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Maeva Heim grew up in her mother’s Perth braiding salon. Immersed in the hair and beauty industry from a young age, Heim ended up in marketing, working with some of the big corporate brands including L’Oréal and Procter and Gamble. But it was a flight from New York to Colorado that changed her path forever.
A hair relaxer (a very caustic hair straightening cream) exploded all over her suitcase. Being in the “middle of nowhere”, as a Black woman, Heim couldn’t gain access to the hair product she needed. It was then that after 20 years, the founder of haircare brand, Bread Beauty Supply (or, BREAD), stopped straightening her hair. She then quickly realised that the market for taking care of curls and coils was bleak.
“I couldn’t find any brands on the market catering to my hair type that I could relate to. 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.”
After that, BREAD was born.
“I desperately wanted a brand like BREAD to exist, so I had to build it.”
Heim got accepted into the 2019 Sephora Accelerate program, which champions female founders in the beauty industry and now, BREAD is the go-to brand for cool girls with curls. It's stocked in Sephora, Cult Beauty, Farfetch, Selfridges and more, and is also the recipient of over 30 beauty awards.
We chatted with Heim to learn more about how her cult brand came to be and her thoughts on the Australian hair industry.
Refinery29 Australia: How would you describe Australian hair culture?
Growing up in Australia, I felt distinctly detached from the typical ‘ideal’ of perfect hair. That blonde, beachy, straight hair ideal that was, and is, generally still held up as the epitome of desirability in mainstream culture.
I spent a lot of time in my childhood stressed out about hair, and went to great lengths to try to fit into that beauty ideal. I would do whatever it took to make sure my hair was straight, or looked somewhat similar to ‘idols’ I would see plastered on the cover of Dolly Magazine. I’m sure so many others can relate to whipping out the iron and ironing board to scorch their tresses to smithereens in the pursuit of pencil straight hair.
I’d really love for Australian hair culture to move towards not just greater ‘acceptance’, but a greater celebration of different hair cultures and styles. BREAD is a tiny part of that puzzle, and seeing the brand on the shelves of Sephora here in Australia is very surreal.
What have Australian salons missed when it comes to treating curls correctly?
I think everything starts with education. Without the educational backbone in place in hair training, each salon is left to its own devices in up-skilling stylists and creating curl-friendly services.
This means that people are also left to their own devices in figuring out which salons will actually understand how to look after their hair. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to call a salon in advance and explain in explicit detail that my hair is ‘curly curly’ and have them confirm that it’s fine, only to rock up at the salon and discover that it’s absolutely not fine, and they have no idea how to do curly hair.
There are definitely salons making a concerted effort to be far more inclusive when it comes to curl styling, like Edwards & Co.
Do you have a special connection to your hair?
This is a hard one to answer. I’d say it’s a little of column A, and a little of column B. On the one hand, my entire career revolves around my hair — I created a haircare brand, after all. On the other hand, it’s my mission to help myself, and others, feel comfortable with not ascribing so much importance to our hair. I honestly aspire to not really have to think about my hair much at all.
Part of the reason I started BREAD was because I wanted to give people with curly and coily hair the option to buy from a brand that isn’t so uptight about what it means to have curly hair.
I don’t want to feel like I have to write a love novel to my hair every week when I wash it. I don’t want a brand to tell me that they’re ‘empowering me’ to love my curls. Frankly, I find that a little bit condescending. I just wanted a good shampoo and hair mask that would do a great job, and wouldn’t make my bathroom look like a dollar store. I want to make all people feel like they can have ‘lazy girl hair’ no matter their texture, and that it’s okay to not have perfectly defined photoshop curls if that’s not what you like. Frizzy can be good, big and poofy is beautiful, and you don’t have to lay your baby hairs if you don’t want to.
So I guess the answer is yes. I have a special connection to my hair because my experience with it led me to create BREAD, and I think we’re occupying a very specific voice in the market that seems to be resonating.
What was it like getting the business properly set up?
I had dabbled in some side gigs growing up; selling vintage online, running market stalls, but nothing to this scale. Setting up BREAD involved many firsts.
I knew from the beginning that I wanted to create an enduring brand that could burst onto the scene, and I knew, given the market dynamics that I wanted the brand to exist in Sephora.
Both of these certainties meant we would need to raise capital. Since Australia is generally a more conservative market when it comes to raising capital, it was evident early on that I would need to set the business up in the United States, and raise capital from US investors. I had no clue how to do either of those things, but I spent a decent chunk of time researching and asking mentors or people in my network how to achieve both.
Luckily, I was able to get everything set up pre-pandemic and launch the brand remotely once everything locked down.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in the first years? What did you learn from them?
We’re technically still in our first years (our second birthday is coming up in a month!), so many of the early business lessons and challenges are still in action.
I would say that the biggest obstacle we’ve come up against is COVID. We launched smack-bang in the middle of the pandemic, and have ridden that bumpy wave the whole way through our brand lifetime. It doesn’t look like that wave is going to let up any time soon — the supply challenges will continue, and unprecedented obstacles are kind of part and parcel now.
The main lesson we’ve learned from those challenges is that we’re far more resourceful than we think we are when our backs are up against the wall.
Is there anything that you know now that you wish you knew back then?
I think I was probably a bit naive about a few things. Namely, trusting that a title or qualification means someone is good at what they do. Just because someone says they can do something, doesn’t mean they’ll be able to do it the right way for your particular business.
Navigating a business through COVID has certainly given me a stronger backbone. I used to feel a bit sheepish about really prodding people on their qualifications or ability to do what you need them to, but I’ve become a far more transparent leader, and much less patient with fluffiness and niceties — which is actually a good thing!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start their own business?
Think about the end goal, and work backwards. This has always been a guiding framework for me, and can be used for the larger existential question around whether you even want to start a business, or for making decisions along the way. If you think about your life or your business in 5, 10, 20, 30 years' time, what is the outcome? What does it look like? Then, build backwards from there.
For me, this is the only golden rule, because if you don’t like the end-point you’re envisioning, then you need to change your decision and create a new plan. If you’re thinking about starting a business, this part of the process should actually take you a really long time to figure out. It doesn’t happen overnight, but I think it’s important.
How do you continually educate yourself on the latest trends in the space?
So much of my initial impetus to create BREAD was driven not just by my own experience, but also by social listening, which is something I still do to this day. I’m a child of the internet, so lurking on various platforms and seeing what people are talking about or trying to discover before it becomes mainstream is one of the best ways that I love to stay ahead of trends.
Have there been any special moments you’ve shared with customers that stick out?
Yes! There are about three in particular that I think of a lot. The first was an email we received on launch day from a customer. She expressed how happy she was to see BREAD and how important it was to her. It really set the tone for the brand and gave us all that extra kick of power to keep steaming ahead.
The second was a grandmother who got in touch with us after we had sold out of our hair-wash, and said she was desperate to get her hands on it because her granddaughter wouldn’t let her wash her hair without it. It really hit home to me in that moment that we’re creating great products, not just more products.
And the third was a Mum who sent us a photo of her daughter holding up her hair mask, who said she could not stop beaming after seeing someone on the front of a product who looked like her. Probably my favourite email to date!
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