- November 13, 2021
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For Black women who grew up in and continue to navigate predominantly white spaces, much of the discrimination we have faced has been tied to stereotypical and often historical ideas about Black hair and bodies. This has in many ways shaped how Black women present themselves to the world and the relationships they have with their hair.
For decades, Black women have relied on chemical relaxers and heat-intensive styling practices that are not only expensive and labor-intensive but can also have severe long-term effects on their health and well-being. The boom of natural hair content on social media in the early 2010s created a cultural reset that has redefined beauty by focusing on Black women’s evolving relationship with their hair. What has come out of this has been a great emergence of creators, educators, and entrepreneurs who have established industry-disrupting brands that are rooted in putting Black women’s hair-care needs at the center of product development. One of those people is Maeva Heim, the founder of Bread Beauty Supply, “a hair-care brand for not-so-basic hair.”
Maeva was born in Australia and as the only Black girl in her community, she found solace in her mother's hairdressing salon – the only place that catered to Black hair in her hometown of Perth. Created out of Maeva's personal reckoning with her natural hair, Bread Beauty Supply launched in 2020 out of a desire to develop staples that meet the hair-care needs of women with curly, coily, and kinky hair textures. Having spent years working in marketing for brands such as L’Oréal, ASOS, and Procter & Gamble, Maeva saw a gap in the market for gentle hair-care products that deliver results and embrace Black women’s hair in its natural form. Her mission to redefine beauty for a more diverse consumer impressed executives at Sephora, leading to Bread Beauty being selected as part of Sephora Accelerate, their beauty start-up accelerator. Since launching, the brand has been sold by retailers including Sephora, Selfridges, and Cult Beauty.
Teen Vogue spoke to Heim about loving her hair, building her brand and making her way in the beauty industry.
Teen Vogue: How has your relationship with your hair changed since starting Bread Beauty?
Maeva Heim: The journey with my hair has been gradual. It feels like it’s all happened at once, but it was a process that took years. Now that I feel much more comfortable with my hair it feels weird for it to have felt any other way, but I know that growing up my mum relaxed my hair and it was always in a weave or braids. I just never knew what to do with it because it had never been in its natural texture. I remember the first time I had to go to school without a weave. It wasn’t even in its natural form. It was still chemically straightened, but I was so mortified that by 11:00 a.m., I went to the nurse’s office and pretended that I was sick so that my mum would come and pick me up because I was so embarrassed. So to go from that to owning this brand that is all about championing your natural hair. And for me to feel so comfortable, happy, and joyous to just have my natural Afro out, is a long way to come.
TV: Have you lived anywhere else where you’d had a different hair experience?
M.H.: I grew up in Perth, which is where I was born. Perth is very much a “big small town" and there is even less access there than in Melbourne, where I live now. But I was lucky enough to have a mum who owned a braiding salon. That’s how I got access to things and my mum was my hairdresser my entire life. We would import products from the U.S and sell them at my mum’s salon. If it wasn’t for that, we would have had zero access. At one point when I was in my teens, I thought I would have to live in Perth my entire life because who was going to do my hair? I couldn’t move away.
TV: When you were younger you also used to travel to West Africa, where your mum is from, quite frequently. How did that experience shape your identity as a Black woman in Australia and your identity as a beauty consumer more generally?
M.H.: Some of my most vivid beauty memories were of my time in West Africa and being at my family’s house with my aunt sitting me down and whipping out her makeup bag, drawing really thick eyebrows, and putting on bright-blue eye shadow. We’d go to the markets to get our hair braided or put on fake eyelashes. A lot of trends that I used to see back then became trends in the Western market years and years later. And I think a lot of inspiration comes from there because in those environments people are a lot more creative and you get to be inspired by the creativity that comes from scarcity.
TV: Were you more comfortable with your hair in that space or were the insecurities you had about your hair when you were younger more generalized?
M.H.:I definitely think I was more comfortable in those spaces. I have photos from that time and I was a lot more experimental and allowed a lot more than I would have at home. It was really nice to be expressive in a way that I felt I couldn’t be when I was back home in Perth.
TV: You’ve said that part of the reason you started Bread was to change the brand experience for women of color. How do you think the beauty industry’s relationship with women of color has evolved over the past few years?
