Throughout the early 1900s, Madam C.J. Walker steadily built her hair care empire. By 1906, she developed her signature product, the Wonderful Hair Grower, to help address the common scalp and hair concerns of Black women. By 1910, she opened the Lelia College of Beauty Culture, formally launched the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, and employed hundreds of Black women as sales agents. Her career as a beauty entrepreneur allowed Walker to become the first self-made American woman millionaire. Her influence revolutionized textured hair care and simultaneously brought economic empowerment to the Black community.
Over 100 years later, Walker's impact on the industry remains. Her story has been kept alive across generations through her great-great-granddaughter, A'Lelia Bundles. Her commitment to continuing the legacy of her pioneering matriarch led to her founding the Madam Walker Family Archives, authoring the acclaimed biography On Her Own Ground, and helping to build hair care brands inspired by Walker's game-changing products.
However, she didn't always know this was where her career would take her. "My parents were both involved in the haircare industry," Bundles says. "My mother was vice president of the Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company, and my dad was president of Summit Laboratories, another Black hair care company. While I was proud of my family and what they did, I had other ideas. I went off and had a 30-year career in network television news. But this story needed to be told. It's a gift to share her story."
Bundles' latest endeavor is serving as brand historian for Madam by Madam C.J. Walker, a new line of textured hair products. The hair care brand was created by Sundial Brands (owned by Unilever), home to other multicultural beauty lines like SheaMoisture, Nubian Heritage, and Nyakio. Bundles worked closely with Sundial's CEO Cara Sabin to ensure every facet of the brand captured the spirit of Walker. "We wanted to make sure we honored Madam Walker's contributions and that every detail centered her legacy," Sabin says.
With scalp care being the primary focus of Walker's products, the brand centers on a proprietary "Scalp to Strand System." The initial collection includes 11 products—ranging from a scalp serum to curl cream—made with rich formulas to repair and strengthen textured hair from the root. "We were able to see some of [Madam Walker's] artifacts and hear the rich information A'Lelia has," Sabin shares. "My team and I dove into that, and that's where we got our inspiration. We thought about the Wonderful Hair Grower and asked questions like, What would that formulation look like today? We made sure to use ingredients that promote healthy hair like shea butter, pomegranate oil, and omega three, six, and nine fatty acids."
To bring the products to market, Madam by Madam C.J. Walker found its perfect retail partner in Walmart. Walmart's merchandising director of specialty hair Angel Beasley says adding the brand to the shelves is an exciting opportunity. "For our consumer, it's really important that we're bringing [products that have] an accessible price point and natural ingredients that are good for their hair," she notes. Beasley's team plans to stock the products online and at over 3,000 Walmart stores nationwide.
The launch of Madam by Madam C.J. Walker is adding yet another impactful chapter to the hair care innovator's legacy. Bundles believes her great-great-grandmother would be proud of not only the new brand but also how much the Black hair care industry has grown since the 1900s. "I think she'd be pleased that some of the ideas she thought worked more than 100 years ago can still be applied today and have been taken to a new level," Bundles says. "[She believed in] having a great product, using high-quality ingredients, marketing your product, and having a strong team. That's the DNA of this line."