Hair Care & Co.

C.J. Walker - Black is beautiful

“Don't dream your life, live your dream.” Sarah Breedlove, born in 1867 on a plantation in Louisiana, left an orphan at age 7, must have planned her life according to this motto, or something similar. Very few people know her name, although many are familiar with the name she later went by: Madam C. J. Walker (madam without an "e")—an icon of hair care from the USA.

"I’m a woman 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 preparation. I have built my own factory on my own ground." You could hardly sum up a life full of extremes more briefly and succinctly. She went from a beyond poor, and as a dark-skinned African American, anything but privileged background, to a world full of success, wealth and influence. Sarah Breedlove became Madam C.J. Walker, one of the most successful and influential women of her time. However, her life story had nothing to do with luck: "The success I have achieved is the result of many sleepless nights and hard work," Madam C.J. dictated to a reporter in 1919. 

But it wasn't just the iron will that would build a hair care empire. Rather, it was partly due to her own suffering that Madam Walker got involved in hair care. She struggled in her mid-20s with hair loss from a scalp disease. Problems like this were common at that time. There was a lack of sanitation among poorer parts of the population, and especially the African-American population, which in turn led to health problems. She researched and developed suitable solutions. Hair care became her passion. Her goal: to launch products on the market designed for the hair of people of color. Her line started with Madam Walker’s "Wonderful Hair Grower", a scalp conditioner with a healing formula for damaged scalps and better hair growth. 

Dream of beauty, independence and self-respect

True to the motto “nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Walker didn't let anything or anyone stop her. She went door to door, and traveled from city to city to bring her products to markets and to women. In her search for investors, she often literally found doors closed in her face. Women were simply neither noticed nor taken seriously as businesswomen in the male-dominated world. In the end, perseverance and positive tenacity helped Madam C. J. Walker to achieve her unbelievable success. 

Many of the reports you can find about Madam C. J. Walker cite her greatest legacy as being considered the first self-made woman millionaire in the United States. This may even be true based on current valuations, and is certainly an important milestone in the history of a country that was extremely divided at the time (rich v. poor, white v. black, men v. women). And if we are to believe the reports and quotes of her, she certainly valued money, profit and earnings. However, and Walker always emphasized this: throughout her life, she aspired to ensure everyone in her company could share in this wealth. She always reminded her "agents", as she called her salaried salespeople, that you can do anything if you want it enough. Women who worked for Walker earned much more, had more responsibility and independence, and significantly better career opportunities in life than was usual at that time, especially in the US. 

It was her dream of beauty, independence and self-respect that drove everything she did. As an entrepreneur, she believed her responsibility was not only for the quality of her hair care products, the working conditions of her partners and employees; throughout her life she was dedicated to helping the disadvantaged, oppressed and underprivileged. She fought for freedom and justice for African Americans and advocated for women’s empowerment. Walker earned a lot, but also donated a lot. And you really can't accuse her of being miserly. She wanted everyone to see what was possible. Her Villa Lewaro was considered a showy display of luxury. But here too, Madam C. J. Walker had a plan. It was supposed to show her "black community" what was possible in life. Villa Lewaro was a statement. It was her declaration to tell the world of her success. 

Posthumously accepted into the National Business Hall of Fame

Hair was an important topic during this time, and was a metaphor for the racial struggle that the USA was engaged in. The straight hair of the white population was considered ideal and normal. The frizzy, curly halo of hair of African Americans was synonymous with slavery and poverty. Because Walker used the “hot comb”, a heated iron comb to straighten hair, in her hair treatments alongside her care products, she found herself the target of accusations of betrayal from the black community. Critics interpreted the straightening of African-American hair as a desire or pressure to adapt to the ideal beauty standard of the white population. She always denied that this was her intention, and that was really not consistent with the way she lived and encouraged self-determination, self-respect and equal opportunity. 

Madam Walker was posthumously accepted into the National Business Hall of Fame at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York, the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute Hall of Fame in Chicago (www.ahbai.org) and the Black Wax Museum in Baltimore. She received a Distinguished Service Award from the Direct Selling Association, and she was described by Harvard Business School as one of the “great American business leaders of the twentieth century.” In 1998, she was commemorated with a US stamp as part of the Black Heritage Series. Even though her hair care products didn't last into our time, one thing cannot be denied: Madam C. J. Walker left her mark on the world, and not only during her lifetime. 

Mathilda Harper

The story of an American dream, of beauty and of wellness. The story of Martha Matilda Harper. Here with us in the little hair cosmos.

To article

Madam C.J. Walker

Further interesting information, photos and videos can be found on the official website of Madam C.J. Walker.

To website