Madam C. J. Walker is my business mentor, inspiration, and motivator. Born Sarah Breedlove in 1857, she was orphaned at the age of seven. She often said, “I got my start by giving myself a start.” Sarah Breedlove went from picking cotton to changing the role of all women in business.
Struggling financially, facing hair loss, and feeling the strain of years of physical labor, Walker’s life took a dramatic turn in 1904. That year, she not only began using African American businesswoman Annie Turbo Malone’s “The Great Wonderful Hair Grower.”
In 1915 at the age of 58, she renamed herself Madam C. J. Walker and with $1.25, launched her own line of hair products and straighteners for African American women, “Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.” Madam C. J. Walker paved the way for Mary Kay, Avon and home parties like Tupperware. Two years later she opened a beauty school in Pittsburgh. In 1910 she opened the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company in Indianapolis,
Madam C. J. Walker created successful marketing strategies, training programs and distribution models that were considered innovative for the time. She organized clubs and conventions for her representatives, which recognized not only successful sales, but also philanthropic and educational efforts among African Americans.
Madam C. J. Walker was an advocate of economic independence for black women. She opened training programs in the “Walker System” for her licensed sales agents. She paid generous commission and employed over 40,000 African American women and men in the US, Central America and the Caribbean. The “Walker System” provided lucrative incomes for those whose main options were jobs as farm laborers or servants
Madam C. J. Walker founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association in 1917. She was an active part of the social and political culture of the Harlem Renaissance. Her philanthropies included educational scholarships and donations to homes for the elderly, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, NAACP, and the YMCA.