Babba Rivera, is not your typical beauty brand founder. She started her career in marketing working for brands like Uber and Away before starting her own agency ByBabba, that specialized in working with direct-to-consumer brands. She’s not an influencer, or a celebrity hairstylist but hair has always been a family affair for her. Growing up, Rivera’s father was a hairstylist and built a community for Rivera, and the rest of their Chilelean family in Sweden, through that work. Now, she’s paying it forward by bringing that same community feeling to the world with Ceremonia, a clean hair brand rooted in celebrating traditional Latinx hair care.
Launched in October 2020, Ceremonia is quickly becoming a fan favorite with must have products like the Aciete de Moska, a heritage scalp remedy that won Best Scalp Oil in Women’s Health 2021 Beauty Awards, and the best selling Pequi Curl Activator, which is a dream curl formula. But Rivera isn’t stopping there; since their launch, Ceremonia has added 10 new products to their line including, clean formula based shampoo and conditioner and some very cute Frida inspired headbands appropriately named “The Frida.”
We sat down with Rivera to learn more about her personal journey, how she got Ceremonia started and how she keeps it growing—all while being a new mother.
What inspired you to start Ceremonia?
Growing up as a Chilean immigrant in a homogenous country like Sweden, I never found myself represented in mainstream media or in the products that were available to me. And as a kid that made me feel ashamed—that lack of representation started to make me believe that my culture did not equal success, that my culture was not important. It wasn’t until much later that I was able to move past the shame and realize that assimilation is not the only way to be successful and that’s been a crucial building block for me, and Ceremonia. Through Ceremonia, I want to pay tribute to my latinidad and I want to help create that representation that I wish existed when I was growing up.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of starting a business in the beauty industry? What has been the most challenging part?
The most rewarding part has been talking to other folks within the Latinx community and seeing how seen they feel with these products and the brand. It’s something that we do very intentionally, not only through the ingredients we use, but also through the people we hire to model, photograph and so much more more.
The most challenging part has been that beauty takes a long time to develop, and it’s a very costly process. We want to create the best products we can, and that means making all of our formulas from scratch. So we’ve really had to have a vision that is simultaneously looking a couple of years ahead, while still staying very present in what’s happening today and what our community needs. I think it’s going to be a lifelong quest to get it just right but we’re excited to take it on.
What role do you see Ceremonia playing in changing the narrative about latinx representation in the beauty industry?
I really think that Ceremonia has the ability to play a huge role in the industry, especially when it comes to sharing the richness of the Latinx culture with the world. Unfortunately what’s happened in the past is that there is either no representation, or the representation that is included is stereotypical. True story, there was one brand that wanted to target Mexican consumers, and they decided that the best way to do so was by placing a jalapeno on the packaging, which is just offensive. On the other side, you have these incredible Latinx owned and created brands that unfortunately are only speaking to other Latinx folks. So it feels like, to date there’s only been two options: the product is either made at mass, without authenticity, and oftentimes offensively, or it’s made very authentically but in a very niche way. And that’s why I think Ceremonia has the ability to really impact the perception of latinx culture on a larger scale, because we don’t only sell to latinx consumers, we have products that are designed with all hair types in mind.
As of 2020, only 58 Latina founders have ever raised $1 million+ in venture funding. What do you think sets your pitch apart?
I have a love-hate relationship with that stat, on one hand I think it’s important to highlight it because that’s how we can bring awareness to the issue, but at the same time it can be such a discouraging fact. (sighs) My advice when it comes to investors is to come prepared, and do your research. More often than I care to admit, I met with investors who had outdated ideas of who the Latinx consumer is, and/or stereotypical limiting beliefs. They believed that the latinx community wasn’t big enough, able to spend enough, or didn’t care enough about natural ingredients.
Before I even started talking to investors, I spent a huge chunk of my time and personal savings doing market research so that I knew exactly what I was talking about. I hired a consumer insights agency and together we were able to really back up the business plan I had in mind—and I really attribute that data as being one of key factors that lead to a successful investment round. It helped me speak a language with my investors that they clearly understood: numbers. Not only that but the data gave me a ton of conviction so I would go into my meetings being very assertive of what I was building.
