Ciara Imani May is ready to revolutionize the hair care industry, one bundle at a time.
The Kansas City, Missouri, native is the brains behind the sustainable, plant-based hair extension brand Rebundle. The hair, named braidbetter and comes in seven colors and counting, strays away from the toxic plastics used in the hair commonly found in beauty supply stores. Instead, the biodegradable brand uses repurposed biopolymers and naturally extracted banana fiber for its hair, making its strands a bit thicker than the alternative.
That matters not only for the environment but also for scalp health, May emphasized. Before 2019 when she started the brand, May had similar issues that many Black women face with synthetic braiding hair ― it was itchy and irritated her scalp so much that she dreaded getting the protective style. However, she was initially skeptical that the hair was the culprit behind her discomfort until she confirmed that she didn’t have issues with the hair products she used to take care of her braids ― the hair was the problem.
So, a few years into her natural hair journey, she decided to find a healthier approach.
“In those experiences, me getting my hair braided growing up, I knew that I was going to itch. It would be uncomfortable. But I wasn’t wearing braids personally as much in the summer of 2019. It was like, whatever, I’m taking it down in however many weeks and forget about it,” the 28-year-old told HuffPost. “But at [that] point, I was working my first full-time job and just wanted to keep my hair in braids and was finding it difficult because of how uncomfortable it was.”
May had just finished her master’s degree in social entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California and had a different understanding of problem-solving. She learned to lean into ideas that addressed problems she faced firsthand. Between being inspired by the zero waste movement and her desire for a more comfortable, sustainable hair braiding experience, she had enough fuel to begin the research for Rebundle.
Her early research began with answering her questions about plastic hair: “Who was making it? Where was it made? What was it being made out of?” Then, at the beginning of the pandemic, she quit her job and dedicated her work to talking to subject matter experts, applying for a grant, and learning what it takes to create a product.
“I immediately recognized that whatever product I ended up developing either couldn’t be made out of plastic at all or had to be a natural fiber that was biodegradable,” she said. “So that was my criteria. It couldn’t itch, and it could not contribute to pollution.”
After numerous tests, she landed on banana fibers. Headquartered in St. Louis, Rebundle soft-launched in January 2021, with the first batch of products shipping in late spring of that year. May’s company later did a relaunch with a patent-pending version of the product.
Rebundle claims to be the first plant-based hair extension company in the United States. To add to their environmentally conscious mission, they also created a plastic synthetic hair recycling program for people to send in their old hair. As a result, they’ve recycled more than 335 pounds of weave so far.
“If you think about where the future of beauty is headed and in sort of products in general, there is a dire need for products to be more sustainable and to not pollute the environment — not less, at all,” she said. “We need to get to a point of being carbon neutral... that’s sort of the case across the board.”
She added that Black people must be included in this conversation.
“The other piece is: We sort of sit at this interesting inflection point of beauty and sustainability. In a space where not a lot of innovation has been had or the intersection of how Black people and Black women and gentlemen more specifically contribute to pollution through our normal routines and taking care of ourselves, taking care of our hair,” she said. “It will become more apparent just how important it is for those things to be taken into consideration or brands to be accountable for the ways in which we contribute to clean and sustainable products on the market.”
Generally, May has gotten a mixed response from the hair braiding community and those who wear braids. Some are grateful and excited to try a new product, while others are a bit more reluctant and want to stick to what they know.
“It will become more apparent just how important it is for those things to be taken into consideration or brands to be accountable for the ways in which we contribute to clean and sustainable products on the market.”
For May, it’s important to build that relationship with communities. You can’t find Rebundle in beauty supply stores, and it’s marked at a higher price ($50 per 22-inch bundle) than most synthetic hair. But May emphasizes the care, attention and consideration each Rebundle customer receives compared to the often lackluster customer service at many local beauty supply stores.
“We get a lot of questions. We get a lot of engagement. We get a lot of people happy that there’s something better available and a lot of praise and positive reviews of what their experience has been like wearing and experiencing peace of mind while wearing braids for either the first time in several years without worrying about itch, or even the thought of how to dispose of them after,” May said.
Her brand also has created a course for braiders wanting to learn the intricacies of braiding and caring for Rebundle’s hair. They also boast an online directory with 42 stylists in several U.S. cities who know how to braid with plant-based hair. The strands are a bit thicker than synthetic hair strands. However, they can be styled with heat and sealed with hot water like more commonly used weaves.
Rebundle has also caught the attention of NBA point guard Chris Paul and former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as they invested in May’s company. So far, Rebundle has raised $2.1 million in funding.
As May and her team continue to work to improve their product and brand, she’s creating new colors, becoming more ingrained in the braiding community and establishing new avenues for growth, possibly including other products in the future. In addition, she hopes to change the hair extensions industry at the consumer and legislative levels.
As for the future of Black hair care, May wants to see “cleaner, safer and more sustainable options.”
She added, “I think it is very doable. A lot of products are handmade, but I see it as extremely doable. [Right now], we’re growing as quickly as we can internally to make sure that the girls getting braids this summer can use braidbetter.”