Interview With Brad Bealmear of Bunjii Design
~by D. A. Fox~
"Made with military-grade shock cord (which will last for years) in custom colors, the stretchable Bunjii is put on as a large loop- avoiding damage due to repeatedly dragging the hair through those familiar ever-decreasing stretch-ponytailer loops." - Brad Bealmear, owner of Bunjii Design Inc.
Jennifer, winner of Bunjii's " Best Ponytail in NYC" contest, wearing three mixed Bunjiis
Brad, thanks so much for agreeing to do this interview with the Loom! Can you tell me how Bunjii Design came into being?
Bunjii was founded on January 1, 2000 and was incorporated in April of that year. I’ve been a professional photographer for over twenty years but had been doing some design and writing after-hours, and needed a company to handle that work. Bunjii has turned out to be a hair accessories manufacturing company, but it started as a design firm… of course by the name you can tell which design was foremost on my mind at the time. The best one!
In 2003 my full-time photography client had been Sotheby’s for five years. Then came a few changes in studio management and I decided to make Bunjii my full-time occupation. I was thinking - no problem, I'd just whip the company into a money-minting endeavor. (Ahem!)
As soon as I find that perfect partner who is really into the product and who knows business and marketing, that will indeed be the case. By my experience, photographers are often far from expert at the “numbers and sales” side. I am continuing to work on product, packaging, and display design (which is what I do best) and sales are steady through the website as I start to add stores and salon to the wholesale side, but it’s definitely time to find management for Bunjii.
Brad Bealmear of Bunjii Design Inc.
What inspired you to create a new type of hair band?
It seems my life is a series of five-year photography stints. In 1990 I had been photographing for Tiffany & Co. for that length of time when I experienced an incredible urge to head out west and do a “back-to-nature” thing. Shortly thereafter I was on my way and found myself in New Mexico and Arizona attempting to build adobe domes and trying to live without mass-manufactured items. The basic idea being that humans should give as much back to earth and life as we take during our lifetimes. That idea still makes sense to me and I’m still writing about it – some day I’ll put that book on the web as a free PDF and change the world… Heh.
But at the time I was taking the whole thing back to a pre-civilization type of existence, and it wasn’t exactly working the way I’d hoped… so eventually I returned to New York. Which actually is an excellent place to ponder these things. Went back into photography and meanwhile looked at what I’d learned. One item I had designed during that time was a hair tie for my own shoulder-length locks, made from a strip of rawhide. That hair tie had worked very well – in fact I had to stop cranking it so tight, it made my head ache! It stayed in that position all day long. And the extra length of cord dropped down below the tie. It attracted attention wherever I went. In New York I noticed that nothing like it was on the market; perhaps this would be an opportunity to make some income from the experience.
It took another year or so before I refined the idea into a patentable design, and to save money I wrote the patent myself. After filing the patent app I had the basic hardware made in China – found problems with that design and tossed 100K pieces, and had it made again. That’s the Bunjii we see today.
I put some on eBay and they immediately started going crazy, with bidding going as high as $16 - $20 per piece! That’s when I was putting three stainless steel beads on each ponytailer. Then I searched websites for styles that matched my design, found a mad genius programmer, and set up the Bunjii shopping cart site.
Plum, with Bbead accent
Made with military-grade shock cord (which will last for years) in custom colors, the stretchable Bunjii is put on as a large loop- avoiding damage due to repeatedly dragging the hair through those familiar ever-decreasing stretch-ponytailer loops. Once the ponytailer is in position, the “cordhub” is slid inwards to tighten the loop. Then the cord end may be wrapped as desired, keeping each wrap stretched taut, and the remaining cord clipped at the cordhub.
Correctly put on, that hair tie is going nowhere until the wearer decides to move it.
This is a completely new concept, admittedly, and it takes a bit of practice. I say it’s like tying your shoes – the small amount of learning involved is well worth it! Once a person is “Doing the Bunjii” he or she is always amused at having found it at all difficult at first. Then of course there are plenty of people who just pick it up and put it on correctly right from the start.
Baby Blue with tube bead accent
I have the plastic injection-molded hardware made overseas. The stainless steel beads also come from overseas, and the cord is American-made. Assembly, packaging and shipping are in NYC.
Right now Bunjii World HQ occupies a fifth-floor walkup apartment in Greenwich Village, along with myself and my wife! It’s tightly packed, to say the least. (There’s also a storage unit down the street.) But I don’t see leasing super-expensive Manhattan office space until we’re seeing some MAJOR orders – and until that time all assembly, packaging and shipping will continue to occur here. (Puff!) And truthfully, Bunjii could be based anywhere – options outside New York are definitely under consideration.
