As a company created by two women, we know how important it is to celebrate women who are trailblazers in their respective fields. That’s why we’ve started our Boss Babes series. Each month we’ll highlight one woman who’s leading the way and is absolutely crushing it, in business and in life. Here, they’ll answer questions on everything from how they started out and advice they think every woman should know, plus their beauty routines and how they take care of themselves. This month: Maeva Heim, Founder of BREAD Beauty Supply.
Tell us about yourself. What were you doing before you started BREAD, and was launching your own brand always a goal of yours?
My grandmother was actually a soap maker in a small village in the Ivory Coast, West Africa, and would sell the soaps at the market, and in the ’90s – but my first taste of beauty entrepreneurship was in my Mom’s braiding salon that she opened in Perth (Australia), in the ’90s. It was one of the very first African hair salons in the entire country, and one of my very first experiences in the beauty industry. From the age of 10 I would spend my weekends there braiding customers’ hair, sweeping the floors, answering the phone, and managing the booking diary. It was a lot like playing ‘shops’, but with a real cash register!
I had every intention of becoming a lawyer, but when I finished my degrees, I decided to pursue a career in marketing, and landed an Internship at L’Oreal, where I spent my early career. I also did a short stint at Procter & Gamble in Singapore, working on a toothpaste brand. It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but I learnt so much about how the consumer goods industry works, and how to take a brand to market.
My experience in the industry, but also my experiences as a consumer, lead me to realise that the beauty industry wasn’t really talking to me. As a woman of colour, I didn’t feel like I was getting the same level of product availability or brand experience that everyone else was, and I was determined to change that. That’s when I knew that I was going to launch my own brand.
I left L’Oreal knowing I wanted to create a brand that would aim to drive the industry towards a more diverse future, and provide better experiences and products for women of colour, specifically, Black women. I had no idea what the brand would be at that time – there was so much work to be done, and I didn’t know where to start.
Sometimes we get those “lightbulb” moments. Was there one that inspired the birth of BREAD, and if so what was it?
It wasn’t until I made a trip over to the United States, and flew from New York to Colorado with a hair relaxer in my suitcase that the lightbulb moment struck. When I arrived in Colorado, I opened up my suitcase and discovered the relaxer had exploded over ALL of my clothes. I was due for my topup, but was in the middle of nowhere, and didn’t have access to get another one. I decided then and there that I was going to stop relaxing my hair.
The first thing I wanted to do was find care products that were specifically designed for my texture. Since I had grown up using any product that were designed for straight hair, I knew those products were no longer going to cut it for my 4c, very textured hair.
When I finally got access to stores and entered the ‘multicultural’ haircare aisle, I was taken aback. I felt like I had jumped in a time machine and gone back to 1995. I couldn’t find any brands on the market catering to my hair type that I could relate to. All of the brands I came across felt dated. They all seemed to speak in the same way, look the exact same, and the product selection was incredibly confusing. I was extremely overwhelmed and confused. I just wanted to know how to wash my hair, and felt like brands weren’t providing that guidance in a super simple, time efficient way.
Beauty shouldn’t be problematic or hard, it should be fun, and real – not overwhelming.
A lot of young women who chemically relaxed their hair growing up undergo this transition when they reach adulthood and start questioning, or becoming more aware of, the types of beauty products they’re consuming and putting on their skin, so I knew there was now this whole group of consumers out there, just like me, who were also looking for this brand that didn’t exist. So, I decided to take my industry know-how and start building BREAD to fill this gap.
What was one of the most unexpected challenges you faced as you launched your brand? How did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges has definitely been running a brand and brand launch from overseas. I considered so many times whether we should delay the launch so that I could be in the country to better manage the roll out. In the end, we decided that it was still the right time. Even if things weren’t perfect, it felt like the market was really ready for BREAD to exist, and we couldn’t wait any longer – global pandemic and remote founder aside! I’ve been lucky enough to find really great people to help manage things on the ground in the US.
