Since the 1900s, the Black beauty industry has been helping us wear our hair with pride. So, whether you don natural, relaxed, colored or straightened locks, we owe it all to the mane maven Madam C.J. Walker. She started with the simple desire for Black women to reign supreme with incredible crowns. And her legacy lives on through the work of innovative and inspiring entrepreneurs like Curl Box creator Myleik Teele.
A Look Back to See the Future
During the 1890s, Sarah Breedlove developed a scalp disorder that caused her to lose much of her hair, so she experimented with home remedies and store-bought treatments. Once she developed her special formula and hair care method, she created her brand identity, Madam C.J. Walker, and started marketing her signature line of products that would give kinky hair a “beautiful silky sheen.” She slowly built her business with grit and grace. One of the largest employers of Black women, she hired three thousand “hair culturalists” to sell her unique pomade and to promote her signature system, which included brushing techniques and the use of heated combs.
The trajectory of Walker’s life was nothing short of incredible. The daughter of former slaves, she was not only the first in her family to be born free, but she also went on to become a self-made millionaire—the first woman in America to do so. Said Walker, “I am not satisfied in making money for myself. I endeavor to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race.” And Teele feels that impact.
Where Legacy Meets Inspiration
A force in beauty, Teele saw first-hand how far women were willing to go to find the perfect product. “Several years ago, I began attending various hair shows and was able to see how serious people were about finding solutions for their natural hair. People were traveling thousands of miles to get the one product they’d heard about or to see what was new, and that’s when it hit me,” says Teele. “What if I could box or bag this experience up for women who were unable to make their own hair pilgrimage?”
Like Madam C.J. Walker, Teele is driven to inspire women. “What’s most admirable about her work was her commitment to empowering other women,” she says. “My current workforce is 80 percent women, and my goal has always been to create opportunities for other women of color.” And she takes that a step further by igniting the power within women all over the world with her podcast, MyTaughtYou. “Over the years, I’ve shared my triumphs and failures with my listeners. I’ve shared my tips on how I stay disciplined and focused and the tools and resources that I’ve used to not only achieve success but maintain it as well,” she adds.
Self-Made Starts With Self-Love
With a strong belief in the possibility of creation, both women have made space for other Black movers and shakers. To build others up, Walker opened the doors of her estate at Villa Lewaro, located just outside of New York City. At this creative haven, she trained nearly 23,000 sales agents and workers to serve customers in the United States, Central America and the Caribbean. Even after Walker’s death, Villa Lewaro would continue to be a place of inspiration. It served as a gathering spot for notable leaders of the Harlem Renaissance, such as James Weldon Johnson, Zora Neale Hurston, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Langston Hughes.
Similar to Madam C.J. Walker’s hub of empowerment, Teele began #MTYRetreat to bring Black women together and pamper them every second of their visit. Leaving worries at the door, guests are motivated by impeccable speakers and party like they did when they were young. “Many of us have to be the strongest in our families, the best at work and the toughest in the world,” says Teele. “My retreat is a space to reset and renew with women who have had many of the same experiences, and you can feel the magic in the air.”
As Teele says, “being self-made means becoming successful by way of your own efforts.” After having worked with many entrepreneurs in the hair and beauty industry, she has heard some very compelling stories of self-made women. But Teele cannot wait to watch Self Made, which is now streaming on Netflix, to find out where it began with Madam C.J. Walker. “I want to see how she overcame challenges and how she processed the success once she attained it,” she says. “No person reaches the top alone, but you must have the drive day in and day out and the leadership skills to keep pressing forward.”
Now you, Teele and the rest of the world can get a glimpse of how Madam C.J. Walker got her start by giving herself a start. Watch Self Made, starring Octavia Spencer, Tiffany Haddish, Carmen Ejogo, and Blair Underwood now streaming only on Netflix. While you’re here, check out The Making Of to learn about the incredible Black women who made this series possible.