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How this Aussie founder got her foot in the door at Sephora USA, before she even launched a product

How this Aussie founder got her foot in the door at Sephora USA, before she even launched a product

We chat to Maeva Heim of Bread Beauty Supply.

BY Business Chicks, 20 min READ
 

We love showcasing our Premium members who are doing incredible things. Previously working with brands such as L’Oréal, Oral B, and Procter and Gamble; Maeva Heim decided to go out on her own. After recognising the lack of diversity in the international beauty industry, Maeva grew a passion to address the issue herself. This passion ultimately drove her to create Bread Beauty Supply – a haircare brand that produces products that are a staple in the beauty routines of women with curly and afro hair.

Before the brand has even launched, Maeva has been selected to be a part of Sephora’s accelerate cohort programme (and is the first Australian brand to ever be selected!). We sat down with Maeva to hear about how she has achieved such success in her career, as well as to listen to her journey in combatting a lack of representation within the beauty industry.

 

1. You started your career working in brand management on brands such as L’Oréal. Where did your interest in marketing and brand management begin?

When I was growing up, I was actually intent on becoming a lawyer. I studied a double degree in business and law, and always expected that law would be my focus.

Business, as I thought then, would simply allow me to diversify the classes I was taking during my studies (law can be draining, and sometimes quite dry).

It wasn’t until the later stages of my degree that I realised I was actually quite a creative person and really came to enjoy the strategic and creative outlet that my business degree provided.

After doing a whole bunch of work experience in criminal law, I realised that path wasn’t for me. I couldn’t see myself committing to it for the next 10, 20, or 40 years of my life.

I figured if I wasn’t going to pursue law, and pursue business instead, that I might as well go for what I saw as the most creative discipline within that, which was marketing. I started researching internships and graduate opportunities and that’s when I discovered the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industry.

Because I lived in Perth, where there weren’t really many opportunities in this space, I had no idea that you could work in marketing for the likes of Kraft or Cadbury, and I was incredibly intrigued and excited about the prospect of working behind the scenes of brands that I had grown up seeing on the TV and stocking in our kitchen.

I ended up with an internship at L’Oréal in Melbourne, and then later a summer internship with Procter & Gamble (which owns Oral-B) in Singapore. Both experiences were incredible, but there was something about beauty marketing that I particularly enjoyed and felt innately drawn to – so I ended up back at L’Oréal!

 

2. What inspired you to start your own company, Bread Beauty Supply?

When I left L’Oréal, I knew I wanted to launch a beauty brand that would address the lack of diversity in the beauty industry – I just didn’t know what it would be yet.

It wasn’t until a chance trip to the US, and a decision to undergo the process of transitioning from chemically straightened (relaxed) hair (something I had done since I was around six years old) to my naturally curly texture that the idea for Bread Beauty Supply dawned on me.

Transitioning from relaxed hair to natural hair is hard and complicated. After over a decade of styling ‘straight’ hair’, you are essentially starting from scratch and must contend with daily care and styling of a completely new hair texture.

When I made that transition, I went on a quest to find products that work for my hair type and texture and was really taken aback. 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 exactly same, and the product selection was incredibly confusing and green-washed.

It was really daunting, and I just felt like beauty shouldn’t be that problematic or hard, it should be fun, and real – not overwhelming.

I soon discovered that I wasn’t the only one opting to ditch the relaxer. There was an almost 40% decline of hair relaxer sales over a five year period, and a drastic cultural and commercial shift in the ethnic haircare market.

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 create it.

3. How did you manage the transition from working full-time to running your business?

It actually hasn’t been as big of a shift as I expected. I think that’s mostly because the job roles that I’ve been in during my career have always been pretty entrepreneurial. I always had a lot of autonomy in my roles.

The transition to Bread was also quite gradual. I worked on it as a side hustle for a long time, and moved away from full-time work over a period of months, so it never felt like an abrupt switch.

Having said that, there are certainly fundamental differences between being entrepreneurial in a corporate role and actually running your own business. The level of responsibility and pressure is ten-fold, so that has been the biggest learning curve.

4. What did your career in brand management teach you that became useful in starting your own business? 

Working somewhere like L’Oréal really gives you the chance to take ownership and be exposed to high-level meetings and decision making, even at an intern level. So, I learned really early on how to engage with retailers, how to build and present a strategy, and most importantly how critical it is to have good relationships with those retailers. That’s a really important lesson that I’ve taken with me and implemented with Bread.

 

 5. You were selected to be part of Sephora’s Accelerate Cohort program. What was that experience like and has it played a major part in starting Bread Beauty Supply?

Given that this is the first year Australian participants have been eligible for the program, it’s a huge honour and privilege to have been selected. So many wonderful opportunities have come my way since taking part – things that would have taken months if not years to achieve, are now happening in a really short timeframe. It’s extremely exciting, humbling, and nerve wracking at the same time.

I’ve had the opportunity to meet and network with some of the most helpful, brilliant people in the beauty industry – including the other women who were part of this year’s cohort, who are now lifelong friends.

