How Madam CJ Walker Became America's First Black Female Millionaire & Revolutionised The Hair Care Industry

Netflix, has just premiered a brand new series on their platform - Self Made: The story of Madam CJ Walker, who played by Octavia Spencer, tells the story of a entrepreneur, activist, pioneer and also widely known as America's first black female millionaire.

This story is an important one to be told in black history as many are likely only hearing about Madam CJ Walker through this series and as a result, many will naturally be wanting to know more about her. She was someone that if she was around today, would most probably be referred to as an 'influencer' due to her platform and how she used her platform to speak out on issues that she deemed important - which in her situation was the mistreatment of black people in society at the time.


Read the real life story behind Madam CJ Walker, below. 


Sarah Breedlove (1867-1919) who is otherwise known as Madam CJ Walker, was born after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and was born on the Louisiana plantation where her family were slaves. She was born in 1867.


Breedlove's fortune was created all from her hair treatments and products, from which she pioneered elements of what we now know as the black hair care and cosmetics industry. In the 1890s growing up she was experiencing hair loss as plumbing wasn't advanced back then and people didn't wash their hair as much as they do now. As a result a lot more people had issues with their hair. Her solution to this, was creating her own home made line of products after she found displeasure with the ones that she bought from stores. Her own unique products were so good that she decided to market them to the masses under her new name - 'Madam CJ Walker' and with a product line known as ‘Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower’.


Her mission was always to promote healthy hair growth and many of her products included sulphur which was an ingredient that was good for the scalp and skin and her treatments also involved washing hair more regularly. She is also cited as one of the early marketers of the hot comb.


Her products became so successful that she became the first black American woman to ever be known as a millionaire. At a time when racial inequality was at its worst and amongst a time where violence and discrimination against black people was at its highest, she was one who managed to succeed against all the odds put in her way. Her success allowed her to give opportunities to thousands of black women throughout the country. She contributed to worthy causes relating to the black community and was widely known as a philanthropist as well as a business woman. 


Madam CJ Walker couldn't have achieved what she achieved alone, she was inspired by the strong communities of black women around her who gave her guidance - in the church and the National Association of Coloured Women. The communities she had around her made her see that she was more than her reality and that she could be more for herself and for the people around her. There were also others who she surrounded herself with in the marketing and running of her business and with these people that she worked with, she was able to create the foundations of the industry that we know today. 


Her story is a shining example of the importance of innovation, building and empowering a successful team, being able to market effectively (as there were others marketing similar products, but she was able to make her products stand out from the rest), and not letting your life situation limit or define you as she was able to. Many of these elements are important and forever relevant in this day and age.


The Netflix series naturally exaggerates several aspects of CJ Walker's story to create drama and to focus on some of the key issues that she faced on her journey. If you want to find out more about Madam CJ Walker and do your own research, you can go to her website -


Writer: Tonte Bo Douglas

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