It’s been over a century since Madam CJ Walker launched the first products from her eponymous hair care brand. Founded in 1910, the Madam CJ Walker Company is known and credited for the mass distribution of hair products for Black and textured hair in America, during a time where products were not accessible or marketed to African-Americans. The brand’s breakthrough product, Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, brought Walker across the country, knocking on the doors of consumers and eventually, helped build the empire that made her the first female self-made millionaire in American history.
Today, Madam CJ Walker’s impact on the beauty industry is immense and apparent. While Walker is revered for her self-made millionaire status, it was her products and the community she fostered that created a legacy. Now, that legacy continues with a new hair care line, Madam by Madam CJ Walker.
Created for the next generation of beauty obsessives, Madam by Madam CJ Walker features 11 new products, ranging from curl cremes and leave-in conditioners to shampoo and scalp serums, all inspired by the beauty legend herself. Walker’s great-great granddaughter, journalist and historian A’Leila Bundles, teamed up with Walmart to make an accessible line that reflects the quality and values of the original Madam CJ Walker products. Each product retails under $10 and upholds Madam Walker’s philosophy that a healthy scalp is key for strong hair. But Bundles insists her great-great grandmother’s influence goes beyond beauty.
“[Madam Walker] represents this arc of a life to overcome obstacles,” Bundles told Glamour. “She was mentored by other Black women. When she finally had the chance and was in a position, she opened doors for other Black women. She was a Watcher Woman until she was 38. But then, she invented this formula for hair care products, and realized that she was addressing a need that other women had. As she traveled around selling the products, she saw that those women were really happy to have hair care products, but what they needed was education and economic independence. She made that as much a part of her mission as the products themselves.”
Bundles worked with Sundial Brands CEO Cara Sabin, Walmart Merchandising Director of Specialty Hair Angel Beasley, and Walmart Omni Associate Merchant Lynn Nestor to develop the new line, which brings the history Madam Walker to 2022 and most importantly, Gen Z. “What really ties everything together is our Scalp to Strand System, that is a nod to Madam CJ Walker and her original iconic product, the Wonderful Hair Grower,” Sabin says. “We’re targeting a younger consumer. We’re on TikTok, and there’s some really exciting content coming. But at the heart of it, we wanted to make sure that we were honoring the legacy of Madam CJ Walker.”
To celebrate Madam by Madam CJ Walker, Glamour sat down for a roundtable discussion with Bundles, Sabin, Beasley, and Nestor to reflect on Madam Walker’s life and legacy, their personal connections to the beauty legend, and their best advice for young female entrepreneurs.
Why was it important to make this line accessible?
Cara Sabin: Growing up as a young girl, if you wanted to have access to products that were designed for your hair texture, you really had to go out of the way. They weren’t at your local store. You would have to go to an independent beauty salon, or maybe your stylists. That changed over the past couple of decades with the invention of Shea Moisture and other brands. We thought the accessibility of the price point was critically important. Then just the breadth of the reach of Walmart, if you’re going to create something that’s accessible for everyone, Walmart is your partner.
A’Leila Bundles: I was reading Glamour when I was in high school, and that was a really long time ago. But when those issues would come, Glamour was that magazine that came and that I paid attention to. But there were no products for black women, for women with textured hair, during that period of time. So the idea of something that people can read about, that has a price point that lots of people will be able to afford, is really important.
Madam by Madam CJ Walker
How much did you reference the brand’s history in creating this new line?
Cara: Being the historian, journalist, and wealth of knowledge that A’Lelia is, she provided us with a lot of rich clippings, articles, old ads and product pack shots. We went through everything and started from the foundation.
A’Lelia: The scalp and hair health, the empowerment of women, all of those things were very much a part of our earliest conversations. Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, her main product, the DNA and legacy of that, is woven into this. It’s all new formulas, because we have a hundred years of research and development. But the idea that you first have to have a great product with great ingredients, you have to market that product, you have to make sure that people know how to use it, you have to surround yourself with a strong team. All of that is very much a part of what the product is now.
Angel Beasley: It really is an honor to be a part of relaunching, in a very accessible way, for the Walmart customer. We know that she has to think about how much she’s spending. So bringing something that’s under $10, that is going to be in over 3000 stores and also online, that is what Madam CJ Walker was doing a hundred years ago. To be a part of that legacy in 2022 is pretty amazing.
Madam CJ Walker
What does Madam Walker mean to you?
Cara: How do I say this and not cry? I was thinking about this around the time we just celebrated Martin Luther King’s birthday. A friend of mine has a five-year-old daughter and she learned about Martin Luther King in school. She was so excited to tell me and FaceTimed me, and it reminded me of when I was around that age and I first started learning about some of our most honored people in history. But when it comes to Madam Walker, when did she come into consciousness? It wasn’t school. There was never a time that I didn’t know who she was. She was so ubiquitous in our culture, and what she meant to me as a young woman, to my mother, to my grandmother.