I think being selected also comes with a great deal of responsibility. I want to make Sephora Australia, and the wider beauty community, feel proud of the choice that they’ve made, so now I have an even stronger sense of drive to ensure the brands success and social impact.

Sephora has played a huge part in shaping what the Bread brand looks like today and what our launch will look like. I’ve been speaking to their buyers for years – even before I had settled on the brand name! When people say these things don’t happen overnight, they are 100% correct. This has been years in the making.

 

6. Ok spill, how did you get your foot in the door at Sephora USA before you even launched?

It’s kind of a long story, but I’ll try to keep it short! In a nutshell, I put myself out there and got myself (and my brand) in front of the right people by whatever means necessary. I met one of the Sephora Vice Presidents at an event in LA, and to spark a conversation I asked for her advice on getting a meeting with a Sephora buyer.

I told a small white lie and said that I would be in San Francisco later that week (that’s where the Sephora head office is). She was kind enough to send my brand deck on to the Haircare buyer, but made no guarantees of a meeting – I decided to get on a plane to San Francisco anyway.

Luckily, the buyer got back to me, and within 24 hours I had a meeting with her. She was incredibly supportive, and continued to meet with me over the next year as I worked on the brand as a side-gig.

When Sephora Australia opened up applications for their global Accelerate program in 2019, she put me forward for it, and along with Tonik, we ended up being the first ever Australian brands to be chosen to participate in the program in the US.

 

7. What are the best lessons you’ve learned in your career?

There are two that stand out the me. The first and most important is that people are everything, in any and every context.

None of what you do would exist, or matter, without people, and every opportunity is attached to a person.

Developing people skills and nurturing relationships is the most important thing you can do. Give value to people and it will come back to you tenfold.

Having said that, I think it’s important not to ‘give’ with the expectation of receiving something in return. You have to be authentic with the way that you give – and there is no way to get around that, because the universe will know!

The other lesson is that your journey is yours, and yours alone. You can read all the books, take all the advice, listen to all the founder or career stories – but at the end of the day the path that you take is so intrinsically tied to you and your unique circumstances that you can’t get attached to the way that other people have paved their path and expect it to be the same for you.

Sometimes you have to break the rules, sometimes you follow them – you won’t know what your path is until you’re on it, and you’re doing the work.

 

8. A lot of us want to take leaps in our careers or start a business, but are unsure how to go about it. What would you say to those women?

If you have a nagging feeling that there’s a leap you want to take or you want to pivot in your career or start your own thing, my best piece of advice would be to ask yourself, ‘What is my long term life goal?’. Once you nail that down, the decision will become so much easier.

I don’t say this lightly either. It took me about three years to answer this question for myself. We spend so much time planning our weekends, or holidays, or businesses, but often no time at all planning what we want our life to look like long term.

Your goal doesn’t have to be something tangible like, ‘I want to build and sell a company for $500M’, or ‘I want to be the CEO of one of the biggest businesses in the world’. In fact, it’s best if your goal isn’t something as definitive or practical as that.

It’s more important to establish a goal that is about a feeling, or the way you want other people to feel, or the impact you want to have on the earth and people around you, and work backwards from there.

That way, the physical, smaller, shorter term things that you do to achieve that big goal can flow and change (because life), but you are still heading in an ‘ultimate’ direction that you’ve set for yourself.

Once you’ve figured this out – and as I said, it’s not easy – it makes your short, medium, and long term decision making that much easier, and will give you all the confidence you need to make a leap if you believe it’s what you need to do to get to your ultimate, end of life goal.

 

9. On top of all the amazing work that you do, you also are passionate about the underrepresentation of women of colour in positions of power and influence. What do you think are critical steps that we need to take to see women of colour gain representation in such positions?

I’m incredibly passionate about seeing more women of colour in positions of power. Growing up I didn’t see many women who looked like me leading companies or in the spotlight for business achievements. Even now, it’s still very rare to see a diverse set of role models in high level positions or media. That’s part of what inspires me to keep going – so that I can get to the point of being that role model for young people who don’t see themselves reflected in the C-suite or high-level business roles.

I think the biggest thing that we can all do is reflect on our own biases, especially if you are a person in a position of power who has the means to give other people a platform or opportunities to succeed. We have to carefully reflect on who we’re giving promotions to, who we’re giving pay rises to, who we’re investing in, and why.

We all have ingrained conditioning that makes us see the world in a particular way, and our brain makes shortcuts about what a ‘smart person’ looks like, what a ‘business person’ looks like, and what a potentially successful person looks and acts like (ping: Steve Jobs in a black turtle neck).

It’s much easier to change yourself than it is to change other people or outside circumstances. I fundamentally believe that if we all recognise and acknowledge our own biases and acting to correct them, it will open the door for incredible change.

Connect with Maeva here.

Find out more about Bread Beauty Supply here.

Read next: Adam Jacobs on innovation, success, and the future of your work

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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