Sarah Breedlove was born in the state of Louisiana, in a city called Delta. She was the first of her family to be born as a free woman after the Emancipation Proclamation. Little did she (or anyone) know that towards the age of 40, she would become one of the biggest names and references when it comes to female entrepreneurship.
Yes, I’m talking about Madam CJ Walker, the first black woman to become a self-made millionaire in the United States. She got the name from her husband Charles Walker, who she got married to in 1906.
Madam CJ Walker made her fortune after years of dedication to her own ideas and a lot of hard work; she developed her own line of hair products and built an empire that allowed her a life she never thought she could possibly have.
During the 1800s, most Americans didn’t have access to indoor plumbing and electricity, therefore taking showers was pretty much considered a fancy bonus. Another extremely important thing they didn’t have access to is a proper diet, and all of that together is an awful combination for your health, obviously: Sarah suffered from severe dandruff and other scalp conditions.
In 1908, Madam CJ Walker got to meet Annie Malone, an entrepreneur who created a “miracle hair elixir”, and she got so mesmerized by the results of that product that she wanted to become a representative of that product and start selling it - which didn’t happen. But what could easily have been a sad story was actually the beginning of an outstanding journey.
She took that “no” and turned it into motivation to start developing her own hair product.
And she did.
She created an exclusive product that would soon spread all across the country, then traveled to Europe and, may I say, it traveled through time: we’re in 2023 and here I am proudly speaking about Madam CJ Walker’s products and achievements.
As the years went by, Madam Walker became even more aware of what her audience needed and wanted. She had created her own laboratory in the state of Indianapolis, where she could let her creativity and knowledge flow. She developed an exclusive method of grooming, the “Walker System”, which included a shampoo, a pomade, strenuous brushing and applying iron combs to hair; that would make one’s hair stronger, shiny and soft.
What can we learn from her? A lot. Period.
Can you imagine how different her life would have been if she hadn’t gotten that “no’ from Annie Malone? Can you imagine how bad she felt when she got rejected? It would have been easy to just move on after not being given a chance but Madam came up with an alternative that changed not only her life, but the lives of thousands of women: in 1917, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company claims to have trained 20,000 women to become representatives of her products. She was a strong advocate for black women’s economic independence, teaching them how to develop their own business and how to work with a budget.
Madam CJ Walker is an example of cleverness, focus and creativity. She saw an opportunity to grow and she took it, never letting go of her resilience.
She died on May 25, 1919, at the age of fifty-one, leaving her only daughter A'Lelia Walker in charge of her company.
Madam Walker paved the way for black businesses by becoming the first American woman self-made millionaire and we should have nothing but admiration for everything she has built. Her journey is an example that I personally look up to, as an entrepreneur myself.
I felt the need to share this story with all of you and now that you’ve read it, take it as an incentive to start that project you’ve been thinking about; get some inspiration from a woman that had all odds against her and made it happen; find the strength that you need in yourself and get started!
You never know what might be waiting for you but there’s only one way to find out:
By taking the first step!