As part of the Black History Month, we are focusing on two main figures from the hair care industry that made the headlines earlier this year: Madam C.J. Walker and Annie Malone!
Madam C.J. Walker’s story was featured in the Netflix mini-series ‘Self-Made’ in March 2020 which depicted a tense relationship with her rival Addie Munroe, who was no other than Annie Malone.
In our previous blogs, we presented their stories and how they started their businesses.
In this part, we will cover how Madam C.J. Walker and Annie Malone influenced their communities to improve their conditions and how they built their beauty empires which still have an impact on the industry until now.
Educating the community through sales agents
Malone and Walker used similar distribution systems where they would recruit and train sales agents on how to use and sell their products. But they had more to offer than beauty products, they wanted to improve African American women’s lives by educating them to live a different lifestyle and changing their mindsets.
They did it by creating schools where they would teach their values as well as their selling techniques.
In 1918, Annie Malone built her cosmetics school in St. Louis, called 'Poro College' which included a training centre, barber shops, laboratories but also the manufacturing operation and her office.
Women who were interested in becoming ‘Poro Agents’ would get trained in sales and cosmetology but also on how to walk, talk, and behave in social situations. They received the below certificate when completing their training.
By 1927, Annie had 32 schools in American cities.
Annie Malone believed that through her college she could improve African American women’s standing in their community.
In a similar way, Madam C.J. Walker launched her beauty school, in 1908 in Pittsburgh. She named it 'Lelia College of Beauty Culture' after her daughter.
'Walker Agents' would be trained on promoting Walker's philosophy of "cleanliness and loveliness" as a means of advancing the status of African Americans. At the end of their training, agents received the below diploma.
By 1913, Madam C.J. Walker had expanded her schools to other cities like Indianapolis, Brooklyn and even New York.
She also organised conventions for her agents, where not only their successful sales would be recognised, but also their philanthropic and educational efforts among African Americans.
Both businesswomen did not stop to the United States' boundaries to offer their products. Their ambitions led them to expand internationally.
Annie Malone employed 75,0000 women across her franchised outlets in North and South America, Africa, and the Philippines.
She also founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association in 1917.
We cannot deny that Annie and Sarah were successful businesswomen. Although Madam C.J. Walker is often referred as the first self-made black millionaire, Annie Malone was in fact the first self-made black millionaire. She was worth $14 million in the 1920s.
But Sarah Walker had nothing to be ashamed of. Her company was very successful making profits that were the modern-day equivalent of several million dollars. Before her death, she was worth $1 million dollars which included several properties across the country, like her “Villa Lewaro” in New York.
Philanthropy and activism
Sarah and Annie were more than successful entrepreneurs. They were generous philanthropists as well.
Annie was one of America's first major black philanthropists. Her Poro College hosted facilities for civic, religious, and social functions that African American or organisations such as the National Negro Business League, could use as they were denied access to other entertainment and hospitality venues during segregation times.
In the 1920s, she made a $25,000 donation to Howard University’s Medical School, but also Tuskegee Institute and to build a YMCA in a Black neighbourhood in St. Louis.
Besides, Annie was very generous with her family and employees. She educated her many of her nieces and nephews and awarded her employees with lavish gifts.
If we talk about the black community, Annie contributed and donated to many orphanages in St. Louis . She gave $10,000 to the St. Louis Colored Orphans' Home to cover construction’s costs and was part of the executive board between 1919 and 1943.
On top of that, Annie was the president of the Colored Women's Federated Clubs of St. Louis, an executive committee member of the National Negro Business League and the Commission on Interracial Cooperation, an honorary member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, and member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Annie was also supporting students and it said she was supporting two full-time students in every black college in the United States.
Madam C.J. Walker
Sarah brought a great contribution towards the Black community in the US. She donated $1,000 to build the first Black YMCA in Indianapolis and paid the tuition for six students at Tuskegee Institute.
She became involved in politics and she donated $5,000 to the NAACP for the anti-lynching movement. When she moved to Harlem, she got involved into the social culture of the 'Harlem Renaissance'
Annie Malone and Madam C.J. Walker's achievements should definitely be celebrated.
Next week we will talk about their legacies and how they are remembered in the Black Culture.