As part of the Black History Month, we wanted to focus on two main figures from the haircare industry that made the headlines earlier this year.
We are talking about Madam C.J. Walker and Annie Malone whose stories were featured in the Netflix mini-series ‘Self-Made’.
Both were successful and respected businesswomen who changed the Black haircare industry in the early 20th century.
From the two ladies, it seems Madam C.J. Walker’s accomplishments are more known until today.
But did you know that Annie Malone started first to offer and distributed haircare products that highly influenced Madam C.J. Walker?
Annie Malone was born on 9th August 1869 in Metropolis, Illinois, as Annie Minerva Turnbo. She was raised by her older sister, Ada, after her parents both died when she was only six years old. Annie was often ill and did not complete high school. But she had already a passion for hair and enjoyed doing hers as well as her sisters’ hair.
Offering a safe alternative to a trendy hairstyling practice
During the late 19th century, the hairstyling practice that was trending among African American women was to straighten their hair. By imitating Caucasian beauty standards, African American women believed they would be more accepted in a segregationist America at that time. However, the straightening process was quite damaging to the hair and scalp, involving the use of soap, goose fat, bacon grease and heavy oils.
Annie Malone wanted to find a safer and less damaging way to straighten hair. She developed her own chemical products after studying chemistry and being influenced by her aunt who was a trained herbal doctor.
Soon after, Annie offered her products in a store and expanded her line with other haircare and beauty products.
Developing a hair care line
In 1900, she invented her ‘Great Wonderful Hair Grower’ for hair growth and was a huge success. She also improved, developed and patented the pressing comb.
Developing a distribution system
In 1904, St- Louis hosted the World's Fair, which was a fantastic opportunity for Annie who decided to open a retail outlet. After this successful event, Annie had big plans and wanted to reach more people on a larger scale. With the help of her assistants, she offered her products as well as free hair and scalp treatments in black churches and community centres.
She travelled to the South where she gave demonstrations of her products in churches and women’s clubs.
While travelling, she made sure to hire and train new agents everywhere she went so they would become local sales agents. The new agents also recruited other agents. One of her sales agents was the famous Madam C.J. Walker who worked for her for about a year then left to start her own company.
This is how Annie Malone created her own distribution system to sell her products.
Poro, an empire in the making
After Madam C.J. Walker’s products became popular, especially her ‘Wonderful Hair Grower’ which sounded similar to Malone’s ‘Great Wonderful Hair Grower’, Annie gave a new name to her products line.
She called and trademarked it ‘Poro’, a West African word which means ‘an organisation dedicated to disciplining and enhancing the body spiritually and physically’.
Poro products’ line included cold cream, lipstick, face powders in a variety of shades, but also her famous 'Special Hair Grower' or 'Tetter Relief'.
Poro products were advertised in black newspapers and press conferences. Combining advertising and distribution system, Poro‘s distribution expanded and was sold nationally by 1910.
Ms. Annie Malone
In 1914, Annie married Aaron Eugene Malone, and became Annie Malone as we know her.
Aaron was her Poro’s chief manager and president. Together, they decided to offer more that beauty products but rather an economic independence to African American women.
Black women had little career opportunities at that time, but by becoming a ‘Poro Agent’, they could aspire to gain financial independence.
Annie believed that through a better physical appearance, Black women would gain self-respect and become more successful in different parts of their lives.
In her pursue to improve social welfare, Annie founded Poro College in St-Louis in 1918.
Poro College was a cosmetics school that trained ‘Poro Agents’ to sell ‘Poro’ products using the ‘Poro System’ which promoted scalp cleaning and nourishing hair.
Poro College was more than a training centre and hosted Malone’s office, their manufacturing operation and much more. That was only the beginning of Annie Malone's business empire.
In our next blog, we will cover how Annie Malone and Madam C.J. Walker became self-made millionaires and changed the haircare industry with their beauty empires.