Welcome to Byrdie's series, The Hustle. We're profiling BIPOC women and woman-aligned folks in the beauty and wellness industries who are usually behind-the-scenes. From the cosmetic chemists formulating your holy-grail serum to CFOs driving the biggest beauty companies forward, these women are the definition of career goals, and they're getting real about the journeys that led them to where they are—the highs, the lows, and everything in between.
When Lulu Cordero enrolled in college as a pre-med student, she never imagined she'd use her medical expertise to launch a haircare brand. When Cordero started suffering from traction alopecia, she tapped her chemistry knowledge and recipes from her Afro-Dominican heritage to create Bomba Curls, a premium and organic hair care line.
The brand has since grown from its humble roots in Cordero's dorm room to being sold at staple retailers such as Target, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdales. Ahead, Cordero speaks on what it means to develop a brand that connects to her culture and her plans for the future.
Bomba Curls launched in 2019, but you say you've been working on it for 10 years. Tell us about the behind-the-scenes process of creating your brand.
It was a ten-year journey because I started my natural hair journey learning everything there is to know about caring for different textures. I was also a pre-med student, so I was using my background in chemistry to create things for myself. My friends noticed the differences in my hair, and then I started making stuff for them. Of course, the first product we launched was the Dominican Forbidden Oil, created in my dorm and perfected in my kitchen.
Around that time, I had to step back and help my dad with his business. He's an immigrant and didn't speak the language. Helping my dad and navigating the business world prepared me for this. In 2018, I finally decided to go for it and launch Bomba Curls. I am a proud alumnus of Google University. I taught myself how to use Adobe and started working on designs for my brand. I didn't have a budget to pay a law firm or anything, so I trademarked my brand on my own.
My chemistry education allows me to work hand in hand with my team of cosmetic chemists to formulate beautiful products. And because I am so hands-on, I'm going to do my part. Looking back at every challenge, it was all preparing me, in one way or another, to step into this role as a beauty founder. It's been a ten-year process, but I needed it because it allowed me to become the woman I am today.
Can you talk about how native ingredients influence your formulas?
I suffered from traction alopecia, which was really bad on my hairline. My mom was the one that suggested I turn to some of the haircare secrets women use back home in the Dominican Republic—like coffee. She said women back home have been using coffee for generations to accelerate hair growth. At the time, I was pre-med, so I researched caffeine's benefits for hair, and my mom told no lies. A ton of research shows all these amazing benefits when it comes to coffee and helping hair growth. I wanted to take that to the next level and see what other ingredients I could incorporate to elevate coffee's hair benefits. That's been my process for all products.
Walk us through the development process of creating a new product.
[For new products] I consult with my mom. She's my encyclopedia when it comes to the natural secrets women use back home for hair care. I dig into the research and look to see what else we can add to benefit hair. I test it out with friends and family, and then if it passes [their test], I know it will be great for everyone.
Once that's perfected, I work on packaging. I ask myself, Do I want it to be a pump? Do I want it to be a jar? As a curly girl, I think about what makes it easier to get this product out. I don't want it to slide out of my hands and fall into the sink. Whether people realize it or not, these details are important because your customer needs you to solve their problem.
Tell us about the brand's partnership with Latinas y Lideres, an organization that works with girls from under-resourced communities in the Dominican Republic.
I partnered with them because I believe in them. Educating and reaching our young girls is important to help them tap into their power and learn to love themselves as early as possible. Latinas y Lideres is working with the girls of my community back in the Dominican Republic called Mija Mejia. It is a community that's been recognized by UNESCO because of our history. We've done a phenomenal job at preserving many African cultural traditions. I'm super proud to be from there. It's a very pro-Black place, and it's important to pay it back to the community I'm from.
Some may say the hair market is becoming oversaturated. How do you set yourself apart from other brands?
Authenticity has been key for us. My experiences and culture very much inspire this brand. That's one of the reasons why people have connected so strongly with us. It's not some watered-down, glossy version of their culture. It's not a gentrified version of the culture. This is the culture. They love the real representation we bring. When it comes to the curly hair market, you'll often see tons of hair care products from big corporate-owned brands. And yet, when it comes to the textured hair care section, we're relegated to one little area in the store. I want to see a whole lot of us on the shelves. You can't give me enough. I want to see more BIPOC-owned brands on shelves because we're the main consumer.
What was the best career advice you've received?
Be authentic to who you are. Only you can tell your story your way. Authenticity really does shine through, especially today, when people want to see themselves represented.
When you think about your journey, what are you most proud of?
My dad used to be a dishwasher at a restaurant and a security guard. He had all the jobs. [They endured] these struggles because we, as their kids, were their hope. I'm showing them it was worth it. I can't believe I'm also bringing representation to our community. They don't like to see us showing the diversity of the Latino community, highlighting our multi-dimensionality, and showing people the possibilities. And yet, here we are, breaking barriers. I feel super proud as an immigrant. Every day, I hope to honor my parents and ancestors and make them proud.