Although I’ve always admired long hair, I didn’t specifically design the Bunjii for that market. It was when I put first put them on eBay that I got an email from Tresses at LHC alerting me that she’d placed a Bunjii review there. That review was attracting a lot of attention and I was getting a lot of bids because of it. Suddenly I became aware that Bunjii was filling a definite need in the “BSL+” market! I was fascinated by the community and by the beauty of all this long hair! My own hair has disappeared to the point that I have buzzed it short, but I feel very at home with this group. They’re great for bouncing ideas around, and Tresses continues to be my #1 advisor – the “Bunjiichick!”
The Bunjiichick herself, "Tresses"
The first cord I purchased for Bunjii was heavier than what is currently being used. I felt the ‘braking” action of the increased friction in the cordhub would help in putting it on – in other words you could pull the loop tight and it would stay that way on its own while you wrapped the remaining cord as desired. Over time I’ve learned that was a mistake. Wearers would assume that since the loop was tight they could wrap the remaining cord loosely. But of course the looseness would work back into the first loop and the whole thing would become loose. So now with a thinner cord the wearer must make each wrap tight. The taut parallel wraps combine into one continuous unit and hold... and hold!
Another effect of the early thick cord was – it tended to (uh-oh) grab hair if the wearer wasn’t careful. I definitely heard plenty about that! But I haven’t heard any complaints of the problem lately – so it would seem the looser cord has done the trick.
Of course when you have one surface moving against another a certain amount of care is called for in the area of your hair. It’s easy to learn to whip your Bunjii on with a minimum of attention, but some common sense is always a good thing. I’d say longhairs definitely give me the bulk of my orders. And there is a huge amount of repeat business, which has been most gratifying.
Blair, wearing Khaki- plain
What are some of the ways you can use a Bunjii?
It’s a ponytailer. It’s also being used on braids a lot. In fact I’m preparing to add short Bunjiis to the product line for use as braid-enders. This is a pretty specialized product – there aren’t a lot of other uses. I’ve seen photos of people using them in buns, etc., but I don’t know…. I like the idea of doing one thing, and doing it well. I do love ponytails. When a person has nicely tied-back hair, he or she looks great from the every angle.
Oh yes, a Bunjii can also be used as a very efficient tourniquet!
Absolutely! The very first Bunjii user was a man. Seriously, the look is a hair TIE. With that extra cord pushing back it looks dashing on either sex.
Black, with Bali bead accent
Carbon (black) is by far the most popular color. Navy and khaki are always big colors. Chestnutty is loved, but I don’t recommend it at the moment because it hasn’t been replaced with a narrower version. Of the just-introduced colors, neon cerise is the surprise hit of the season! It’s gorgeous! There are other neon colors planned for the future. Other just-introduced colors are plum and baby blue.
I’ve offered a lot of beads over the past couple of years – stainless steel, lampwork glass, African wood, spiral polymer, antique porcelain, and even plastic pony beads (which sold out fast at the recent Village Fair). Unbeaded is the most popular style, with the stainless Balibead and BBeads coming in close behind. People are really liking the new “jelly-look” handmade Italian-glass beads.
Sunrose, with lavender glass bead accent
Last year I was offering a few styles with the cordhub and cord tip cast in sterling silver and a gold-colored alloy – those sold well. Getting them made was such a pain that I stopped carrying them, though. I also sold one in 18K gold with a diamond set into the cordhub – a definite collector’s item now! The metals may come back in the future. Right now I’m working on the lower-cost market. It’s hard for us photographers to concentrate on more than one thing at a time….
Black, 18k and diamond accent - collector's item
There is a new cordhub on the drawing board with a side-facing clip similar to the one used on the metal Bunjiis. It will be added to the lineup as soon as I am able to line up the capital to manufacture. I’ll probably be continuing with the matte-black look in hardware – it fits the product well. Beading and color choices will be expanding also, once there is space… they’re already chosen and waiting.
Claudia in Violet Stripe, Bbeaded
To get a couple more talented people involved, bring out the next generation in products and get the whole world "DOING THE BUNJII!"
Brad, thanks so much for taking the time to educate us more on Bunjii Design! It's been a joy getting to know you, and your product better!
Fox-"working out the" Bunjii" way!
Carbon with Bali bead accent
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