“I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South . . . I have built my own factory on my own ground.”
-Madam Walker, 1912
A pioneer in the Black hair care industry, Madam C. J. Walker worked her way out of poverty and on to become the first woman millionaire in the 19th century. The self-made entrepreneur founded her own business and began selling her products door to door. At the time of her death, Madam Walker’s estate had an estimated value of $600,000 to $700,000 (now equivalent to over $6 million).
In the years after Walker’s successes, Black-owned hair care businesses flourished. Today, Koreans, as well as international big names like L’Oreal Paris (manufacturer of products such as Soft Sheen Carson and Dark & Lovely), dominate the Black hair care industry.
Although Black women make up less than 10% of the U.S. population, they buy 70% of the wigs and extensions purchased in this country. And the vast majority of these dollars do not go back into our communities, or to support our Black businesses. Instead, billions of dollars in revenue is pumped out of our pockets and into the bank accounts of other ethnic groups that, in return, blacklist Black-owned businesses. Koreans control an estimated 80% of the retail and wholesale distribution of Black hair care products, especially professional products that are sold in beauty supply stores only.
In 2006, filmmaker Aron Ranen explored this phenomenon in the documentary, “Black Hair.” He found that one of the ways these merchants ensure the domination of the market is by publishing publications for Black beauty storeowners solely in Korean. Another method is by creating their own line of products, or buying out existing Black-owned companies. Kizure Products, a Black-owned company that specializes in curling irons, was blacklisted by Koreans and told that their products were no longer in demand, when that was far from the truth. “I don’t see a reversal of this at all. It’s just getting deeper and deeper,” Dr. Edward Tony Lloneau, a hair and scalp specialist, told Ranen.