To celebrate Black History Month, we’re focusing on the colossal growth and social importance of the black beauty industry. Globally, black women invest over £4.8 billion on beauty products and services every year. According to the IPA, black British Women spend a massive six times more on hair products than their white counterparts.
With this in mind, we’re rightfully celebrating the strong black women that defied social and racial perceptions to make revolutionary breakthroughs and significant influences on the beauty industry, from the likes of Madam C.J. Walker to the phenomenal Iman.
During the late 19th century, chemist & entrepreneur, Annie Malone discovered a way to chemically straighten textured hair without damaging the scalp and hair follicles. She went on to develop a range of hair care products such as her ‘Wonderful Hair Grower’. Malone hired three employees to execute her business plan, grow sales and help demonstrate how her products worked. During this time, racial discrimination was at a high and as black women were denied access to any traditional distribution systems, they were forced to sell products door-to-door. By 1910, distribution had expanded nationally.
In 1958, Eunice Johnson organised an annual fashion event for black Americans – the Ebony Travelling Fashion Fair.
Noticing a distinct lack of foundations for the black models attending the event she, along with the support of her husband, began creating cosmetics for the models in their shows.
In 1973 she launched Fashion Fair cosmetics, which has grown into the world’s largest black-owned beauty brand.
Madam C.J. Walker
The first self-made, female millionaire in America and a marketing magician, Madame C.J. Walker transformed every black woman’s beauty hair-care routine when she released ‘Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower’, which focused on preventing stress and hygiene related scalp disease. It has since been argued that this was a fraudulent imitation of her former co-worker, Annie Malone’s initial invention, however, this rose to great success and Walker would often state that “There is no royal flower strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it, for whatever success I have attained has been the result of much hard work and many sleepless nights.”
In 1950 Christina Jenkins invented the hair weaving method, still used worldwide by millions of women. She received a patent for her techniques in 1951. Before Christina introduced this method, weaves were only very temporary and often attached to the natural hair with just pins. Jenkins’ method offered a long-term alternative for hair weaves and this changed the game for African-American hairstyling. Christina Jenkins set the foundations for today’s modern methods of hair weaving to develop.
Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid
Fashion model, actress and pioneer in the cosmetics industry for women of colour, Iman would often mix her own formulations for make-up artists to use on her. In 1994, Iman Cosmetics was born and remains one of the most successful beauty brands for dark skin worldwide. From the very beginning of her career in 1975, Iman challenged the notions of mainstream ‘beauty’, bringing black models and diversity to the forefront of the fashion and beauty industry.
Thandie Newton & Kay Montano
When Thandie met Kay, she realised that she had let herself be held back by ‘mainstream’ beauty and never fully embraced her natural beauty for the camera. Thandie ditched the hair relaxants, deciding not to bow to society’s ‘definition of beautiful’. The two first met at a photo shoot for Vogue and since then, they have actively encouraged expression and appreciation of beauty in race and ethnicity through their collaboration and blog Thandiekay.com