Ciara Imani It can is poised to revolutionize the hair care industry, package by package.
The Kansas City, Missouri native is the mastermind behind sustainable plant-based hair extension brand Rebundle. The hair, named braid better and comes in seven colors and steers clear of the toxic plastics used in hair commonly found in beauty stores. Instead, the biodegradable brand uses recycled biopolymers and naturally derived banana fibers for its hair, making its locks slightly thicker than the alternative.
This is important not only for the environment, but also for the health of the scalp, May emphasized. Before 2019, when she launched the brand, May had similar problems that many black women face with synthetic braiding hair – her scalp itched and irritated so much that she was afraid to get the protective hairstyle. However, she was initially skeptical that the hair was the culprit of her discomfort, until she confirmed that there were no problems with the hair products she used to care for her braids – the hair was the problem.
So, a few years into her natural hair journey, she decided to find a healthier approach.
“With those experiences growing up, braiding my hair, I knew it would itch. It would be awkward. But I personally didn’t wear braids that much in the summer of 2019. It was like, whatever, I’m going to take them off in a few weeks and forget about them,” the 28-year-old told HuffPost. “But at [that] I ended up working my first full-time job and I just wanted to keep my hair in braids and it was hard because it was uncomfortable.’
May had just completed 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 on ideas that dealt with problems she encountered firsthand. Inspired by the zero-waste movement and her desire for more convenient, sustainable hair braiding, she was fueled to start the research for Rebundle.
Her early research began with answering her questions about plastic hair: “Who made it? Where is it made? What was it made of?” Then, at the start of the pandemic, she quit her job and devoted her work to talking to subject matter experts, applying for grants, and learning what it takes to create a product.
“I knew right away that whatever product I developed, it either couldn’t be made of plastic at all, or it had to be a natural fiber that was biodegradable,” she said. “So that was my criteria. It could not itch and could not contribute to pollution.
After numerous tests, she settled on banana fiber. Headquartered in St. Louis, Rebundle launched in January 2021, with the first batch of products shipping in late spring of that year. May’s company later relaunched 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’ve also created a plastic synthetic hair recycling program for people to send in their old hair. As a result, they have recycled more than 335 pounds of fabric to date.
“If you think about where the future of beauty and products in general is going, there is a dire need for products to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly – not less, not at all,” she said. “We have to get to a point where we’re carbon neutral … it’s like that everywhere.”
She added that black people need to be included in this conversation.
“The other piece is: We’re kind of sitting at this interesting inflection point of beauty and sustainability. In a space where there hasn’t been a lot of innovation or the intersection of how black people and black women and gentlemen specifically contribute to pollution through our normal habits and taking care of ourselves, taking care of our hair,” she said. “It will become more clear how important it is that these things are taken into account or that brands are held accountable for the ways in which we contribute to clean and sustainable products in the market.”
Overall, May received a mixed response from the braiding and braiding community. Some are grateful and excited to try a new product, while others are a little more reluctant and want to stick with what they know.
“It will become more clear how important it is that these things are taken into account or that brands are held accountable for the ways in which we contribute to clean and sustainable products in the market.”
– Ciara Imani May, founder of Rebundle
For May, it is important that we build that connection with communities. You can’t find Rebundle in beauty stores, and it’s marked up at a higher price ($50 for a 22-inch bundle) than most synthetic hair. But May emphasizes the care, consideration and attention each Rebundle customer receives compared to the often poor customer service at many local beauty shops.
“We get a lot of questions. We get a lot of engagements. We have many people happy that there is something better available and lots of praise and positive feedback about what their wearing experience has been and experiencing peace of mind while wearing braids or for the first time in years without worrying about itching , or even the thought of how to dispose of them afterward,” May said.
Her brand has also created a course for braiders who want to learn the ins and outs of braiding and caring for Rebundle hair. They also brag online directory with 42 stylists in several American cities who know how to braid plant hair. The strands are slightly thicker than synthetic hair strands. However, they can be heat styled and hot water sealed like more commonly used fabrics.
Rebundle also attracted 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 is creating new colors, becoming more entrenched in the braiding community, and establishing new avenues for growth, possibly including other products in the future. Additionally, she hopes to change the hair extension industry on a consumer and legislative level.
As for the future of black hair care, May wants to see “cleaner, safer and more sustainable options.”
She added: “I think it’s very doable. A lot of products are handmade, but I see it as extremely doable. [Right now]we’re growing as fast as we can internally to make sure girls braiding this summer can use braidbetter.”