Like many gifted entrepreneurs, Sarah Breedlove (aka Madam C.J. Walker) had a problem and sought to find a solution that she could share with others like her. Sarah suffered from a scalp condition that led to the loss of much of her hair. After experimenting with store bought and home remedies, she created her own line of hair care products for African-Americans in 1905. Upon a suggestion from her husband, Charles Walker, she changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker to create a more memorable name for her products. With her ingenuity and business insight, she became the first African-American female millionaire in the United States.
Walker sold her products while traveling, and then later established a factory and school, where she not only made the product but also educated her sales associates in her products and other beauty techniques. These “Walker Agents” were well known across the United States in black communities. Walker also created clubs and conventions for her salespeople to recognize not only their volume of sales but also their work to help educate and lift African-American communities.
While Walker expanded internationally by traveling across Latin America and the Caribbean promoting products and finding new agents to work for her company, her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, purchased a building in Harlem, NY, with the insight that this area would prove an integral base for the company.
Upon returning to Harlem, Walker became highly devoted to the community and the Harlem Renaissance. She set up organizations to help the elderly and served on an early executive board of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as founded other organizations to help the African-American community.
Walker’s commitment to bettering the lives of African Americans made her an inspiring presence, and her generosity, in turn, helped to boost her profits leading to her legacy as the first woman to become a millionaire in the United States. Showing that entrepreneurship is more than making money, but finding a need, fulfilling it, and making sure the solution ties back to the community it supports.
Interested in becoming an entrepreneur, like Madam C.J. Walker? Check out NYLF Business Innovation held this summer on Yale University’s campus. You’ll spend six amazing days learning from business gurus, developing your skills and acumen, and competing against other business-minded high school students in Envision's Entrepreneurial Challenge, a “Shark Tank” experience.
All facts sourced from: Biography.com Editors. Originally published 2014. Updated 2019. “Madam C.J. Walker Biography”. The Biography.com website. Retrieved from https://www.biography.com/people/madam-cj-walker-9522174