Ana Nuñez didn’t set out to change the hair care industry for curly haired clients, but in less than two years, that’s exactly what she’s done with Vida Bars.
Vida Bars are solid bars of shampoo and conditioner. While the bars were designed specifically for curls, the products work on all hair types, including chemically processed and color-treated hair.
Like many people born with curly hair, Nuñez spent much of her younger years fighting frizz.
Not knowing how to care for her curls, she turned to harsh chemicals and the intense heat of a flat iron to achieve straight hair. For nearly 15 years, that was her routine. Then, one day, she realized she’d unintentionally passed down that vision of beauty to her young daughter. She decided to ditch the desire to fit in and focus on bringing out the natural beauty she was born with.
“I didn’t know how to take care of her hair because I didn’t know how to take care of my own hair,” she explained.
Bouncing Back with the Curly Girl Method: An Unconventional Path to Entrepreneurship
Nuñez knew she had a lot of work to do to bring back her hair’s natural bounce. Research led her to the Curly Girl Method, an approach that focuses on using products free of sulfates, silicone and harsh drying methods, so curls remain moisturized.
“Once I started seeing my curls come back to life, I was obsessed with finding the next best product,” she said.
Nuñez joined a Facebook group dedicated to this process and began to experiment with products, documenting her progress along the way. And that’s where she found accidental fame.
“People started asking me for tips and if I was on Instagram,” she recalled. “It’s crazy, but companies started sending me products to try.”
As it happens to many people with curly hair, her quest for the perfect product meant she accumulated numerous plastic bottles in her bathroom. She realized this had to change.
“While I was trying some great products, I just couldn’t find anything that was environmentally sustainable,” she said. “So, I started making my own.”
Somehow between juggling being a single parent to two kids, working full-time and pursuing a master’s degree, the then Oklahoma City resident also found time to research the structure and composition of hair, hair care health and products that replenish moisture. With no experience in hair care formulation and no business background, after six months of researching and lots of trial and error, in April 2020, Vida Bars came to life in Nuñez’s kitchen.
She initially released one new bar a month and sold her product from her house. Eventually, production moved to her garage; however, it didn’t take long for demand to dictate the need for more space. Around that same time, her daughter graduated high school and got accepted to Oklahoma State University. The family moved to Stillwater, and Nuñez learned about the business incubator at Meridian’s Center for Business Development. She met with members of the Business and Entrepreneurial Services division and made plans to move into the Center’s light manufacturing space.
“I needed the space to grow,” she said. “I found it here.”
Since moving into the business incubator, Nuñez has experienced tremendous growth. Most of her customers learn about the brand on social media or through the Curly Girl community. Along the way, Nuñez became an unintentional influencer. Her personal Instagram page, @vidabypearls, has more than 35,000 followers. The company’s Instagram page, @thevidabars, has more than 10,000 followers. Both accounts feature a behind-the-scenes look at Nuñez’s hair transformation, background information on Vida Bars and profiles of clients who have brought bounce back to their locks.
“I knew my products were good,” she said. “I created them, tested them and had others try them and give me feedback.”
Vida Bars are formulated without sulfate, silicones, parabens, artificial fragrances and phthalates. They are also cruelty-free, handcrafted and vegan. Now with six product lines – balance, clarity, growth, hydrate, soothe and Reyna for toning – each line has a shampoo and conditioner bar. The website, thevidabars.com, offers a hair quiz to help customers identify which bar would be best for their individual hair care needs. Bars can be purchased individually, as a set and they can be mixed and matched. Right now, bars can be purchased online and at select salons in California and New York.
Impact Beyond Hair Care
Vida Bars – the name means “life bars” in Spanish – have provided a way for Nuñez to bring life back to curls and the environment. The company’s tagline, “Hello gorgeous curls, adiòs plastic,” reflects Nuñez’s commitment to creating an environmentally friendly product. A trip to Indonesia opened Nuñez’s eyes to the amount of plastic that traditional shampoos and conditioners contribute to global pollution. It is estimated that more than 550 million bottles are used in the U.S. market alone. Vida Bars are free of plastic and sold in cloth bags handmade by indigenous artisans near Nuñez’s hometown of Chihuahua, Mexico.
“As a Latina founder, it is really important to me to look at how I’m impacting these and other communities,” she explained. “It’s a huge, huge honor to provide support to them.”
Nuñez is a survivor of domestic violence, and she understands the challenges and obstacles that individuals face when leaving their abusers. Because of this, 5% of profits are given to an educational fund that supports those who have escaped similar situations. She also donates imperfect bars to shelters.
In a recent Instagram post to her followers, she noted the greatest gift of life from Vida Bars is the freedom that it has provided to Nuñez and her family.
“It’s a family that’s being directly impacted,” she shared. “It’s a single mom with an idea and the will to make a difference.”
A Place for New Businesses to Thrive
Nuñez moved to The Peak, the business incubator at Meridian’s South Campus located in Guthrie in August 2022. This location is convenient as it boasts easy access to I-35. Vida Bars have found their new home at The Peak, where Nuñez continues her manufacturing.
Meridian’s Business and Entrepreneurship Services division is dedicated to empowering entrepreneurs through networking, education, consulting and business incubation services.
Team members offer programs and classes for entrepreneurs, ranging from classroom training to monthly programs to one-on-one consulting. The Center also provides office and manufacturing space for early-stage startups to help them accelerate through the most challenging phase of building a company. It is one of 29 certified business incubators in the state.