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Are You the Next Madam C.J. Walker?

Avatar • Jan 19, 2015

National Museum of African American History and Culture: ProductNational Museum of African American History and Culture: Productmadamcjwalker shampoo

As a woman in business for herself, you might be faced with the following questions:

How can you turn what you have into a million dollar business?

What obstacles must you overcome? 

What do you need?

Sometimes figuring it out can be so daunting.

So what do you do? Read. There’s an answer to just about anything you can think of online. Wanna know how to grow tulips in the middle of winter? Just Google it.

The other day, you were researching self-made millionaires and came across the name Madam C.J. Walker. It wasn’t the first time you’d heard of her. In fact, you learned about her in school. How she made a fortune selling relaxers. Right?

Wrong. It’s only now that you know she didn’t create relaxers. A black man named Garrett Morgan from Cleveland did that. Madam C.J. Walker made her fortune selling hair growth and scalp treatment products to black women. The products were so successful that she went on to become the country’s First Female Self-Made Millionaire. WTH!? Why aren’t there movies about her? Why didn’t you know? Well, that’s why we have to do our research. There’s a lot we don’t know and a lot they don’t want us to know. Who can we blame? The information is there.

The good news is, suddenly this idea of creating a million dollar empire seems more doable because she did it. Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove in Louisiana as the first free child born to slaves.  She was  orphaned at age 7, married at 14 and a widow with a child before her eighteenth birthday. Talk about overcoming obstacles! With no formal education, she reinvented herself by taking her 3rd husband’s name (Charles Joseph Walker) to become the Madam C.J. Walker that we know. Her husband, a newspaperman, advised her on how to advertise and promote, while she learned about products and how to sell door-to-door working for another successful black entrepreneur of the time, Annie Malone. Madam C.J. Walker would eventually build her own factory and train women across the country on grooming,selling, and building their own business empires is truly inspiring.

How can this help us today?

Well, for one, it shows that there will always be a need for products geared towards black women, be it hair or otherwise. Think about it, her company was created over 100 years ago and we’re still in need of products that address hair loss and growth. Not much has changed.

There’s always room for more.

So many women don’t start their companies because they feel the market is flooded. ‘Oh so and so already did that.’ Not true. Annie Malone was wildly successful too. In fact, some argue that she was the country’s first female self-made millionaire. Whatever the case, both she and Madam C.J. Walker sold hair care products and both were huge feminists, activists and philanthropists. Both left a huge mark on the world.

MBAs are great but not necessary.

Madam C.J. Walker’s story also proved that you don’t need a fancy education to attain success. Some people believe that a degree defines us; yet Madam C.J. Walker learned from the people around her. Don’t they say, ‘surround yourself with great people?’ We also have the added benefit of the internet, which offers online courses, books and video tutorials on just about everything. There’s so much free information at our fingertips!

Work ethic still applies.

Let’s take a second to talk about Madam C.J. Walker’s work ethic. She sold door-to-door. Hello. As dope as the internet is, let’s get back to some of those good old-fashioned ways. There’s something about getting in front of people and demonstrating, talking and relating that can’t be beat. Your friend Felicia Leatherwood who created Loving Your Hair Workshops does just that. In addition to the United States, she travels to Africa and Europe to educate black women on how to care for and love their natural hair. She could sit behind her computer, but her business grows with every move she makes.

This idea that we can’t have our own businesses is a fallacy, We can be entrepreneurs and we don’t have to spend our lives working for other people. We can be millionaires or even multi-millionaires. Oprah is the epitome of what it means to be self-made.

Is there a recipe in your family? Do you have a remedy for the common cold? High blood pressure? Low sex drive? Hey now! Do you have something to offer the world? Are you the next Madam C. J. Walker?

Erickka Sy Savané is a former model, actress, MTV VJ and writer.  Her work has appeared in Essence, Heart & Soul, Uptown, clutchmagoline.commommynoire.comxojane.com, and others.

