Women's History Month provides a great opportunity to celebrate the remarkable accomplishments of women in business, especially those who have faced significant obstacles and still had a significant positive impact on their respective industries. While we’ve made progress, women face ongoing gender discrimination, unequal pay, and limited representation in leadership roles. As a small business owner in the handmade products space, I found inspiration in the life story of one of the most successful women entrepreneurs in history. I thought this month would be particularly fitting time to highlight her legacy, one I unfortunately never learned about in school.
Against all odds.
Madame CJ Walker's story is a true representation of the American Dream. Sarah Breedlove was born into poverty in Louisiana in 1867, the daughter of slaves, orphaned at a young age, she overcame tremendous adversity to become the first woman self-made millionaire in the U.S. through her own hard work and determination. As an African American woman in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she faced significant discrimination and prejudice, but she refused to let that hinder her from pursuing her goals.
In 1905, now known as Madame CJ Walker, she developed a formula for natural hair care products made with some of the same natural ingredients found in Island Thyme Soap Company products. She believed her products would help African American women improve the health and appearance of their hair. She began selling her products door-to-door and eventually opened her manufacturing plant, and then a series of salons, creating jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for other African American women in the process.
Ultimately Walker employed 40,000 African American women and men in the US, Central America, and the Caribbean. She also founded the National Negro Cosmetics Manufacturers Association in 1917. She also became a philanthropist, using her wealth to support causes that were important to her, such as education and civil rights.
Her original brand still lives on as Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture, selling items like shampoos, conditioners, and hair masks exclusively at Sephora.
Women entrepreneurs are gaining more and more acceptance and support.
Madame CJ Walker's legacy continues to inspire women entrepreneurs today, including myself. Her life is a testament to the power of perseverance, creativity, and hard work. Her success serves as a reminder to all women entrepreneurs from makers in the handmade bar soap and candle space, bath and body space, fragrance space, handmade jewelry space, culinary arts space, to makers in all spaces and all industries we must always believe in ourselves, believe in our creations, our passions and work and to keep our visions of success clear and bright.
We must keep supporting women entrepreneurs. Whether through small changes in our daily lives or larger efforts in our communities, we each have a role to play in making a positive impact for the girls and women that follow behind us. We must honor those women who paved the way, and continue to support, inspire and uplift each other as we continue to work towards a future where every woman has equal opportunities to achieve their dreams in whatever paths our daughters and granddaughters choose.
In conclusion, as Black History Month ends and Women's History Month begins, we are presented with an ideal of time to reflect on the remarkable achievement of Madame CJ Walker. Her inspiring story serves as an example of the power of determination and hard work, and her legacy continues to inspire women of all ages, races and life circumstances to pursue their dreams and make their own mark on their respective industries.