M.H.:I think it’s been an interesting journey and something that has been accelerated in a very particular direction thanks to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement last year. I see the industry as pre- and post-Fenty. And now I think we are in this phase, pre-pandemic and BLM and post-pandemic and BLM. I think that there has always just been this gap that has been fueled by a few things.
Firstly, the industry hasn’t always seen the importance of providing the right products and really great brand experience to Black women, which has meant that there hasn’t been a lot of resources or funding in the space to create the same type of brand that you see in other categories. I think a lot of it is fueled by that, so you end up with a space where the brands that are actually making the products that serve Black women are either multinational conglomerates spinning off brands internally or small, indie brands that are made on someone’s kitchen counter and eventually make their way to the retail market. There is this big gap in between that doesn’t exist in other categories, like indie brands that actually have support and funding and are able to do things in a way that you can’t if you don’t have the funding. My idea of a brand was always about filling that gap and creating great products and great brand experiences for Black women in a way that hasn’t existed before, in a way that feels like a brand that is fit for 2021 and can stand up against other brands in the market.
TV: Part of being able to create that brand equity also relies on having resources to scale a company to a much bigger level. Having been part of the Sephora Beauty Accelerator, what insights did you gain about the difficulties of starting a business as a Black woman?
M.H.: There are so many parts to it, but I think being a woman in this space especially when you are talking about a brand that you want to raise funding for, it can sometimes take a little longer for people to really believe what you’re saying, even if you’re the customer. You almost have to go through an extra hurdle to convince people that this is a good idea and I think that comes from there not being enough history. We have a lot of pressure on our shoulders because this hasn’t been done before. We really need to succeed to show that this can be done and that more Black women can get funding and create successful, great brands just like everyone else who is getting the majority of funding.
TV: How do you see Bread evolving in the coming years?
M.H.: The reason why our extended name is Bread Beauty Supply is that we want to offer Black women and diverse sets of consumers anything they need in their beauty cabinet and to become a more holistic brand. We’re starting with hair because it’s the most immediate need, but we’re excited to branch out into different categories where needs aren’t being met with a unique brand lens to eventually take over the entire beauty cabinet.
TV: Why Bread?
M.H.: When I started the brand, it was actually called something different. But someone had trademarked that name so I had to go back to the drawing board and I thought it was the worst thing that could ever happen. But it really forced me to think about what I was creating, which are really the staples of your hair-care wardrobe. When I thought about what the staples were in other categories, my first thought was bread. That just stuck and I kept it.
I’m also really lazy when it comes to hair, which is part of the inspiration for Bread as well. I knew that I wanted Black women to feel like they could embrace “lazy girl hair,” something we haven’t always been allowed to embrace in the past.
TV: Why was it important for you to use Australian ingredients?
M.H.: One of the things I found when I was researching products and looking at different industry reports was that hair products marketed to Black women had been found to be more [potentially harmful] than products in the general market. I wanted to make sure we were creating products that were safe and really showed that we care about the customer. We also infused our products with different Australian ingredients, in part because that’s my heritage, but also because I want to put those ingredients on the map.
TV: Why do you think so many of the products that are marketed toward Black women are so harsh and chemically intensive?
M.H.: I think it is probably a function of a few things. Firstly, there are a lot of relaxers on the market, but it’s also such a normal part of the routine. Scabs and welts on my head were just part of the normal experience, which is crazy. But I also think that the majority of brands that are now playing in the natural-formula space are also the brands that were selling us relaxers years ago, so there is a lot of disconnect. It’s important that new brands coming into this space are owned by the customers we are trying to serve. When you have a Black woman at the head of a brand what you end up seeing is going to be different from a faceless brand where you don’t know who the owner is, because you understand the labor of taking care of Black hair.
TV: Your mum has clearly played a big role in your beauty and hair-care journey. What are some of the lessons you’ve learned from her about beauty?
M.H.: I love the way that my mum has always championed being a chameleon. She would always encourage me to try different styles because it made me more confident with my beauty choices. She is also my biggest inspiration entrepreneurially because she had this beauty salon and she was there 24/7, and I probably got my drive from her. She is the original beauty entrepreneur that I learned everything from without even knowing it at the time.
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