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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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At the beginning of 1906, an evolution had begun for African American women. Madame C.J. Walker, the former founder of Madame C.J. Walker Beauty Culture and self-made millionaire, started the first company for African American hair products. She developed hair products for black women because of the poor hygiene practices during this time period. Over the years of her inspiration led African American hair products to grow and become something black women praise as a part of their culture.

Madam C.J. Walker started her line of hair products being that the black woman became the face of balding and hair damage. She wanted to eliminate skin infections in the scalp of black women and with that objective, she created The Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture. According to Bundles in Madam C.J. Walker's Life Headed for Big Screen, Product Line Revived, "'Madam Walker was going bald due to hygiene practices that were common for that era. It was revolutionary to convince Black women to wash their hair more often when most people didn't have indoor plumbing. It was before penicillin and aspirin and insulin and so many basic things that we take for granted now. So, skin and scalp care were way down on the priority list for health concerns," Bundles said. "But when people didn't bathe very often and didn't wash their hair but maybe once a month or not at all during the winter, they had horrible skin infections beyond dandruff. What she did was encourage them to wash their hair more often and then apply an ointment that contained sulfur petrolatum (the main ingredient to Vaseline) - used for centuries to heal infections of the skin. With their scalps treated, healthy hair could grow back'"(Page A1). When she referred to women washing their hair and applying an ointment she wanted to help decrease scalp infections and increase hair growth. Madam would travel to hold lectures to promote her products to demonstrate that they really work. As Madam C.J. Walker laid out the platform for African American hair products, it led to other companies wanting to branch out.

Ethnic groups are rising and so is the demand for hair products specialized for them. African American hair products in today's day are used for personal expression and a sense of identity is pursued when using such products. Such hair products are directed toward ethnic consumers in which seek these needs of self-expression. Hair products are used for hair loss, help care for damaged hair or dry hair and scalps, and styling purposes but also to get the closest look to having natural hair. This goes to show the evolution that hair products have taken. In Marketing Matter, Elle Morris states, “Depending on the cultural context of beauty—traditions, routines, ideals and so on—beauty cultures can appear dramatically different, but the importance of hair maintenance and its relationship to beauty is a common trait among ethnic populations”, which gives a clear insight that hair products have just about the same purpose in today's day and age (Page 28). Black women are trying to reach the natural look, and with that African American hair products get them closer to that look. That look gives them a sense of their self-expression. This is a part of the black woman's identity.

The social status of this product was based on a variety of things.  In the 1920's, African American hair care products became to come to light and it started to expand. In the late 19th century according to Julie Willett in the American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia, “black and white, sought to build markets for products and services geared specifically toward African American women's hair textures and skin tones.” (page 8). Most women did their hair at home and advertised products were not often used but homemade products were. During slavery, African American women often would just style their hair to their liking without having to use products in their hair. As time went on products started evolving which introduced Madam. C.J. Walkers beauty line for hair care products. Since women wanted to make a living they began to create products that would help benefit the African American community which lead to their entrepreneurship. A product that was brought up and used during Walker's time was hair straightening products for black women. In the American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia, Willett states that “At a time when millions migrated to urban areas seeking social and economic opportunity, African Americans straightened their hair as a sign of upward mobility and acclimation into modern America” (Page 145). Women during this time relied on their hair being straight because it was something that was socially acceptable for job interviews and other professional aspects of life.

This was new and innovative at the time because it allowed African Americans to resolve their issues of scalp damage and being socially bantered. Women in the 19th and 20th century can relate to the problem that some products were chemically damaging. African American products were and still are trying to sway away from such toxins. Back when Johnson Products was created by George Ellis Johnson, they were made for African American male hair care and chemical straightening for African American men and women. These products were made to create a safe and less toxic way to straighten black people hair. In the 1960s according to Willett in The American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia, “Chemical straighteners (commercial and homemade) had always been too harsh, causing longer hair to break and turning black hair red; in addition, they were generally considered socially inappropriate for women to use” (Page 167). This black owned beauty business of Johnson products helped resolve that problem for women and also men. Chemical damage is not only a problem for that time period but for today's period as well. More African American women are deciding to keep their hair “natural” and not chemically process their hair. In the 19th century these concepts were viewed differently.

Now people want the natural looks and for special African American hair products to provide that. In the article Hair Care trends by Walker, Dionne explains that, “As Black women, frustrated with chemical damage, reconsider straightening their hair, Black-owned mini-companies like Oyin have emerged as go-to sources of organic products, capitalizing on their firsthand knowledge of ethnic hair to return the market to its roots. "There's an empowerment aspect," explains Jamyla Bennu, who started out making products for her own "natural," or chemically untreated, hair” (Page 28). Small companies are being created to treat natural hair for black women and for those black women this is socially acceptable to them. Instead of these companies specifically aiming toward healing scalp diseases and creating a product for chemically processed straight hair, there are leaning toward the natural phase of hair products. Backing up this information from Money flowing into the natural hair industry is a blessing and a curse for those who built it by Easter, Makeda proclaims that, “In the 1990s and early 2000s, these companies catered to and were largely run by a small community of black women embracing their natural hair. But with 71% of black adults in the U.S. wearing their hair naturally at least once in 2016, according to research firm Mintel, natural hair has now hit the mainstream” ( This demonstrated that products that were created for a different purpose during the 1960s are now evolving to companies creating natural hair care products.

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