The nation’s first female, self-made millionaire made her fortune selling beauty and hair products she’d developed to African-American women, beginning in the early 1900s. Now a new line of products—Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture—is bringing her legacy to a new generation.
Historian A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter is very excited,
the product launch by Sundial Brands, is known for its SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage lines. But instead of being available at drugstores such as CVS, Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture products will be sold exclusively at beauty giant Sephora and Sephora.com. The four-collection, 25-product line will be part of what the global market-research firm Mintel called in 2015the $2.7 billion black hair-care industry.
Walker was born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, the daughter of Louisiana sharecroppers. Widowed at the age of 20, Breedlove began losing her hair, and in 1905 she developed a system involving scalp preparation and lotions that revolutionized black hair care. She took the name Madam C.J. Walker after marrying her third husband, Charles Walker, and her treatment became known as the “Walker System.” She first sold her homemade products directly to African-American women. By 1910, when she moved from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis, Walker had a fleet of more than 3,000 workers who sold her product line of nearly 20 hair and skin items door to door and by mail order.
“Her immediate focus was growing hair,” said Bundles. “She created a system to cleanse hair more often in an era where many had no indoor plumbing and a lot of women were going bald. … Her initial product was a shampoo and ointment with sulfur. … The Walker System was meant to address hygiene and healthy hair and hair growth.”
Walker used her fortune to fund scholarships at the Tuskegee Institute and donated huge sums to the NAACP and the Black YMCA, among other charities. The charter of her company provided that only a woman could serve as president. When her daughter, A’Lelia, inherited Walker’s sumptuous New York City mansion, it became a gathering place for members of the Harlem Renaissance.
Walker died in 1919, but Sundial Brands CEO Richelieu Dennis is focused on continuing the legacy of this entrepreneur whose achievements he has always admired.
The Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture line will range in price from $24 to $32.
It’s clear that African-American hair care is big business. In its 2015 research report, Mintel noted that the market for black hair care products is up 7 percent since 2010. The report also found that products specifically targeted to black consumers are becoming more widely available as mainstream brands such as Revlon and L’Oreal develop products to address the specific needs of black buyers. Interestingly, as more women wear natural hairstyles, Mintel research shows that sales of relaxers have dropped 19 percent in the past two years.
Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture line brings in two beauty breakthroughs: dual-encapsulation oil technology and a natural silicone alternative.
The Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture line launches at Sephora and Sephora.com on March 4.