom’s postpartum hair-care kits to patients across UPMC’s 40 hospitals and more than 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers in the New England region.
As the company grew — and importantly, as her three kids got older — Thompson was able to involve herself more in the St. Louis area’s business community, participating in panels and building new relationships. In fact, Bask & Bloom found its manufacturer, its packaging company, and a supplier for select ingredients through that local entrepreneur ecosystem.
“The support has been so amazing — my email is full,” she says. “In 2021 we won an Arch Grant and that put us in the ecosystem of anybody and everybody who’s an entrepreneur in St. Louis or who’s connected to somebody. And we’re still cultivating those relationships. We talk to each other all the time. We provide resources and share them with each other… It makes me proud because I’m like, OK, well we’re here locally and we’re also giving business to other local vendors, too.”
“I do travel to California and New York a lot for beauty events and expos, but that’s something that can happen right here,” Thompson adds. “You don’t have to move your beauty brand to one of those states to make something happen. The support is here — you just have to go out and find it. That’s my biggest thing for anybody: You have to put yourself out there, ’cause the support is here in St. Louis.”