Turning Bald Into a Business: Walker Launches Her Beauty Line
“God answered my prayer, for one night I had a dream, and in that dream a big black man appeared to me and told me what to mix up for my hair,” said Walker. “Some of the remedy was grown in Africa, but I sent for it, mixed it, put it on my scalp, and in a few weeks my hair was coming in faster than it had ever fallen out. I tried it on my friends; it helped them. I made up my mind I would begin to sell it.”
Walker credits God with having given her the special hair remedy that would launch her business. God, however, could not do anything about the fact that there was already another entrepreneur selling similar products in St. Louis. Not wanting to face the competition head on, Walker decided to take her show on the road.
She had just $1.50 to her name, but Walker packed up and moved to Denver, Colorado. She chose Denver because that is where one of her brother’s families lived. Walker rented a room in an attic and found work as a cook in order to pay the bills. Once she had saved up some money, she quit her job and began working on her hair care formula. She continued to wash other people’s laundry two days a week to earn some money until her business took off.
Walker began selling Wonderful Hair Grower, Glossine, and Vegetable Shampoo door to door. She found them all to be well-received by African American women in Denver. After marrying Charles Joseph (C.J.) Walker, a sales agent for a local African American newspaper, Walker officially changed her name to Madam C.J. Walker. She thought the ‘Madam’ would give her products extra appeal.
As Walker’s profits rose, she reinvested it all back into materials and advertising. With help from her husband, the two developed a marketing campaign. The marriage quickly ender, however, when Walker proved to be more ambitious than her husband and she wanted greater success than he did.
After the two divorced, Walker put her daughter in charge of the new mail-order section of their business. Walker, meanwhile, continued to travel the country and promote her products. In 1908, mother and daughter settled in Pittsburgh and established Lelia College, a training facility for the Walker System of Hair Culture.
Walker continued to tour the country and began recruiting a national sales force, called Walker Agents. Everyone from schoolteachers to housewives were being taught how to set up beauty shops in their own homes, manage their finances, and serve their customers. Soon, Walker had 5,000 agents across the country promoting her business and making her $7,000 a week.
In 1913, Walker bought a house in Harlem and decided to make it her company’s new headquarters. Slowly, the company continued to grow and by 1917, annual conventions were being held by Walker’s agents to train new and old recruits. By the time Walker died in 1919, she was 51 years old and one of the richest women in the country.
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