Before Oprah, Sheryl Sandberg and Beyoncé, there was Madam C.J. Walker, the first female American self-made millionaire. Now, nearly 100 years after her death, her legacy is coming to a Sephora near you.
Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture is a new haircare line created by Sundial, which manufactures the natural-hair brand SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage, and it's been nearly 10 years in the making. Included in the line are treatments and oils and shampoos for a variety of hair types, from kinky to coily to wavy to straight, with the same attentiveness to women of color's hair needs that Walker was famous for.
The new line, which will be available in stores and online on March 4, was a labor of love — one of Sundial's objectives was introducing Walker and her legacy to a new audience, making sure her accomplishments aren't forgotten.
Born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, Walker eventually created an empire by selling specially crafted hair products and treatments for African-Americans. In the early 1900s, she started experimenting with home remedies to help cure her own scalp disorder, discovering that she had a knack for formulating hair care treatments that actually work.
To make sure they kept her legacy of quality haircare for African-Americans intact, Sundial directly contacted Walker's great-great granddaughter, journalist A'Lelia Bundles, who was thrilled about the prospect of her ancestor's resurgence.
"After the research and writing I've done about her life and the history of her business for the last forty years, it means a great deal to me that there now are truly high quality products that will link to that story and will ensure that she's not forgotten," Bundles told Mic.
Bundles also wanted to ensure her great-great grandmother was remembered not just for her contributions in beauty, but the other work she did for her community. She regularly contributed to the NAACP, the National Conference on Lynching and other organizations dedicated to improving the lives of African-Americans. And this line looks to do the same with Sundial's Community Commerce initiative, which creates opportunities for economic empowerment in the United States and Africa.
Bundles hopes that the new line will help African-Americans get the quality and specialized haircare they want and need, as well as feel empowered by using products inspired by a self-made, entrepreneurial black woman.
"Near the end of Madam Walker's life, she had observed her customers enough to know how some of them struggled with caring for their hair and their various textures," Bundles said. "She wanted them to feel comfortable and confident regardless of the style. I share that same view. I want African-American women to cherish themselves, to feel comfortable and confident, to assert their beauty and their personal power."
That message comes at a time when the conversation around black women and their hair is more active and mainstream than ever. That includes the meaning and value of wearing natural hair, which was recently discussed during a presidential town hall. Girls are still regularly getting sent to the principal's office, or even kicked out of school because of how they wear their hair.
Yet positive movements are coalescing around them, as are positive examples of natural hair being celebrated on fashion runways and magazines. Having more high-quality, accessible products that recognize the beauty needs of women of color helps keep the conversation going.