Madam C.J. Walker built a hair Care empire in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In the process, she became the first female self-made millionaire in America. Now 103 years after her death in 1919, her descendant has relaunched Walker’s hair care line.
Madam C.J. Walker created innovative products for textured hair, such as Walker Method pomade formula and Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower.
MADAM by Madam C.J. Walker has launched in partnership with Sundial Brands beauty and hair care line, the makers of Shea Moisture. Sundial was Black-owned until Unilever acquired it in 2017.
“This collection embodies Madam Walker’s spirit of empowerment and pays homage to modern women of color,” Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, journalist, and historian A’Lelia Bundles told Essence magazine. Bundles runs the the Madam Walker and A’Lelia Walker Family Archives.
Sundial Brands and Walmart have collaborated on a distribution deal to bring MADAM to 3,000 of the retailer’s nationwide stores in addition to Walmart’s website.
Bundles teamed up with Walmart to make an accessible line that reflects the quality and values of the original Madam C.J. Walker products. Each product retails for under $10 and upholds Madam Walker’s philosophy that a healthy scalp is key for strong hair.
MADAM includes a collection of 11 new products, ranging from curl cremes and leave-in conditioners to shampoos and scalp serums.
“We worked together to merge 100 years of research, development, science, and technology to ensure that the products are as innovative and effective as the original Walker line,” Bundles said in a press release about the new brand’s creation. “This collection embodies Madam Walker’s spirit of empowerment and pays homage to modern women of color.”
Walker, one of five children, was born to formerly enslaved parents on a Delta, Louisiana, cotton plantation in 1867. She was known as Sarah Breedlove at the time. Her parents died of unknown causes when Breedlove was 8. At age 14, she married a older man named Moses McWilliams. After McWilliams died, she and her daughter, A’Lelia, moved to St. Louis.
In 1905, Breedlove was hired by Black hair care pioneer Annie Turnbo Malone as a commission agent. When Breedlove broke out on her own, she and her second husband, Charles Joseph Walker, traveled the country selling products to Black Americans to build her business empire.
By 1907, Walker had opened her own factory and beauty school in Pittsburgh. She moved her business operations to Indianapolis two years later. It was there that Walker trained her famed sales beauticians, called “Walker agents,” according to Smithsonian Magazine.
“As [Walker] traveled around selling the products, she saw that those women were really happy to have hair care products, but what they needed was education and economic independence,” Bundles told Glamour. “She made that as much a part of her mission as the products themselves.”
Bundles says Walker was an entrepreneur through and through.
“[Madam Walker] represents this arc of a life to overcome obstacles,” Bundles added. “She was mentored by other Black women. When she finally had the chance and was in a position, she opened doors for other Black women. She was a washerwoman until she was 38. But then she invented this formula for hair care products, and realized that she was addressing a need that other women had. As she traveled around selling the products, she saw that those women were really happy to have haircare products, but what they needed was education and economic independence. She made that as much a part of her mission as the products themselves.”