I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a woman who I find much inspiration in. She's more than a hair care entrepreneur, philanthropist, social activist; she was a woman who succeeded by giving herself a start. Madam C.J. Walker's determination paved the way for women entrepreneurs to come. Sarah Breedlove McWilliams Walker, a Louisiana native born December 23, 1867, had a need and fulfilled a need. Through her life, she successfully helped hair balding, created jobs, empowered African American women to do the same.
As Sarah, awoke from a dream, she shares in her words: “A big black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up for my hair. Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out.” Seeing the her hair growth, her friends and family started asking her to make the product for them. At her home, Sarah prepared her formula and sold her product to friends, family and neighbors. After marrying Charles Joseph Walker (her second husband), Sarah would used her husband's initials and surname for her professional name.
I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations….I have built my own factory on my own ground.
A haircare empire
Madam Walker was dealing with hair loss in her late thirties, due to severe alopecia, stress and using hair products that damaged her hair. After using hair products made by Anne Malone (another African American entrepreneur), Sarah developed a hair care formula that helped to repair and revive her hair again. Her dream-given formula was called “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.” She initially invested $1.25.
During their union, Sarah's husband helped her develop techniques to market her products. Sarah promoted heavily through Independent newspapers owned by African Americans, mail-order operations and product demonstrations. Madam Walker empowered others through a concept of health and appearance.
In 1910, Madam Walker invested $10,000 of her own money, in effort to incorporate her company. Since it was difficult to get investors, Sarah was the sole shareholder of the Walker Manufacturing Company. Headquartered in Indianapolis, Sarah built her factory, hair salon and beauty college. Walker trained 40,000 "Walker Agents" how to apply and demonstrate her various products with the Walker Hair Care System that promoted scalp massage and frequent shampooing. Her original products included: Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower a scalp-conditioning and healing formula. Temple Salve, Tetter Salve, Vegetable Shampoo, and Glossine. During her speech at the National Negro Business League Convention in 1912, "I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations….I have built my own factory on my own ground." Madam Walker stated. In 1917, Madam Walker organized the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association. The Walker Manufacturing Company generated close to $300,000 in sales in 1918. Walker employed 3,000 people.
HOT COMB LEGEND
Madam Walker improved the hot comb by widening the teeth which increased its popularity and sales. There were many critics, who didn't agree with natural hair being "straightened". Critics like Booker T. Washington, expressed concern that straightening the hair would encourage the concept of European beauty to the minds of the African Americans. Despite critics, Walker increased in popularity and African-American women appreciated her hair products. She built an estate in Irvington-on-the-Hudson, New York with African American architect, Vertner Tandy. She moved into her mansion in 1918. Despite her success, Sarah was often ridiculed about her lifestyle. In May of 1919, Sarah died a millionaire due to complications of high blood pressure at her Villa Lewaro at the age of 51. Her daughter A'Leia took over as president of the Madame C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company until her death in 1931.
Inspiring life... Inspiring legacy
I'm inspired every time I read about Madam Walker. As women, we have a responsibility to care for our bodies inside and out through healthy eating, hygiene and using healthy products on our skin and hair. Sarah created hair care products, encouraged women to be refined and care about their health and appearance. Walker encourages us even today to be a positive light sharing and giving to others in ways that empower and uplift. What we desire to achieve in our life, we will have to overcome fear, doubt, challenges and embrace the vision. Our faith, determination and perseverance matters. Madam Walker wanted to fix her own hair concern. Doing so, God blessed her with a successful business, financial freedom (self-made millionaire) and a legacy. I pray you were inspired through this reflection of Madam C.J. Walker.
SEVENTY YEARS LATER...
Bundles, A'Lelia Perry. On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker. New York: Scribner, 2001.
Yannuzzi, Della A. Madam C. J. Walker: Self-Made Businesswoman. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow, 2000.