I think the best way to overcome something like this is to remind myself that it’s really not in my control, and that you can only change of affect so many things. Spend your time and energy on the things you can impact. Everything else, like the impacts of a global virus, are just things you have to work through, like everyone else.
Before BREAD even launched, you were selected to be part of the Sephora Accelerate program. How do you think this impacted your experience as a brand founder?
The entire journey of getting into Sephora Accelerate was surreal. I first found out about the program when I was still working in my corporate role at L’Oreal. It was the first year the program had run, and I had my eye on it way back then as a potential foot in the door opportunity.
When I started building BREAD and knew that I wanted it to exist in Sephora, it came back to the front of my mind. With a power-point and some early stage samples in hand, I managed to wrangle a meeting with a Sephora haircare buyer. She loved the concept, and we kept in touch for over a year while I worked on BREAD as a side gig.
Then, last year, she put me forward for the program. I still had to undergo all the application stages and a number of interviews – which were all very nerve wracking. However, the application process itself is a great business exercise. Throughout the program I was mentored by the Sephora team and ultimately offered a launch contract.
So, to say the experience was a game-changer for me as a brand founder would definitely be an understatement. It’s a huge testament to the incredible program that Sephora has built.
You’ve said that you want to redefine what “aspirational” hair looks like and to normalize natural hairstyles. Tell us more about why this is important to you.
I think BREADs’ ‘lazy-girl’ hair positioning has been heavily influenced by me growing up in Australia. There’s a strong beach culture here, and I never felt like I was part of that ‘salty, beachy, effortless’ hair that was considered the epitome of beauty. My drive to change the narrative around what’s considered ‘beautiful’ hair has definitely been driven by that experience growing up, and not necessarily feeling like I fit that very narrow beauty ideal.
There’s this pretty consistent rhetoric that textured hair is hard and time consuming to look after, and requires lots of product and manipulation. But I want our audience to feel like hair is fun, and easy, and casual. Black women haven’t typically been included in conversations or messaging around ‘lazy-girl’ or ‘done un-done’ hair, and I want her to feel like she too can have a carefree hair lifestyle, and that haircare can be fun, easy, and casual – part of that is normalising all kinds of curly textures and leading the way on what ‘aspirational’ hair is for 2020 and beyond.
What are some hair care tips that you’ve learned over the product development process?
My favorite part of the product development process has been learning the ins and outs of the science of hair, and why good haircare matters. I’ve always been a ‘why’ person, so getting answers to those questions that I’ve always had about hair has been fascinating. However, that’s not to say that everything there is to know about hair has a definitive answer. There’s still so much that science doesn’t know or hasn’t studied about hair – especially textured hair.
I would say my favorite tips are:
What does your current hair care routine look like? How has that changed since you were younger and just starting to build your own routine?
When I was younger my hair was chemically straightened to within an inch of its life. When it wasn’t out and supplemented by a weave, it was braided or in some kind of protective style – so my hair was always damaged (from relaxer), and or covered up. I did love that I was able to experiment so much. Having a Mom who is a hairdresser certainly helps with that!
Now, my routine is super simple. I now wear my hair out naturally, and wash every 7-10 days using the BREAD kit 1 – wash system. I care so much less about my hair these days, which sounds somewhat counterintuitive since I own a haircare brand! But my casual approach to hair is exactly why I started BREAD. I wanted a brand that wouldn’t take things so seriously, that would just provide great product that let me embrace my lazy-girl beauty vibes, and wouldn’t try to tell me what I should do with my hair and routine. So, that’s BREAD!
Best skincare advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t over do it. I used to over cleanse a lot, and it wasn’t until an old boss of mine taught me how delicate the face skin is that I realised I was overdoing it. She was an advocate for doing a proper cleanse at night, and then a softer and more gentle cleanse in the morning. I’ve stuck by that for a number of years, and it has served me well!