- A Legacy of Hair-Care Giants
- The Visionaries
- Honourable Mentions & Hair-care Gurus of Our Time
- Final Thoughts
We have brought the curtains down on Black History month 2022, but you know that in these parts we celebrate Black Girl Magic 365. It would therefore be remiss of us not to reflect on the contributions of the legendary pioneers of the black hair-care industry, whose contributions to what is now a whopping one trillion dollars cash cow, laid the foundation for entrepreneurs in the current age.
Let us just say that black women own the hair game, (ask Brad Mondo he said so himself, so we are not just tooting our own horn). You may be quick to point out that the continent of Africa is the Mecca of haircare since for centuries the ancestors have passed down secrets of hair care as part of a familial tradition to mark heritage, and we must make concessions for that when we look at the Fulani, Basara and other tribes.
Yet even more inspiring, is the fact that the beginning of the hair-care industry in the so-called “New World” was carried on the backs of descendants of people stolen from the motherland. This speaks to the innate tenacity and ingenuity of the black female.
There is a set of women who paved the way before black representation in commercial spaces was a thing. These women held the door open for us to come through and prove the impact we can have.
1. Annie Malone
Have you ever heard of Annie Malone? I know I heard nothing about her in my history lessons back in high school, or any school for that matter, but she is one of the main people who started the hair care industry. Yes, you got that right, SHE. BUILT. THIS.
Now I can just imagine some folks being a tad bit bothered that we are claiming a black woman made the haircare industry but listen to the premise upon which this claim is made. Sure Caucasians and Asians might have had products for hair such as wigs* which only the ruling class could afford, but when twenty-year-old Annie Malone came on the scene she changed the whole game because that is when people started to take notice of the spending power of the black community.
Annie started mixing concoctions from her home after having dropped out of school because she was sickly. She catered to a specific demographic; African American women. She saw that there really was nothing aside from bacon grease for us to use and she fused her interest in chemistry and passion for hairdressing to make her haircare line called The Wonderful Hair Grower products for black hair.
She knew that black women were desirous of growing lush tresses and trying to reach the beauty standards the ruling class insisted on so that they could advance in society, so her line had a product to straighten hair as well as a mix of essential oils* to stimulate hair growth.
Of course, since there was really no business at that time lining up to cater to blacks, she started to sell her products door-to-door until it took off to the point where she was able to create job opportunities for some 75000 people.
She taught young women how to market their products and be sale representatives who did on-the-spot services for clients to prove that the products worked. She went from walking door-to-door in Illinois, to hiring others and eventually opening the Poro College where other black women could learn the science of black hair-care and develop their own standards of beauty. Next time you think of a kitchenista, hair tutorials, and live demos, remember Annie Malone was all that and more.
2. Madame CJ Walker
Remember when we said Annie kept her foot in the door to create opportunities for others? Sarah Breedlove was one of those included in the “others”. You might know her better as Madame CJ Walker.
She was one of Annie’s proteges out of Poro College. All Sarah’s brothers were barbers so her interest in hair grooming stemmed from her observation of the scalp conditions black people would get from the repurposed chemicals and grease they would use to groom their hair. She took Annie’s blueprint for starting a haircare business and tweaked it, creating her own line of products called Glossine, and marketed them to salons and retail outlets. She would go on to build an empire from this.
She knew that her customers didn’t have loads of money to throw around so her business model included the creation of products that had dual uses to ensure customers got value for money without having to buy several things to get the soft aesthetically appealing hair they desired. When you think of 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 products or even heat protectant* and bone straight hair, remember Sarah Breedlove or as she preferred, Madame CJ Walker.
3. Christina Jenkins
Now we all like to switch up from time to time and nothing offers the versatility to do that like a good weave or wig, but did you know that Christina Jenkins created the weaving technique that others have used to create weaves and wigs in this age?
There was a time when wigs* did not come with comb attachments and Christina wanted a way to secure her wig without having to worry about a strong gust of wind. She invented a way to safely attach extensions* without damaging the hair and scalp and patented it.
1. Rose Meta Morgan
We cannot forget people like Rose Meta Morgan who was responsible for creating the Rose Meta House of Beauty which was the biggest salon in the world in the 1930s.
2. Sara Spencer Washington
We must remember Sara Spencer Washington who opened eleven beauty schools across the U.S. with several in other countries.
3. Marjorie Joyner
4. Lyda Newman
The hair-care industry is a testament to the concept of Bricolage in Cultural Studies, which is basically the common people pulling themselves up by the bootstraps using the little they had.
All these women and many others who were never granted patents for their inventions built the hair-care industry, and when the ruling class saw how lucrative it was, they took it over and monopolized the industry. That is why Asians and Caucasians now own the industry while we remain consumers, but that is a different discussion.
Just think, if these women had not been trailblazers whose entrepreneurial spirits gave us the foundations upon which we can build, we probably would’ve never had a Shelley Davis, Keya James, Nancy Twine, Mahisha Dellinger, Jasmine Lawrence, Taliah Waajid, Lois Reid-Hines and countless other founders of black hair-care product lines.
Yes, it is intentional that I mentioned the founders instead of the brands because many times we know the brands but are oblivious to the people who birthed these brands. We need to change that. We need to normalize noting the names of those trailblazers among us so that we can teach the next generation behind us.
We need to know the names of those who are holding the door for the next generation like Annie, Sarah, Christina and Rose did for us. Let us not just pay homage to the giants on whose backs the hair-care industry was born, but support those among us now. Because of them, we can and because of us, our children will add to that legacy.