Kick synthetic hair to the curb and braid with Rebundle 

Ciara Imani May has found herself at the intersection of beauty, health, and sustainability. Navigating a well established market with a fresh take on what truly matters, she and her team at Rebundle are setting a trailblazing example of what a positive change would look like within the hair extension industry.


A note from the writer:

The hair extension industry is a worldwide phenomenon that has been the seat of beauty for women of color, especially black women, for ages. With most of the hair now being synthetically made from plastic, allergic reactions on the scalp and improper disposal practices are bound to leave negative impacts on health and the environment.  

Like many other Black women, I was introduced to synthetic hair at a very early age. For the majority of the stages in my life, I’ve had some sort of synthetic hair protecting my natural hair, giving me new flexibility with my hairstyles every few weeks. For many Black women, including myself, it is an experience that provides strength, ease, and protection for our natural strands. For some, it is an unpleasant experience, leaving them with an uncomfortably irritated scalp prompting the quick removal of the extensions.

At the end of a protective style, the hair really just feels like hair. Old hair that we shed to regain access to our own natural roots, and we don’t recycle it. The fact that this synthetic hair is actually plastic and should be recycled or disposed of thoughtfully is not something that ever crossed my mind. It’s not something that crossed my mother’s mind, and I don’t think it crosses many people’s minds. 

Rebundle has provided a unique alternative for hair extensions, and their efforts to keep us and our world healthy, informed, and in good practice is greatly appreciated.

How did you start Rebundle, and how did you know that this product and service were needed? What’s the mission?

I started it from my own experience with braiding hair – breaking out really bad, experiencing really bad irritation, and looking for an option that was good for my body and good for the planet. That was about two summers ago. My mission was to provide hair extensions that were better for the scalp and better for the environment, so that’s what I set out to do.

Now we’ve only been in the market as early as this year, and we’re trying to keep up with the demand.

So what would happen when you would have an allergic reaction to synthetic hair?

My scalp would get really inflamed, itchy, red, and uncomfortable. This was my first time having this type of experience, but I was growing my hair out from a fade, and I didn’t want to have to do my hair. I was wearing braids pretty much back to back at that time, so it was just heightened.

Let’s touch on the environmental aspect. How did it come to your attention that synthetic hair was a problem for the environment?

Because I was trying to live more sustainably at the time, too, I was working at University and living in an apartment where I just didn’t have access to recycling services. I also didn’t have a car, so I was just trying not to have trash and was doing that type of research. 

I was also researching braiding hair and just realized that it was a connection and that I wouldn’t be able to minimize my waste without addressing my braiding hair.

So, could you walk us through what it takes to create the hair? It’s biodegradable, and I know that you guys use recycled hair for gardening tools at the end of the day. 

It’s made from naturally extracted banana fiber, so we take the fiber from a straw-like material and process it into more hair-like material. We do all of our processing here in St Louis. It’s several steps to process it – high-level dyeing, texturizing, and treating, and then I comb it and braid it up for packaging.

“…I understood the consumer because I was the consumer, and I had a good grasp on the potential of the market and how large it was. I knew that there was a solution that was needed because I was looking for one and knew that other people were looking for solutions as well.” 

What inspired you to take the reins on this issue and create both an alternative product and a solution to such a long-existing problem? 

I felt like I could do it. I mean, I understood the problem. I understood the consumer because I was the consumer, and I had a good grasp of the potential of the market and how large it was. I knew that there was a solution that was needed because I was looking for one and knew that other people were looking for solutions as well. 

So yeah, I just knew that I could do it. If it was going to be anybody that stood at the intersection of beauty and sustainability, I figured it could be me.

How long did it take for you to decide? Were you scared in the beginning or were you worried?

Uh, I mean I’m scared today about a variety of things. There’s always stuff happening that’s new and scary, but I got my Bachelor’s in Business Management with a Minor in Entrepreneurship, went to get a Masters in Social Entrepreneurship, and then joined an Entrepreneurship Fellowship. 

So I already knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur and wanted to start a company. I didn’t know it was going to be this one, but I already had the inspiration and a kind of taste for entrepreneurship.

What was your mindset going into this? Was it something that you actually wanted to do for a while? If not, what did you want to do originally? 

I wanted to wear my braids without itching and without contributing to the pollution. That was the problem I was trying to solve, and I knew I could do that for myself and millions of women worldwide by starting a company and turning it into a product and service. 

