Black women’s hair is the epitome of versatility. From knotless braids to frontal wigs, the possibilities for hairstyles are endless. Coming from her own experience of going through different hair phases, Rebundle founder and CEO Ciara Imani May tapped into alleviating some of the hassles that come with the process.
As previously shared by AfroTech, the St. Louis-based company creates and sells hair extensions made exclusively from plant-based materials. The core material for the extensions is banana fiber.
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May’s inspiration to enter the hair industry came after having a big chop. While she was set out on wanting braids installed soon after, she noticed that the hair extensions were causing scalp irritation. The reoccurring issue led May to brainstorm how to combat it. Using her book smarts and degrees, she decided to take action to create what is now known as Rebundle.
“I actually started my research in the plastics in like the synthetic hair industry to try to understand what was going on there,” May tells AfroTech. “I ordered some lab samples on two popular brands, did a ton of customer discovery with people who wore braids, like true street interview style. I got in touch with anyone that I could find who really had an understanding of material science or plant science, materials innovation just around what types of natural fibers were being used to replace plastics.”
She continues: “So, it took a while for me to like land on banana fiber because I wanted assurance that it was gonna be one of the better options out there and accessible to me as a company, like sourcing the materials and all those things. I would say those early days of customer discovery were a lot of fun. There was a ton of learning and a lot of knocking on doors, figuratively and literally, to find out what’s what.”
During the earlier stages of Rebundle, the challenge of getting proof of concept for it was a main obstacle in being able to secure fundraising. However, May persevered. The founder shares with AfroTech that she initially raised over six figures in non-dilutive funding.
It’s the success among Rebundle’s customers that led to her shifting her perspective on seeking out venture capital.
“I was approached by a handful of investors about whether or not we were gonna raise, which was pretty common,” May said. “That’s not that unique. But I didn’t know a lot at first because I was like, ‘No, I’m good.’ I didn’t have enough information to just start taking venture capital. But I had developed some pretty strong relationships with some of our early investors, really, particularly one who was like, ‘These are all the reasons that you should raise.’ And I was listening to all my ambitions and that helped me realize I can’t disrupt an industry with limited capital. I don’t think I’d considered exactly what that was, what I was doing, and that capital could take me a lot further. I just didn’t see raising capital — dilutive capital — as the end all be all to what I was doing.”
In January 2022, Rebundle announced that it raised $1.4 million in a pre-seed round, as previously reported by AfroTech. The round was led by venture firm, M25.
Following the funding, May said that Rebundle is looking to make the brand more accessible and provide more variety in its offered hair colors — all to try to meet customer demand. What’s more, the company launched hair texture tests to allow people to touch the hair before spending their coins.
With all of the wins Rebundle has seen since launching — including being the first U.S. -made plant-based hair extensions — what’s most rewarding for May is helping customers wear their favorite protective styles again in a healthier way.
“There are other brands who were doing some of this work before I was, but I think the difference between what we’ve been able to do and others is the community that we’ve been able to pull around this problem and the solution. And really using our voices as somewhat like a microphone to call attention to things that we know very intimately, but addressing them on a larger scale and really focusing on scaling this solution.”