BREAD Beauty Supply's founder Maeva Heim will never forget the moment she was told that Sephora wanted to launch her brand.
"I stepped out into the perfect, breezy San Francisco streets with ‘The Opposite Of Us’ by Big Scary blasting in my headphones. I broke down in happy tears and wandered the streets for hours without being able to wipe the smile from my face," she tells Refinery29 Australia.
"I’ll never be able to be in San Francisco without thinking about this moment. That city has so much of my heart because of it."
Launching a beauty brand is no small feat. And launching one with the backing of one of the world's largest beauty retailers is even more of a pinch-me moment. But with a vision and mission as vital as Heim's, it's easy to see why the brand has grown into a cult beauty empire in just two short years.
BREAD Beauty Supply launched in 2020 with a goal of filling a huge gap in the Australian market — providing reliable haircare for those with "curls, fuzz, frizzy bits, bangs, braids and bantu," — especially for Black women. These days, BREAD is repped by beauty experts and fanatics everywhere, and stocked in Sephora and Selfridges globally.
Growing up in her mother's salon and having worked behind the scenes in beauty marketing, Heim has the kind of knowledge and passion for haircare that only comes with seeing the industry from all sides. Her unique perspective shines through in BREAD — so here's her essential advice for BIPOC looking to enter the space.
R29: You watched your mother run a salon out of her garage. How did that help you start your own business?
Maeva Heim: I don’t think I realised then how instrumental my mum was at turning me into an entrepreneur. Running a business just became so normalised. It opened my eyes to different avenues of life. It instilled a kind of ‘you create your world’ mentality in me.
My mum created that salon from scratch. She fitted out a tiny hole in the garage and turned it into a hair destination, creating a sense of culture and intrigue in a place that was barren and uninspiring. Growing up and watching her create something from nothing subconsciously gave me both the inspiration and the backbone to be able to start my own thing much later in life.
BREAD fills a significant gap in the Australian haircare market. What was it like convincing gatekeepers in the industry to give your vision a chance?
It was an exciting process because it didn’t necessarily take much convincing. Many of the stakeholders that I spoke with knew there was a problem. I would lay it out in my presentation before diving into brand and product, but most of the time, people already understood that it was a considerable gap — they just had no idea how to fix it.
Presenting BREAD as a starting point in a really long journey toward more inclusivity in the beauty space (and more specifically, the hair market) felt almost obvious. It felt like this brand needed to exist, and luckily, most stakeholders and gatekeepers wholeheartedly agreed.
What were the biggest challenges you faced in the initial stages of starting BREAD Beauty?
One of the biggest challenges I faced was knowing where to start. There were moments when I felt paralysed and didn’t know what to do next. I would go to conferences or events and always ask the panellist or speakers (who were entrepreneurs) the same question: “What is the first thing that you did? Where did you start?” The funny thing is, if someone were to ask me the same question, I don’t know what my answer would be. I wanted someone to tell me what to do.
Truthfully, the first place that anyone should start is turning inwards and knowing what you want your outcome to be. Ask yourself, "What legacy do you want to leave?" Starting there with a more philosophical question can help you get to the root of what you actually need to create. It helps you become more detached from the idea of what you want to make and allows you to understand that how you get to your destination can take different shapes and forms.
Was there a moment where you felt like your dream had come true? Are there any 'pinch me' moments you can recall?
Last month, my face was blasted all over Times Square as part of a Sephora campaign. That was a real ‘Is this real life?’ moment for me. People say being in Times Square is on their bucket list. For me, it wasn’t even on the radar or my list at all! It wasn’t something I ever expected to happen, so when it did, it felt like a dream I hadn’t even thought was possible for the brand or for me. But now that it has happened, I feel even more confident in the brand we’re building and the path we’re on.
I’ll also never forget when Sephora told me that they wanted to launch BREAD — it was the day after the Sephora Accelerate Demo Day in San Francisco in 2019. I had just met with the hair Category Merchant at a casual cafe, and she told me that we would be launching BREAD together. It was a moment I had envisioned for almost three years.
Was there someone you trusted who you could go to with questions at the beginning? Do you think it’s essential to have a mentor?
I leaned on and trusted many people through my journey, and it’s important to know what you want and need at each stage of your path. Mentors are essential, but it’s imperative not to confuse mentors with advocates and to understand the difference at each stage you traverse. For me, as I was finding my way through the early stages of BREAD, having advocates was way more important than mentors. Most people didn’t necessarily understand what I was trying to do (or hadn’t done it before because the path I was taking was quite rare).
Advocates are people who will vouch for you behind closed doors, make introductions, and help you break through ceilings that wouldn’t be possible without personal connections. Now that I’m in the day-to-day of running the business, I find that mentors are vital, because the challenges that I’m working through are common business challenges and paths that other successful business owners have walked before, so direct advice based on real-life experience is incredibly helpful.
What’s your advice for young BIPOC aspiring to launch their own business?
Take almost all advice with a grain of salt. Almost nothing is absolute. So, if the advice someone gives you doesn’t sit right, then let it wash over you and stay on your path. There is so much advice that is subjective and not objective, and it’s important to know the difference. I knew that it was very rare to pitch an idea to Sephora and have them want to come along for the ride before I had even launched a product.
But, I knew for the particular category I was in that there was a convergence of things happening that would make this path achievable. I can’t even tell you the number of people who told me I needed to launch the brand first before Sephora would even bother having a conversation with me. If I had listened to that advice, I would have never even tried to get their attention until years later, at which point, there may have been a different buyer in the category, or they may not have been as receptive based on the timing. Remember that your vision is unique, and if you can visualise a particular path, then run with it and trust yourself.
What do you wish you'd known before you started your own business?
I genuinely wish I knew how difficult it was going to be. I had heard it often from other entrepreneurs before I started BREAD; “it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do” or “if I had known what was involved, I never would have started”. I used to take commentary or advice like that with a grain of salt. But now? I truly, deeply understand what those people meant.
There is absolutely nothing quite like owning your own business. People genuinely don’t go into specifics about the difficulties because I think it can be very nuanced. However, at a high level, being responsible to not only stakeholders who have a vested interest in your business but also to customers, and, importantly, employees who rely on the business's success for their life can be incredibly overwhelming.
Running a business is mostly just a series of extreme highs, followed by a series of unfortunate events that you wriggle your way out of through either sheer endurance, strategy (when you have time to think properly), or pure luck. It’s a wild ride, and it’s also addictive. Even though there are days that I think, “If I had known, I never would have started," there is also profound certainty that there is nothing else I would rather be doing. So if you feel like the itch to start your own business comes from knowing that this is what you should be doing at this moment and nothing else, then it’s time to go for it.