Angel: I was an entrepreneur in my former life and have always been somebody that likes to tinker, and create, and come up with new ideas. Madam CJ Walker is always the gold star of the first Black millionaire. She was revolutionary. She was an inventor. She did things differently, and broke the mold. If you study business at all, no matter what race you are, but particularly if you’re a Black woman, you know who she is.
Lynn: I’ve been in this role for a few months, but this is probably the first time where I can explain to my family, very clearly, what I do. This is my impact. Where before, they’re just like, “Well, she’s gone to school. She’s employed. We’ve done our job.” I can say, “No. Walk into the Walmart a few blocks away, go into this aisle, this is the effect I have.” One of the first questions I asked Angel when she was telling me about the brand was, “Is the family involved?” To see how involved A’Lelia is in all of this, and really making sure that this is Madam by Madam CJ Walker in product and name, is an amazing thing.
A’Lelia: You made me cry, because this is a gift for me. As a journalist, I knew this is an important story to tell. But the gift for me has been how Madam Walker inspires other people. I never know whether it’s going to be somebody working on their 8th grade report for National History Day, or whether it’s going to be a student at Harvard Business School.
What do you hope that this line brings to consumers across the country?
Cara: It’s been a really heavy two years plus, I think, for society. If I double click, specifically, on people of color, for a number of reasons. As we started developing the campaign, it was important to us that we injected some joy and optimism, some fun and color, and experimentation. We want to also celebrate joy and discovery.
If you could ask Madam Walker one question, what would it be?
Angel: There are so many questions I would ask her. Doing what she did, in the time that she did it, probably something around that. As a mother, and an entrepreneur, and somebody stepping out, basically, in faith on an idea, how did she maintain the stamina to run the race that she ran?
Cara: We call her a trailblazer, and she indeed was one. But when you really think about a black woman, in the early 1900s, there was no path for her. Where did she get that confidence, and that insight, and that vision? What propelled her to know that she could create a path, even though no one had done before what she had done?
Who are women inspiring you in 2022?
Cara: I’m inspired by the modern day inventors and innovators. There’s a woman, she goes by Pinky, and she has a chain of vegan fast food restaurants, mostly in the Atlanta area. She’s branching out, and it’s called Slutty Vegan. Pinky and her partner are on the cover of Essence Magazine this month, where they’re featuring how couples have created businesses as entrepreneurs together. When I see stories like that, that is really inspirational.
A’Leila: The McBride Sisters, who have a winery. Yes, Slutty Vegan. Madam Walker was very much in the hair care space, but I think if she had lived longer, she would’ve been investing in some of these other businesses. She would’ve been a venture capitalist at that point.
Angel: From a beauty perspective, when Michelle Obama hit the scene, and she had those arms out, and her thick hair, and her grace, her style, her swag, to me was a really great turning point for beauty, to accept the diversity of what we are in beauty. She did way more things than just be beautiful, but she’s my modern day beauty icon.
A’Lelia: But it’s the confidence that [Michelle Obama] exudes. That’s really what Madam Walker did, was to give women confidence. If you feel more confident about how you look, then you can carry that into other aspects of your life.
What advice do you have for women who are entrepreneurs and business-owners just starting out?
Cara: It requires grit, focus, and vision, all those things that you typically hear when people are giving advice. But I firmly believe that no one can do you better than you. There can be a lot of pressure to go with where the trend is, or what everyone else is doing. If you’re an entrepreneur, and you’ve got a truly innovative idea that’s maybe never been done before, or not in the way that you’re doing it, it can be really discouraging. It can feel lonely. So just hold on. Believe in yourself and that intuitiveness of seeing things through.
A’Lelia: Being true to yourself is so challenging sometimes. One of the things that I’ve observed about Madam Walker’s life is that she really did surround herself with excellent people. Her C-suite, I think, is a part of the reason that she endured, and that the legacy of her company endured. She knew how to pick smart people, and to trust them, and to empower them.
Lynn: Outside of the business part of things, to have a strong circle of friends and family, people who will be honest with you, who will support you, because it’s really easy to get trapped in defining yourself with how other people respond to you, rather than who you know yourself to be. So when you have a strong group of people around you, they can remind you of yourself, and of your greatness, so that you can carry on into that next day. As well as having something outside of business, because that shouldn’t be your whole life. Having that balance of good people to support you, and carry you through, I think is very important in succeeding, especially as a Black woman in business,
Angel: Know your why, and make sure you always go back to that why and purpose. Just do it. A lot of entrepreneurs that I get to work with fail because they didn’t do, they didn’t move when they should have moved, and worked when they should have worked. Really know your brand and be anchored to that. Don’t be moved and swayed by what everybody else thinks you should do.
Shop the Madam by Madam C.J. Walker collection below.
Ariana Yaptangco is the senior beauty editor at Glamour. You can follow her on Instagram @arianayap.