The story of Ciara Imani May and Rebundle, the first plant-based braiding hair produced in the U.S
From the research on more sustainable living and the personal experiences of bad reactions to plastic synthetic braiding hair, Rebundle was born. “The type of chemicals and the type of plastic used was directly correlated to the discomfort that not only I, but millions of women worldwide have experienced,” said Rebundle founder Ciara Imani May. “That’s what makes us unique – we’ve created this product for ourselves and for those who love and wear this product. It’s very intimate, it’s on your scalp and should be treated with care.” Plastic synthetic hair is a staple in the beauty industry, particularly for Black women, and up until now, Black women and other consumers alike, were forced to endure the discomfort and itching that can sometimes be associated with using the product.
Traditional braiding hair is often made from plastic, and the ingredients that come in contact with the scalp are partially to blame for the irritation. When asked what makes Rebundle’s plant-based braiding hair, braid better, a game changer, she said “We don’t include any ingredients that you’ll find in plastic synthetic hair; all of our ingredients are safe and non-toxic. It’s specifically formulated to match textured hair, the way we like, without all of the harmful effects.” Not only is traditional braiding hair a source of scalp irritation and discomfort, but it’s also incredibly bad for the environment. According to import records examined by Rebundle, an upwards of 30 million pounds of plastic synthetic braiding hair is imported into the United States every year and most, if not all of it, ends up in a landfill. This is the waste that Rebundle is actively working to prevent in two ways: with braid better and their recycling program. “Our goal is to end that waste, by creating awareness that this is an environmental justice issue, and with our recycling program, the goal is to repurpose that hair into new products, so that it does not end up in a landfill.” When May first founded the company, the recycling initiative was the sole purpose of the business and then came the idea for braid better. “Now our company has a dual mission of addressing the waste by providing a non-plastic alternative that biodegrades and does not need any recycling, and continuing the recycling program.”
Plastic synthetic hair that is sent in to Rebundle, is not immediately repurposed into other items; the hair is sent to partners who shred and prepare the hair for repurposing into useful things such as outdoor furniture and lawn tools. “Certain materials cannot be handled without proper equipment, which speaks of their toxicity and the threat that this toxicity poses to our bodies,” May explained.
Ciara, who has a Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship, asserted that the brand is more than just a business venture concerned with hair; it is about environmental activism and increasing representation. When asked about her passion for environmentalism and what she hopes to do with Rebundle, she said she’s passionate about “Creating space for Black women in the environmental space, where we’ve not seen a lot of representation. Our brand is uniquely positioned to address a number of issues. With the brand, we hope to continue the conversation around waste with the products that are specific to Black and brown communities and how they are often unaddressed.” While chronicling the history and inner workings of the beauty industry, May stressed the importance of inclusion, saying that many people, especially Black women have simply been excluded and disregarded in not only environmental justice initiatives, but beauty as well. “We’ve been left out of the conversation to improve this product in the ways that we need, so that we’re not having negative experiences… I don’t know if it’s intentional, but there’s clearly been a long history of exclusion. What we have to say and our experiences are valuable, and we can’t create an equitable future and fight climate change, without our input as well.”
Looking to the future, Ciara affirmed that both she and Rebundle are simply just getting started. “I know that Rebundle will have a long life and lasting impact. My goal is to build it to be a company that is the leader in this intersection of beauty and sustainability.” Giving some insight into both the company’s long and short term goals, May revealed that the brand is “Focused on adding more colors, textures, and lengths” as well as, creating “New products that are made for women of color, specifically Black women, and that speak directly to our experiences with our hair and our care routine.” She encouraged others who may want to join the fight against climate change or even start a business, to do so as well. “You’ve just got to do it. I’d have never imagined that I’d be in the position I am today to build this company, that people all over the world are excited about. So if you don’t go for it, you’ll never know how it’ll be received.”
Information on how to pre-order braid better and how to recycle your plastic synthetic hair can be found on the Rebundle website.
This feature was submitted by Tasia Muse
Tasia Muse is a writer, content creator and creative entrepreneur with a B.A in Sociology. She enjoys writing about the intersection of Black and popular culture, fashion, and social justice.
Featured Image courtesy of Ciara Imani May