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Black History Month Spotlight: Madam C.J. Walker

For those of you that do not know me, I started off doing hair from 12 years old. I have always had a passion for hair, I learnt to plait and cornrow hair from around 7/8 years old. At 9/10 years old, I would moisturise and cornrow my own hair for school. I even used to give my dolls bobs, braids with extensions, fringed and asymmetrical bobs.

I love doing hair so much and it meant that I was able to buy my own clothes, pay for most of my school lunches and more. As a young child I got money from family members, as most do, but making your own money, saving and spending it just makes you feel extra independent and mature.

I had regular clients and would often get recommended too. Most of my clients would get the same hairstyles so I had to experiment with my own hair. I would trim, colour, cut, do braid outs and more!

I lived and breathed hair! I was constantly watching YouTube videos by professionals such as Sam Villa but also natural hair YouTubers like NaturalNeiicey and TheChicNatural.

I loved doing hair so much that I did my year 11 work experience at Splinters Academy in Baker Street. Splinters Academy Ltd was one of the first Afro hair salons in the West End.

During my work experience at Splinters, I remember seeing the lovely loyal customers they had, the amazing customer service they delivered and the opportunity to make as much as they did one day by doing something that I loved. I felt motivated.

So how does this relate to Madam C.J. Walker?

I remember scrolling through Instagram one day, after my work experience and finding out about Madam C.J. Walker and learning her story. Madam C.J. Walker, also known as Sarah Breedlove, was one of the first black female millionaires in America. She was also recorded in the Guinness World Book of Records as the first self-made millionaire in America.

Madam C.J. Walker created hair care products for black women and made a fortune doing so.

Sarah Breedlove's parents were former slaves and Sarah (the fifth child) was the first of their children born to be born free after the emancipation proclamation in January 1863. Remember, freed slaves were not given any compensation or help - apart from a few rare cases. In fact, slave owners were the ones who received compensation. Emancipated slaves were also discriminated against and faced segregation. So for Walker to become a millionaire she would have had to work extremely hard.

The Walker System

Madam C.J. Walker Black history month inspirational stories

After developing a scalp condition that caused her to lose a lot of her hair, Walker came up with a treatment that completely changed everything in the black hair care industry.

The Walker System consisted of a scalp preparation, hair lotion, a very successful pomade and hot combs. At the time, the black hair care products on the market were mostly created by white people who did not have much experience with black hair- most had none whatsoever!

Walker knew that she had to market her products in a different way to steal the attention of other black women. She emphasized the health benefits to the woman who would use it.

Even today, as black women (and men), a lot of the products created for us - normally by people who do not know our needs. These products are normally not made with the best ingredients and some products, like hair relaxers, are even supposed increase the risk of things such as Fibroids. Walkers products were made using ingredients such as beeswax, precipitated sulphur and coconut oil.

Walker employed a number of black saleswomen, who she referred to as "Beauty Culturalists". They would go home to home, shop to shop and in their own friendship circles, selling Walker's products for commission. These women helped her build her empire.

By 1905, walker had started to gain a loyal following. Some of her most well known products include Glossine- a pressing oil and the Wonderful Hair Grower- a treatment for dry, damaged hair and scalps.

A few years later, in 1908, Walker's products became so popular that she was able to open a factory, multiple branches of her hair salon and even opened up a beauty school. Her business became so successful that she was able to employ over 3,000 black people, most of whom were her "Beauty Cultralists".

Philanthropy

Madame C.J. Walker was also a philanthropist in her spare time. Her success in business allowed her to give back to others in her community, which is something I also plan to do soon. Walker was as well known for her philanthropy as she was for her entrepreneurship, this was extremely important in a time when black people -especially black women- had to look out for each other.

Walker was able to hire black professionals such as Vertner Teddy - an architect who built her country home. She also encouraged her staff to give back to their communities too. Walker donated a large chunk of her fortune to black charities and organisations. A lot of her donations went to organisations that were helping black women, who would have had to face both sexism and racism at that time.

If you would like to learn more about Madam C.J. Walker you can check out On Her Own Ground- a book by A'Leila Bundles, her great-great granddaughter. You can also check out the Netflix chronicle called Self Made, it's inspired by her story.

Do we need more Madam C.J. Walkers?

Black people, especially Black women spend a LOT on hair and beauty products. Even in 2020, a lot of the beauty products we use are made and sold by people who do not have any experience with black hair and skin care needs.  If you are a black person that's been to a hair shop, you may even have at least one story of the owners saying something racist or, prejudiced, following you around the shop and not being able to help you with choosing a product.

The story of how the black hair and beauty industry became dominated by non-black people is a very long story that really deserves it's own blog post. We'll save that for another day.

Black people definitely need more Madam C.J. Walkers- people who have similar experiences when it comes to hair and beauty. These are the people that can really create most of the products we need. 

I was really inspired by her story and wanted to create my own hair care products. I wanted to create hair care products for everyone but mainly for black girls and women like myself. 

As you can see, I do not have any hair products available yet. Why? Because I want them to be perfect! So keep an eye out for hair products as they will be coming soon. There will be something for everyone. For now, I have a number of products that can be used by everyone.

Can you name any other famous black people that have done something inspirational?


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