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Over the past few years, the African-American hair industry has grown substantially. With the explosion of the natural hair movement, black men and women across the world are embracing their roots. In addition, the market for hair products has expanded allowing people of color access to personalized creams, shampoos, and conditioners for their various hair types. In honor of Black History Month, three influential women from different time periods will be highlighted for their incredible contribution to their development of the industry. The passion, motivation, and innovation of Madam C.J. Walker, Angela Davis, and Myleik Teele helped to build and shape African-American hair into what it is today.
Sarah Breedlove, known as Madam C.J. Walker, was born in Louisiana in 1867. Despite the ending of the civil war in 1865, African-Americans were still treated with disrespect and were not recognized as equals among other races, especially in the south. Madam C.J. Walker did not let the racism and negativity stop her. In 1905, at 40 years old, she decided to invent a line of products to help with a scalp ailment that she was suffering from. A couple years later, Walker and her husband traveled around the south providing product demonstrations of her pomades and the infamous heated comb. She went on to establish Madam C.J. Walker Laboratories and a beauty school. Being one of the first African-American entrepreneurs and one of the first women to be a self-made millionaire in America, Madam C.J. Walker was an inspiration and paved the way for other women of color to achieve their goals and ambitions.
Angela Davis, born in 1944, was a women’s and civil rights activist from Alabama. Even though her time is almost a century after Madam C.J. Walker, Davis still faced many hardships and difficulties. Her determination towards defeating prejudice and discrimination in America was highly recognized, but another major part of Davis was her beautiful and healthy afro. In the 60’s and 70’s, the afro became a hairstyle associated with achieving justice and equality for African-Americans due to Davis popularizing the style in her rallies and protests. This brought a lot of inspiration to African-American women during that time to not be afraid to wear their natural hair in conjunction with fighting for civil rights. Fast forward to the future, the afro and natural hair movement has become a significant part of the 21st century. Angela Davis’s efforts, not only in fighting for equality and against discrimination, but also in embracing her roots and culture by wearing her natural hair has had an extreme influence on the African-American hair industry today.
While Angela Davis contributed to the hair industry with a specific hairstyle and Madam C.J. Walker with hair products, Myleik Teele penetrated the African-American hair industry in a slightly different way. In 2011, Myleik Teele launched the revolutionary curlBOX, a subscription service for women with natural hair to obtain and try high-quality natural hair products without leaving their homes and driving to a beauty supply store 30 minutes away. Her subscription box contains products from some of the world’s top beauty companies such as Shea Moisture, Proctor & Gamble, Target and more. Her product represents the epitome of innovation. Even though subscription boxes were not new to the market, a subscription service for black women was a fresh and groundbreaking idea. Despite Teele being in a later time compared to Walker and Davis, she still has similar qualities. For example, Teele is a strong advocate for women’s equality and empowerment, much like the previous women mentioned. In addition, Teele has utilized the technology of the 21st century to develop a podcast, #MyTaughtYou, to provide guidance and motivation to young, entrepreneurial women around the world.
Black History Month is more than significant for people of color, not just in America, but around the world. Learning, researching, and reading about those in the past and present that are making outstanding contributions to various industries, not just hair, is inspirational and motivating. Madam C.J. Walker, Angela Davis, and Myleik Teele are only a few out of thousands of individuals that have changed the world and paved the way for African-Americans to follow and achieve their ambitions. Without their innovations, determination, and passion for their culture, many of the products, hairstyles, and services today would most likely be obsolete.
- Lexi Chantel