Startup Profile: Rebundle
Shortly after receiving her master’s degree in social entrepreneurship from USC, Ciara Imani May made a lifechanging decision: she had enough with the scalp irritation caused by wearing plastic-based synthetic braids and she was going to find a healthier, more sustainable solution.
In 2019, she cofounded Rebundle, which creates and sells hair extensions made from plant-based material, including banana fibers. Since participating in the Blackstone LaunchPad Summer Fellowship in 2020, she’s gone on to raise $1.4 million in pre-seed funding.
Early Entrepreneurial Support
After researching the hair industry, Ciara turned to the USC LaunchPad for help turning the idea into a reality. The entrepreneurship center provided her mentoring and nominated her for the Blackstone LaunchPad fellowship. In the summer of 2020, she was one of only 50 student teams selected to participate in the inaugural eight-week virtual mentoring Fellowship, delivered with support from Future Founders and Techstars.
One of her favorite parts of the program was listening to a Fireside Chat with Allbirds founder Tim Brown. “It’s great to hear from leaders in other industries who keep sustainability as part of their mission, but don’t let that take away from building a great product,” she said at the time. “It’s very helpful to get that kind of perspective.”
By the end of the July, Ciara successfully beta tested an early product prototype with four stylists and began a relationship with a manufacturing partner.
As a self-taught entrepreneur, Ciara was particularly drawn to the structure, mentoring, and community that programs like the USC LaunchPad, the LaunchPad Fellowship, and the Future Founders Bootcamp provided. “I don’t come from a family of business owners, nor did I have a lot of understanding of entrepreneurship before going to school, so access to these programs helped refine my skills and legitimize me as a real entrepreneur.”
Rebundle, which is based in St Louis, recently raised $1.4 million in a pre-seed round led by M25, a venture firm with a geographic focus on the Midwest. Prior to this round, Rebundle had raised around six-figures worth of grants and other non-dilutive capital, including the $5,000 Ciara received through the LaunchPad fellowship.
The money will be invested primarily in her team and supply chain, with a major focus on manufacturing. Rebundle uses banana fiber as the core material for its extensions and is building out new production facilities in the United State. According to TechCrunch, Rebundle had been selling out stock in an hour or less. The capital infusion will allow the company to scale and meet its demand.
Commitment to Sustainability
Even before founding Rebundle, Ciara was deeply committed to living sustainably. When she first started researching hair, she was also researching ways to reduce her waste. At the time, she was working at a university that didn’t recycle and living in housing that didn’t recycle, and so she became interested in the circular economy.
“Environmental conservation and sustainability have always been important ideas to me,” said Ciara. “But since braid extensions are primarily worn by Black women, and we’re generally not included in the conversation on sustainability, that kind of intersectionality hasn’t really been extended to this consumer product yet.”
From the beginning, Ciara was interested in creating a product that was both healthier and more sustainable than the options widely available. She quickly identified plastic used in synthetic hair as a culprit on multiple fronts. The petroleum products and plastic materials in hair were not only causing the scalp reactions she and many other women experienced but also negatively impacting the environment.
“My initial hypothesis was that I could recycle used hair back into new hair, but the more I learned about what the hair was made of, the more clear it became that this wasn’t the smart thing to do. The smart thing to do was to introduce a new fiber that could solve both problems at the same time. And that’s how Rebundle got started.”