Currently, she writes a social commentary blog called THE BREW and when she’s not doing that, she loves writing about the psychology of hair! Find her in Jersey City where she resides with her husband and two girls. Follow her on twitter and instagram

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BGLH now sells raw and whipped shea butter, cocoa butter and mango butter. Purchase here: bglh-marketplace.com

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BelleNaturelleParis
5 years ago

Sista this was just what the doctor ordered and you’ve got me ready to break out into a Mahalia Jackson Negro spiritual! YAAAAASSSSS! I’m going on my second year in a foreign country and I am currently trying to make my next move my best move by starting my own online business for naturals in France and the DRC. One of the many negative thoughts that have crossed my mind with regard to my new venture is that the market is already flooded. Hogwash! Everyone is different, thus everyone brings a different swagger to their business pursuits. It’s about Black… Read more »

erickka
5 years ago

Thanks and I look forward to seeing your product! More choice is always a great thing! You can do it.

Chevanne
5 years ago

Anyone who can create great moisturizing and sealing products for winter will strike gold. Test it out on some naturals in Manitoba… Whaaaa?! BANK.

Madi
Madi
5 years ago

Definitely lit a fire under me. I’ve been mulling over an idea that I’ve had for a few years now telling myself that I’m too old to get it started. That’s some bull too. If anything, I know more now that I’ve been around the block a few times. Thanks for this reminder that I can still have the life that I want. I look forward to checking out your blog.

blindie15
blindie15
5 years ago

I was literally just tweaking my business proposal and something told me to see what was up over here at BGLH. This post affirmation that I am moving in the right direction!

EllieLo
EllieLo
5 years ago

.…not when that little clip was during black history month, or when we’re covering self-made/wealthy people of color in a time were people of color were afforded little to no opportunities to make anything of themselves.

I hope this ALWAYS stays in our curriculum, as proof that even when you have so many things working against you, you can still make something of yourself and better your life.

Elle
Elle
5 years ago
Reply to  EllieLo

EllieLo, you’ve obviously misunderstood the reference in the article — and in my response.

It is COMMON KNOWLEDGE to anyone that can read that CJ Walker did not make her fortune from hair relaxers. The article pointed out this misconception, and I in turn criticized any academic institutions that may have taught this FALSEHOOD and any person who couldn’t be bothered to pick up a book, speak to an elder or simply Google — to learn the truth about this exceptional pioneer. Please go back and read the article for reference.

erickka
5 years ago
Reply to  Elle

Hi Elle, You’d be surprised how many of us were taught that in school. Online it’s the most asked question about Madam C.J. Walker. Sadly, I think it comes from the fact that people think the only products that could be that successful back for black women, especially back then, had to be a hair straightener. Unfortunately, as kids many of us take what we learn in school at face value. And if the people we learn about don’t come up a lot, misinformation can stand until you’re an adult googling and low and behold, you find out the truth. I… Read more »

Dee
Dee
5 years ago

This post is so beautiful. I can’t wait to start my own business someday. My dream is start a healthy food service business in the food deserts of Baltimore, Md. You can’t have healthy hair without being knowledgeable about what you put in your body.

I would also like to open up a Black owned beauty supply store and possibly a children’s school uniform store.

Dj
Dj
5 years ago

Thank you for this post! It’s truly inspiring to learn about these women and to see that there’s enough to go around. I hope to read more of your post!

Lorenze Fate
Lorenze Fate
5 years ago

Loved this!

Adeola @ *The Mane Captain*

I agree that there is always a room at the top. great post Erickka.

The_PosterGirl
The_PosterGirl
5 years ago

I agree with this, and we need to take back our beauty industry and put it in our own hands as Asians won’t even do business with us. They also treat us very bad in their stores because they believe we are thieves. This bothers me like none other. We have the opportunity to take it back so we should really rally to do so. It has to be purposeful though.

Elle
Elle
5 years ago

In fact, you learned about her in school. How she made a fortune selling relaxers. Right?” — Should make us all frightened about the state of the modern curriculum.

I’m a small-business owner and SBA.gov was a great guide for me. Also creating an LLC as my legal entity and choosing to incorporate in a tax-friendly state (not in my actual actual residence/business state of NY) were wonderful decisions. Good luck to all!

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