Welcome to The Quality Makers, an interview series highlighting pioneers in the direct-to-consumer space. Join us as we get an inside look at the world of digital shopping through the eyes of the individuals shaping it…
Babba Rivera is a marketing savant. In her early twenties, she helped launch the ride-share company Uber in Stockholm, Sweden, and then worked as the Director of Brand Marketing at Away in New York City. From there she founded an award-winning New York City-based marketing agency, bybabba which she left in 2020 to launch Ceremonia, a clean hair care brand rooted in Latinx heritage. Currently, the line includes a scalp remedy oil, a weightless milky serum, a nourishing hair elixir, a deep hydration repair cream, an all-in-one shampoo and conditioner, and a scalp massager (all for under $50). Babba is a mother, a fashion icon, a founder, and an inspiration to many. Keep reading to discover how she handled the pressure to assimilate, found a niche, and stepped into her power.
How did your career start? You have quite the resume!
BR: I grew up in a small town in Sweden so the first step for me was to leave my small town and move to the Capitol when I was 18. I graduated at the top of my class and went to Germany to do an internship with Mykita (an eyewear company) which was my favorite brand at the time. I was running the biggest eyewear blog at the time and I would travel the world to trade shows and to meet with designers.
I did my internship and then I stayed on for a project, but I realized that I didn’t like the German work culture — it was very hierarchic. So I decided to go back to Sweden where the work culture felt more aligned with me. In Sweden even if you're young you can still raise your hand and pitch an idea to the CEO. There I joined Uber and I worked there for four years.
How were your experiences working for Uber, Away, and then starting your own marketing agency, bybabba?
BR: The Stockholm chapter of Uber became the fastest-growing market at the time, which put me on an interesting trajectory within the company. I got to travel the world, and I was hosting summits for marketing managers all over. Eventually, I felt like I had hit the glass ceiling on how much impact I could have for Uber in a country like Sweden. I started craving to be closer to where the decisions were made, which ultimately was in the U.S. I got an offer to relocate to New York and that was a huge cultural shock. But eventually, I found my tribe and had the opportunity to work on some incredible projects. I was part of the team that built out our fashion week partnerships and landed on the Forbes 30 Under 30.
After Uber, I went to Away where I built up the brand marketing team from the ground up as the Director of Brand Marketing. But leaving Uber for another job was not really cutting it for me, so from Away I left to start my own brand marketing agency. I realized that I obviously have a knack for marketing but I don't love being a consultant. I was born to be a leader and I felt like being a consultant was so limiting, because it's either talk without the walk or the walk but having to get things approved every step of the way. And then sometimes, you're no longer even heading in the direction you wanted because you’re not in charge.
What was the inspiration behind your brand Ceremonia?
BR: My mom is a beauty queen and my dad was a hairdresser. Growing up, beauty rituals were really close to heart and something that was a given in my household. At home, I learned that beauty was a form of self-care and something that you do for yourself as a way of caring for yourself, not something you do to impress others.
The media was telling me something different. When I consumed media I only saw people with pin-straight hair, blonde hair, and blue eyes. Those mixed messages really messed me up because I grew up thinking that being me was enough, then the media would tell me that in order to be successful or considered beautiful, I had to change things about myself. I would straighten my hair every day and carry my hair straightener in my purse. Now I just honor what a mama gave me which meant really embracing my best natural heritage.
Speaking of your natural heritage, I’ve read that you grew up in an immigrant family in Sweden. Could you describe that experience? Did you feel pressure to assimilate?
BR: I call myself a Swedish Latina because I grew up in Sweden, but both my parents are from Chile. It was a very typical immigrant household where my parents didn't have careers, and they did not speak the language. I was the weird kid in school because for a while I was the only brown kid. I remember the biggest compliment I could get as a kid was for someone to think that I was adopted. Because it went to show that a brown kid speaking perfect Swedish and dressing nice clearly needed to be adopted.
The more I assimilated the more success I saw. A big motivator for me is to pave the way for more people to feel like they can be their full selves and still see success. I don't think that success is only white. And I think that in order for more people to see that, we need more success stories that we can point to and have as benchmarks. I never read a single career story or business story of someone that looked like me or had a similar background to me. It's funny how people always want you to have a binary, and I think that's exactly why my brand Ceremonia is so important -- we're really showcasing that the Latinx demographic is not a monolith. We are so many things and boxes can’t define us. There are black Latinas, there are Hijabi Latinas. We cover such a big spectrum and our stories that need to be told. A lot of my motivation today stems from that experience of feeling very ashamed of who I was and my culture.
Now that we’ve covered the inspiration and feeling of the brand, I’d love to get into the nitty gritty of your amazing products! What gaps did you notice in the haircare market? How do your products address them?
BR: My main question was “where are the cool modern clean hair care brands?” Forget about Latinx, just in general. I felt like I either had to go to the natural store and get Palo Santo scented coconut oil with no science-backed results or I had to go to the salon and get luxury products that were priced really high and filled with chemicals.
A lot of the hair problems that we're seeing amongst our community can actually be solved with really powerful plants and superfoods. I really think that the days of filling our hairs with silicones, sulfates, and parabens are soon going to be gone. When we surveyed our community about their biggest hair problems, almost every single problem we got ( breakage, dryness, dullness, lack of shine) are side effects from using sulfates, parabens, silicones, and chemicals. We're essentially poisoning our own hair over and over again, and then trying to treat the symptoms. That's really why I wanted to create a haircare brand that had more of a holistic wellness approach.
The other realization was that, as a Latina woman myself, I find it interesting how the Latinx communities are still very often overlooked. I started to do a lot of research about the Latinx consumer and just trying to understand why we're constantly forgotten even though we account for 20% of the US population. We are also the biggest spenders in haircare and we actually spend 46% more on hair care products. Yet, where are the brands that not only represent us but are found by us? I realized that I have to stop everything I'm doing and dive headfirst into this company because if I don't do it, then who's going to do it? I am a Latina woman who has acquired a lot of success and privilege throughout my career and I wanted to use that to drive the change that I wish to see.
Ceremonia’s high-performance clean formulas are packed with natural ingredients from Latin America. Each formula is created at the intersection of farms and labs, meaning they use a powerful combination of natural ingredients and safe synthetics to achieve the most effective formulas. Additionally, they don't use any of the 11 excluded cosmetics ingredients in the US or the 2500+ ingredients banned in the EU for their formulations. Give it a try for yourself here -- your hair will thank you.
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