For much of the twentieth century, Black women owned nearly 50% of all hair care businesses. The phenomenal growth of the Black hair care industry resulted in the creation of thousands of Black-owned beauty businesses across the country. Yet, for the most part, these businesses were run by White women. In fact, until Madam CJ Walker discovered the hair care needs of Black women in the early 1900s, most Black women had no access to hair care products specifically marketed for their hair. Instead, they used a hair lotion that contained petroleum and animal products like lard. According to Linda Johnson Rice, Chairman and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company, Walker’s slogan was “a woman should wash her hair every day!
The Life and Legacy of Madam CJ Walker
One hundred years ago this month, Madam C.J. Walker founded her own beauty empire. She had no background in hair care. She did not have training as a stylist. But what she did have was vision and faith. Walker believed she could make a lasting contribution by catering to an underserved market. Her company’s target demographic was African-American women. Walker wanted to give African-American women something that American industry had previously failed to provide: access to quality, affordable hair care products. The result was one of the most successful hair care companies in history, and one of the great American business success stories of the twentieth century.
When Madam CJ Walker was eight years old, her mother died, leaving her father widowed and struggling to raise five children. He had taken in his nieces and nephews after their parents died, but soon realized that he didn’t have enough money to feed his family properly. During this time, Walker’s father started teaching her the business savvy that would later make her a multimillionaire. After high school, Walker began selling notions from the home-based African-American business she helped to run with her husband, George Washington Walker. The business became a success, but after her husband died, she was left to run it alone.
Madam CJ Walker’s Unforgettable Contributions
Walker’s success paved the way for women of color to build incredible success. As the first black woman to create a successful business venture, Madam CJ became an important symbol for change in the business world. The life and legacy of Madam CJ Walker are of particular relevance to Black History Month. As a businesswoman, Walker revolutionized the business world. As a black woman, she also set a precedent for equality. Today, millions of African-American women know Walker as a pioneer in her field. In honor of the fourth annual Madam CJ Walker Day on February 3, take a look back at this remarkable woman’s legacy.
The importance of her products for African-American women
CJ Walker’s status as an entrepreneur in the segregated South make her story all the more inspiring, but what many forget is her importance in the wider scope of the U.S. economy. In fact, Walker’s hair care products would help shape the development of a lucrative multibillion dollar beauty industry and its racial optics for decades to come. As important as her products were for African-American women, her great business success made her famous and highly respected in the United States. Walker founded and owned three such salons in major U.S. cities. Walker was the first black beauty entrepreneur and, at one time, had the third largest black salon in the United States.