In the Black community, synthetic hair has long reigned supreme as the go-to braiding hair for protective hairstyles like box braids, twists, and other braided extensions. While often praised for its inexpensiveness — in comparison to human hair, and versatility, the harsh reality is that man-made hair extensions can be extremely toxic to not just the environment, but also to the people who wear them.
Per Refinery29’s report, synthetic hair is made up of “ultra-fine strands of plastic” and non-biodegradable materials like polyester, acrylic, and PVC that contribute to landfills. There’s also the fact that synthetic hair oftentimes causes women to experience severe scalp irritation and itchiness.
The latter is something Ciara Imani May knows all too well. After dealing with her own fair share of itchy scalps, May was inspired to create Rebundle, a plant-based, biodegradable alternative to synthetic braiding hair — the first to exist in the U.S. Here, The Tease talks to May about the creation of her brand, the importance of Black founders in the haircare market, and her plans for Rebundle’s future.
The Tease: Rebundle’s plant-based braiding hair is very much needed in the Black hair space. What first sparked the idea?
Ciara Imani May: A few summers ago, I was growing my hair out and was wearing braids back to back because they required little to no maintenance. Due to the toxins in plastic synthetic hair, my scalp became extremely irritated, inflamed, and uncomfortable. The best way to describe it was a burning and itching sensation. It was upsetting to feel like I had to choose between ease/convenience and pain/discomfort, and I knew that millions of other women faced the same dilemma while wearing braids.
After that, I extensively researched what synthetic hair was made from and the impact on humans and the environment. Something that sparked my interest was an article I found that showed the material used in synthetic hair. I became curious if there was a link between the hair and the reaction I had experienced. Which as we know now, there was. After finding out what I did through my research and investigating popular synthetic hair brands, I couldn’t keep it to myself and ignore the issue. I became determined to find a sustainable alternative that would be better for the scalp and the environment.
As a brand, Rebundle sits at the intersection of hair and sustainability. From the beginning, were you always set on the idea of weaving environmentalism into Black haircare?
May: After discovering the amount of waste generated from the wigs and extensions industry, it was apparent that a solution was needed. After realizing a correlation between the materials used and the plastic pollution problem, I knew that I couldn’t solve one without addressing the other.
On your website, you are very transparent about all the ingredients used in your braiding hair. Why was it important to make this information accessible for consumers?
May: Braiding hair is an intimate part of Black haircare. One of the significant issues in the industry is the lack of transparency, and I knew that there were people on the Internet searching for answers just like I had. With Rebundle, we strive to be transparent so that our customers can make informed decisions about their purchases with us. My goal is to make users of synthetic hair aware of the dangers that come with it, the same way they understand the risks of other products they may be using. We’ve built and positioned this brand for Black women like us who love braids. We shouldn’t have to worry about the dangers and harmful effects of our hairstyles. We deserve transparency, and we deserve ownership and control over the products we use and love.
In addition to offering a more eco-friendly alternative to braiding hair, Rebundle also offers a recycling program for synthetic hair. What was the brand’s driving force behind its recycling initiative?
May: The brand’s original initiative was the recycling program. We were on a mission to address the waste issue because it was being ignored and unaccounted for. Now, we maintain our recycling program to demonstrate our commitment to taking responsibility for the waste created by the industry.
Clean products have become available in just about every other category in the hair space, except the wig and extension space. Why do you think this area of the hair industry has been slower with addressing sustainability?
May: I don’t know if it’s intentional, but there is a long, detailed history of Black women being excluded from conversations where we are the primary consumers of the products. When there aren’t enough Black women at the table to share our experience, problems like those in the wigs and extensions industry go unanswered.
Over the last few years, we have started to see a movement towards Black entrepreneurship in the wig and extension space with brands like Rebundle and RadSwan. How important is it for you that Black women take leadership in the Black hair market?
May: It’s remarkable to see us represented in this industry because our culture, style, and dollars have made it what it is. It feeds into the narrative that we [black consumers] are done being excluded and finding our own channels and audiences to be successful. We represent the future of this industry, will continue to grow our brands with the full support of our communities.
Looking ahead, what are your short-term and long-term goals for Rebundle?
May: We are changing the hair extensions industry for the better. People are excited about what we’re building and will continue to work hard to meet the demand. As our brand continues to grow, we strive to set industry standards and be top-of-mind for healthy, sustainable hair extensions. The future is bright for Rebundle and plant-based hair extensions.