By: Sydnee Walcott
Blacks Who Revolutionized The Hair Industry
By: Sydnee Walcott
For women of colour, hair is a form of expression that encompasses their identity and culture for centuries. Different hairstyles such as cornrows, single braids, dreadlocks, and afros help with presenting who Black people are and the pride they have towards their natural beauty.
Hair care has unfortunately been an issue for Black people as many often struggle with finding the right products that improve hair growth and hair health. These issues became prevalent during the slavery and Jim Crow era.
However, as Black women were innovating new ideas that would provide advanced hair care for Black people, these women helped revolutionize the hair industry.
Outlined is a list of some of the most renowned Black inventors who transformed the hair industry for the better:
Not only was she one of the first African Americans to become a millionaire, but Annie Malone has also made history by becoming the first woman in America to become a self-made millionaire.
Malone had a passion for chemistry from the time she was a child. Her love for chemistry would then lead her to become one of the first African Americans to transform the hair care industry for Black women.
Many women were experiencing hair loss by using harmful methods to straighten their hair. Malone invented products that provided women with healthy straight hair without the added damage from heat.
The product was called “Wonderful Hair Grower,” and the growth stimulant attracted many customers on the market.
When Malone began to hire and train salespeople, her products would receive mass distribution through America, South America, Africa, and the Caribbean.
When transitioning over to cosmetics, Malone named her brand “Poro,” and continued to sell both hair care and cosmetics.
Poro continued to receive success and led to the opening of Poro College where Black women would be able to receive training on healthy hair care practices and seek future employment opportunities.
Madam C.J. Walker
Madam C.J. Walker is one of the most recognized African Americans to become a self-made millionaire during the Jim Crow era.
Born as Sarah Breedlove to formerly enslaved parents, Walker experienced hair loss, dandruff, and other scalp issues which forced her to turn to the hair industry for help with these problems.
In the 1890s, hair loss was a common issue among many Black women due to a lack of indoor plumbing leading to many Black families washing their hair irregularly.
Walker began experimenting at home with remedies, treatments, and products that would tailor to her hair type.
In the early 1900s, she moved to Colorado where she would work for Annie Malone as a saleswoman to gain more knowledge on hair care.
Walker began to create and sell her own hair growth and scalp conditioning products. She then expanded her brand by adding shampoo, oils, and hot combs.
Walker went on to establish the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company and hire sales agents who would receive sales training, build their own businesses, and achieve financial security.
Combing and brushing is key to help one maintain healthy hair, but at one point, Black women were struggling to find a brush suitable for their hair type.
This issue was resolved when women’s right Advocate and Inventor Lyda Newman created a newly-designed hairbrush to accommodate Black women’s hair.
Newman was working as a hair specialist and noticed the demand for a brush that worked for Black women’s hair. She was 13 years old when she patented the new and improved hair brush design in 1898.
The previous brush included bristles that were made out of animal hair while the brushes designed for Black hair had synthetic bristles that were firmer, durable, and did not break easily when used on ethnic hair.
The new patent brush also had a unique feature.
It contained an air chamber that allowed airflow to the bristles which would help the brush dry much faster.
With the brush being cheaper and easier to manufacture, the brush was accessible to women of many backgrounds.
The hair weave is one the most popular hairstyles among Black women as it provides versatility with different colours, lengths, and hair patterns.
The invention of the sew-in hair weave was created by Christina Jenkins in the 1940s. This new technique would bring innovation to the hair industry.
While working for a wig manufacturer, Jenkins began doing research to seek alternative ways of attaching hair firmly without using heat or harsh chemicals. This is when the idea of the sew-in was introduced.
The hair would be braided into cornrows with or without the use of added hair to form a base. Once the base was completed, the wefts of hair would be sent to the cornrows until all of them were completely covered. Afterwards, the wefts would be styled in any desired way.
Jenkins believed that this method would provide a long-lasting voluminous style.
In 1951, Jenkins received a patent for this method which still remains popular over 70 years later.
The women listed above diversified the industry and opened up avenues of success among Black-owned hair businesses in the hair care industry. In society, there is a wide selection of products and methods available for Black people to use in order to achieve the healthy hair they are worthy of having.