I didn’t know that it would be this business, but I knew that I wanted to start a business which is why I went to business school and joined BFA. I was just looking for inspiration, looking for something that I felt I could wrap my arms around, and it just kind of clicked. I was reading online about plastic synthetic hair and I was like, first of all this is crazy, and second of all I can solve this. 

What has it been like to create something so original in a space where your general audience already has a go-to product and a method of disposal?

I mean, it’s hard…It’s really really hard. It’s an ongoing process, and that’s something that people probably don’t talk about enough when making products and starting companies. You start in one place but you have to continue to grow and evolve and innovate at a rate to continue to meet your customers’ needs and also the market opportunities. 

We’re still learning, and growing, and adjusting, and taking feedback. Trying to get ahead of what people want from us, make the potential that we want for ourselves a reality, and figure out the way that we want the brand to grow. It’s challenging every day. I wake up and choose to work on this business every day because I believe in what we’re building and I believe in the direction that this market needs to go. 

I know that we have a lot of influence on how people will continue to interact with hair extensions and what their perceived value is based on what we’re providing versus what the competitors are providing. It’s giving people an opportunity to rethink that purchase. 

Could you walk us through the disposal process? You have a part of your brand where people can send you their synthetic hair so that you can properly dispose of it; what do you guys do with the hair that you receive from other people? 

It has to be sorted by type, which is a feat in itself because you can’t always tell what type of plastic it is just by looking at it.  So first, we have to identify the type, and then it gets shredded based on that type. After, the goal is to repurpose it. 

We don’t have enough volume to actually repurpose it yet, but we just won a grant a couple of weeks ago that will allow us to expand that program to be able to move a little bit faster and expand the growth there. But the idea is to repurpose the hair material to new products that provide it with a second life.

How important is it to the brand and the company that transparency be maintained throughout the growth of your business?

It’s important because historically, transparency hasn’t existed within the industry, so we do our best to share what’s appropriate. I think that we’re learning and being honest about our journey. I think it’s a personal value of myself and Danielle, so naturally, it’s something that we maintained within the brand’s identity that will continue to work within the rest of the company.

As we know, hair extensions play a huge role in the beauty routines of women of color and especially black women everywhere. How does it feel to know that you have been able to deliver for an often forgotten demographic within the beauty industry?

Yeah, it’s really unique, and it’s also empowering. I’m building for myself and my community, my friends, my family, and people who I don’t know. We are making something that reflects our own experiences as black women. I’m sure other people of other ethnicities have purchased and tried it, and it’s good that they can take part in this experience too, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are the primary consumers of hair extensions and braiding hair globally. 

We drive this market, and we drive the demand. It’s only right that we have a part in the supply chain, a say in how things are made, and whether or not it’s good for the environment. So, it’s really… I mean it’s kind of fun to just build for myself and build for black women; I wouldn’t want to do anything else. 

“We drive this market and we drive the demand. It’s only right that we have a part in the supply chain, a say in how things are made, and whether or not it’s good for the environment.”

What are some challenges that Rebundle has faced, and how have you overcome them? Since you are new to the landscape, I’m sure that there is more to come, but how do you plan on taking those challenges head-on?

There’s never not a challenge. What’s my challenge today? Not having enough time to get all the things done that I need to get done. I think the challenge that really tested my faith was just growing pains going 0 to 100. Before we launched, we had made tiny batches. I’m talking like 30-40 bundles, nothing crazy. So after launching, when it reached the hundreds, that was scary because I didn’t personally expect it. 

None of us knew what to expect,  but I never thought, “I mean, yeah, we’ll go viral the day after launching, and it’ll be everywhere, and everybody will want it” – that didn’t cross my mind. We just weren’t expecting to have to go to that level of production so soon. It really was a pain to try to grow quickly, get our orders out, get them out on time, and make them right. 

We learned from that, and we’re continuing to learn from those lessons. So I think now we’re just focusing on growth just to be able to keep up. That’s our goal right now. Keep up. Get ahead, and keep up.

What do you hope to ultimately accomplish with Rebundle? Where do you plan to go from here, and how do you plan to “get ahead and keep up”?

I think that we’ll continue to set the pace for what other brands will need to do. We’re doing that now in our own fashion, our own way, and that’s fine. I think that over the next few years, there’s a real opportunity for us to capture a significant share of the market. 

There will be a shift in where people are spending their money on hair extensions, and we want to be at the forefront of that. We want to be top of the line for people who think “clean, safe, non-toxic, and eco-friendly” hair extensions. So that’s where we’re headed. What’s it going to take to get there? More research, growing our team, fundraising, getting feedback from customers. Just what it’s taking to do the work.