Synthetic hair issues lead MU grad to create banana product

Ciara Imani May remembers having every intention of studying veterinary science when she started studying at the University of Missouri about a decade ago.

However, May soon realized that she was more interested in starting and running her own business.

She ended up studying entrepreneurship and earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree from MU. She then earned a master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business before participating in a Venture for America graduate program that took her to North Carolina in 2019.

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While in North Carolina, she began wearing protective braided hairstyles, paving the way for a new venture.

“I had a really bad experience with plastic synthetic hair,” May said. “If anyone is experiencing this irritation and feeling, I just found it ridiculous that the expectation is that you fix this yourself. Just all those hoops to wear your braids comfortably.”

She was the featured speaker last week at a Women’s Entrepreneurship Week roundtable hosted by the MU Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Griggs Innovators Nexus at Regional Economic Development Inc.

May wanted to find something different that wouldn’t have the same environmental impacts as typical synthetic hair. She went for another type of fiber. She received various choices, even going so far as to consult textile manufacturing, and settled on banana fibers.

“I needed something better. I needed something different that I could wear comfortably and feel good about,” May said. “…I ordered everything I could find online and tried them all to see which one was the closest. The banana behaved the most like my hair, and I saw that it had a real potential.”

May started a business, Rebundle, selling her Braid Better product, which has since been featured in Teen Vogue, Allure and Pop Sugar. This exhibition resulted in an overwhelming response and demand. May has had to refocus and is preparing to relaunch its product line before the end of the year. Her business is based in St. Louis and she is working to expand the operation. There are still a few weeks of construction left before the planned relaunch.

“We haven’t finished, but we’re about to be finished soon,” May said.

A new supply chain

Because Rebundle was such a unique company and product, there was no real supply chain already established for the plant-based synthetic hair materials, she said.

The media exposure meant that Rebundle sold out quickly. She expects inventory to be replenished based on scaling.

“I knew I had to solve this fiber problem. There’s no one I can call and say, ‘Send us 100 pounds of fiber.’ I had to figure out where to get it, the way I needed it. It took time,” May said. “Because we grew up so fast, I couldn’t afford to figure it out at the time. gradually. I had to stop and do this.”

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Rebundle’s synthetic hair uses biodegradable and compostable fibers. The product is also vegan approved by PETA. For those who have used or are using plastic synthetic hair, Rebundle has the ability to accept this hair so that it can be recycled, for example into outdoor furniture or lawn and garden tools.

Access to supply is no longer the problem. May is just waiting for construction.

She has a team of 10 employees, working in production, other operations, and even some marketing. She recently hired a few seasonal employees ahead of the holiday season.

May is focused on providing only herbal hair at the moment. New products will come later, and she’s already got feedback from customers about what those products could be, she said.

A viable business

When May won a pitch competition about four years ago, she realized Rebundle could be a viable business.

While the first pitch contest didn’t provide the capital for her business to continue, May did. She continued to enter pitch competitions and connected with venture capitalists. She received her first major investment in April 2020. To date, $2.1 million has been invested in her business.

May has honed her skills and no longer needs a prepared script to promote her product, she said.

“It took me a while to hone that ground, even though I had won before, and to find resources available for businesses like mine,” May said.

She learned venture capital or money focused on helping startups.

“I was scared. I didn’t want to take the money because I was scared I couldn’t give it back,” May said. “Once I understood the difference between what makes a good venture-backed company and what doesn’t and what are the expectations, how big is the market, how big is the opportunity, what am I missing by not taking more money.”

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Among the guests who came to the round table was Giselle Ballenger, who is part of a construction company, but who has ideas that derive from this industry.

“I didn’t know who to talk to first,” she said, adding that May’s story resonated with her. “I wanted to hear what she had to say and know what resources are available.”

Ballenger’s ideas include things like countertops and concrete flooring, but also those that came up when she was involved in demolitions.

“I call it the anger room. It’s where people come to vent in a safe place,” she said, adding that it would be a space to release aggression in the vein of the rooms. rage, where people smash and crush what’s in space.

Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general topics for the Tribune. You can reach him at [email protected] or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Subscribe to support vital local journalism.

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