For the co-founder and CEO of Waeve Mary Imevbore, the journey to start a brand was based on personal experience. As a computer science student at Williams College in 2017, she and her friends found that they all faced frustrations when shopping for hairstyle brands aimed at black women.
“We just realized there was no right place to buy wigs,” she said. When she was growing up in Connecticut, her mother bought her a custom wig for hundreds of dollars at her local salon, but finding an option online with a price more suitable for students was difficult. She and her friends turned to Alibaba’s international marketplace, AliExpress, for the wig options they wanted. “It really jumped out at me that it was a really painful shopping experience,” she said. “[We had] no idea who to trust and prices varied wildly.
To solve the problem, they decided to start their own business. Inspired by the success of DTC startups like Glossier and Warby Parker, Imevbore and her classmates Susana Hawken and Tiiso McGinty won a campus business competition in 2018 with his DTC wig startup idea.
Three years later, their winning concept has now become Waeve, a lifestyle brand launched on Tuesday with $ 2 million in seed funding led by Pillar VC with participation from Maveron. Other investors include Henry Davis and Bryan Mahoney, former executives of Glossier and co-founders of Agreement, and Glossier CMO Ali Weiss. The brand also received investments from TJ Parker and Elliot Cohen, the co-founders of Pillpack, where Imevbore worked as a software developer before launching the brand.
“Here is this product whose demand is really growing. It’s a huge $ 6 billion market. This is [also] an expensive product, which people frequently spend hundreds of dollars on, ”Imevbore said. “Black women are the main consumers of this product, and there is no real brand that speaks to us that makes shopping fun and easy.”
“When I met Mary and her co-founders and heard their take on the black hair care industry, it was clear that they were creating a business that would be transformative,” said Sarah Hodges, partner at Pillar VC.
The new brand is launching online via a DTC drop model, with plans to launch sets of six different wig styles four times a year. Waeve is tapping into existing demand to order wigs online, with online sales accounting for 63% of the global wig market in 2020. The initial decline is called “Days of the Week” and includes three human hair wigs and three synthetic wigs , with prices ranging from $ 72 to $ 398. Each style is named after a different day of the week, with Sunday left out as “a tribute to the natural hair movement,” said Imevboré. With the range of styles, the brand is pursuing what it calls a “wig fashion house concept”.
“With this drop pattern, we are able to offer a consistent cadence of different hairstyles,” she said. “We realized that people wear wigs as if they were wearing clothes. They change them every day; they change their style. The brand offers a mix of classic and trendy styles, and the founders take inspiration from styles from Instagram, influencers and celebrities.
“You have celebrities like Rihanna, Megan Thee Stallion, Doja Cat, and Nicki Minaj – all of these women change their hair all the time and really push wigs forward as a tool of power and self-expression,” Imevbore said.
While the brand is “regardless of the age” of its target customers, its aesthetic “has a very maximalist Gen-Z feel, simply because that’s who we are as founders,” said Imevbore, who is 24 years old.
Imevbore and the co-founders Hawken, brand product manager, and McGinty, brand and community manager, also roommates in Boston, where Hawken is simultaneously a doctoral student at MIT. Their nights and weekends were spent branding while working full-time in startups after college. “We would go to work and come home and work there,” she said.
As they developed the brand, they started a blog called “Her Hair Stories” to build their community. The brand also operates a private Instagram community of around 300 members which it calls its “Waeve Baes,” who test products and provide ideas and comments.
The Waeve Baes are “our marketing engine,” Imevbore said. “They’ll post because they’ve been helping us work on it for so long, and then they’re going to tell people about it.” The group includes both influencers and regular Instagram users. “Waeve was like kind of a popular stuff, where it’s not just some random person advertising something because we paid them; it’s the people who actually use and enjoy the product who share it with their friends, ”she said.
Waeve joins a growing group of brands founded by black women to receive more than $ 1 million in venture capital funding. In 2020, a total of 93 black women had received more than $ 1 million in funding, social startup says Digitalised. That number dropped from just 34 in 2018. These include many beauty founders, including hair extension startup DTC. RadSwan, which has received $ 2 million to date, and Gen Z founded Topicals, which received $ 2.6 million. These brands have overcome a huge VC funding gap – only 0.64% of VC investments in 2018 and 2019 went to black and Latin women combined. Waeve will donate a portion of the proceeds from each drop to support the success of black women. For his first drop, he will donate to Black Girls Code.
“We are really filling a gap where there is nothing like it,” said Imevbore, adding that she and her co-founders are as motivated as they are “people who are customers and who have felt the pain ourselves.