What advice do you have for other Latina entrepreneurs who are looking to launch their own business?
My advice is to not get discouraged—first off, you don’t need venture funding to be successful, but if you do want to go that route (which I recommend if you are building a high-growth, fast-paced, category-defining brand), it’s important to remember that whoever is on the other side of the table is a person. Investors are not scary aliens—they are people just like you and they are also consumers.
You hold the power.
Equally as important is to remember that they are not more important than you. Level the playing field. Remember that you hold the power as the founder of the company, you are the gatekeeper to your product, you are the gatekeeper to the next big thing that you are building, and investors want to get in on that next big thing. There’s power in that, hold that power.
Fundraising was a huge part of launching Ceremonia. Looking back, what’s one thing you wish someone would have told you about the process when you were just starting out?
Looking back, I underestimated what a numbers game fundraising was, and I mean that in the sense that you have to speak to a lot of funds to really build momentum. I think if you are going to fundraise, don’t just say you’re going to do it and speak to a few, set a timeline, make a plan and talk to as many funds as you can. It’s a long game, and a full time job in a sense—but you want to end up in a place where you can pick the funds that make sense to you, and that means talking to a lot of funds. It never hurts to talk to more people than you need, or ending up over-subscribed on your round.
As a solo founder I definitely did not realize upfront how much time, and brain power fundraising would take. So as you’re planning your business take that into account.
In addition to all the fundraising, you recently became a mother (congrats!) how is motherhood impacting the way you think about the brand and the legacy you want to leave behind for the next generation?
I built Ceremonia during my pregnancy and I think a lot of the company’s mission was formed with my baby in mind, quite literally. As I reflected on my own childhood and upbringing, I realized how ashamed I had been of my culture growing up. I felt embarrassed about the fact that my parents didn’t speak any other language than Spanish, and I felt embarrassed when friends would come over and think our food was weird. I have a very clear memory of my friend’s first encounter with avocado, they thought it was disgusting.
I hope to be part of the change I wish I could have experienced growing up.
All these memories of being different, and never seeing myself represented in success stories has contributed to my subconscious desire to assimilate. Today, I carry my latinidad with pride and I feel much more like myself doing so. It is with this that I hope to be part of the change I wish I could have experienced growing up. Maybe someone can read about my story one day and feel inspired, or stumble across our products and brand images and feel like they belong. Representation matters.
What do you wish people knew about you that they wouldn’t get from looking at your Instagram?
Wow, I’ve never been asked this before. I guess, I would say that I’m a huge baker! I love to bake, my friends used to call my apartment ‘Babbas Bakery’ because everytime they came over I would have freshly made treats. I love making pies, chocolate balls, cinnamon rolls, chocolate cake with whipped cream (home-whipped cream is a key ingredient in Swedish baking).
What’s next for Ceremonia?
We’ve been busy talking to our community, and getting to know what they need and I’m excited to share that we are expanding our product line! Our community has been very vocal about what they want and the most requested products have been leave-in conditioner, detangling spray, and some sort of UVA/heat protectant.
What I noticed though, is that as women, we are expected to have one product for every single thing, and seriously who has the time for a 20 step hair care routine? The truth is, We don’t need more products, we need fewer products that do more of us – and that’s exactly what our new Guava detangler spray and Guava leave-in conditioner do.
The Guava Rescue Spray is a UV protecting detangler spray, serving as your newest beach essential. The Rescue Spray keeps your hair soft and detangled, reducing frizz, while infusing an incredible scent of summer, and acting as a protective barrier against UV and heating tools all at once.
And the Guava leave-in conditioner is the perfect after sun treatment for your hair, that protects, strengthens and nourishes your hair. Super fruit Guava provides antioxidants that help protect from UV, blue-light and free radicals, while Safflower and Tamarind provide intense hydration and boosts shine. This reparative formula also features avocado, rich in vitamin B and E, providing strengthening and frizz control.
The Rescue and Repair Kit includes both of these products, as they truly work magic together. The spray is there to help with protection and the leave-in-conditioner to repair. Use the Rescue Spray throughout damp or dry hair and follow with the Leave-in-Conditioner on dry ends.