(Photo Credit: Madam Walker Family Archives)

In many ways Madam C.J Walker is a patron saint and guiding light for the natural hair industry. Respected as an entrepreneur, activist, philanthropist and innovator, she became known as the first black woman millionaire in America. Her “Walker system” of anti-hair loss products was all homemade, made for black women by a black woman, and sold at a grassroots level. Sarah Breedlove Walker is today credited as a woman who helped to make America, and her blueprint for success continues to be one that many hair care entrepreneurs are following to this day. Her innovation in sales is seen as a predecessor for the direct sales model used in companies like Avon, Mary Kay and more. Talk about legacy.

(Photo Credit: Madam Walker Family Archives)

Another way the legacy continues is through the Madam C.J Walker Beauty Culture line of products, which is available for sale at Sephora. If you’re not already, get familiar. The work they’re doing with this brand is an intentional tribute, made for the natural hair consumer who values quality ingredients and brand heritage.

The brand launched to much fanfare in 2016 and continued with “I Can Because She Did,” a successful campaign that furthered the message that because Madam C.J Walker paved the way, now modern generations can fulfill their own entrepreneurial aspirations.

(Photo Credit: Madam Walker Family Archives)

I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the brand’s best sellers, and I am impressed so far. If you’re looking for an introductory product to try, I’d recommend the Madam C.J Walker Beauty Culture Custom Hair Masque Cocktail Kit. It includes their Dream Come True Wonderful Deep Conditioning Masque and small bottles of brassica seed oil, Jamaican black castor oil and coconut oil for cocktailing – a super cute package that’s perfect for naturalistas seeking hydrating and conditioning options. Click here to browse their full line at Sephora.com – they really do have an inclusive, interesting range of products for multicultural, highly textured hair needs.

I wanted more insight on the brand, an understanding of the concept and intent. What led them to launch in Sephora? How does the Madam C.J Walker brand differ from the Sundial brands we already know? I got answers from Richelieu Dennis, CEO of Sundial Brands and A’Lelia Bundles, great-great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker and official Madam C.J. Walker historian and biographer. Here we go!

First up, Richelieu Dennis, CEO of Sundial Brands:

Afrobella: How does Madam C.J. Walker differ from SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage in terms of product offerings? What does this new brand mean for your existing brands?

Richelieu Dennis: Each of our brands is separate and distinct, so they are fully independent.  In the case of Madam C.J. Walker, we have launched a prestige beauty line that ushers in two beauty breakthroughs, including first-to-market encapsulations.  Our Dual Encapsulation Technology infuses hair with two natural oils – one reparative, the other, style-enhancing – to deliver nourishment exactly where hair needs it most. Tiny microspheres infuse hair with targeted, time-released nutrients to rapidly boost conditioning benefits.

Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture was created as a performance-driven line that brings together the most cutting-edge technology with the highest-quality natural ingredients – think all the performance you’ve ever wanted combined with all of the natural goodness that you count on to keep your hair healthy…Shea, Coconut, Jamaican Black Castor, Moringa and Murumuru Oils. This comes along with our first-to-market Brassica Seed Oil, bringing the benefits of broccoli to hair! Each formulation also delivers impeccable nourishing and style-enhancing results without the use of parabens, sulfates, formaldehydes, or phenoxyethanol. All of our products include effective amounts of natural botanical oils, butters and extracts, specifically selected for formulations to bring hair to its natural healthy state while ensuring the lasting style benefits many women desire.

Afrobella: One thing I find particularly interesting is the decision to launch at Sephora. Can you speak a little about the decision to launch this historic African American legacy brand at Sephora?

Richelieu Dennis: We chose to partner with Sephora on the launch of Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture because this launch represents another step forward in our rich history and continues Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy to help women feel confident to embark on the life they desire.  In addition, it means that textured hair women, including many women of color, will have more options for products that serve them and meet their needs when they walk into their stores or are searching and shopping online. We know that Sephora’s goal is to build out its prestige hair-care offer, especially ranges for women with textured hair and they want to meet the needs of all of our community with the right offer.  We could think of no better brand than Madam C.J. Walker to sit among other iconic beauty brands and offer high-quality solutions – whether for kinky, coily, curly, wavy, or straight/heat-styled hair.  The folks over at HelloBeautiful said it best when they wrote, “This partnership is set to earn Madam C.J. Walker a place in beauty history again with a business venture that now spans centuries. We are so excited to see our Black female heroes celebrated not only by us, but by the world.” We too think it’s time the world celebrated Madam Walker.

A’Lelia Bundles is the great-great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker and official Madam C.J. Walker historian and biographer. She’s the author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, which is being developed into a series starring Octavia Spencer (can’t wait for that)! I had to get her perspective on her great-great grandmother’s legacy and the new brand that bears the family name.

(Photo Credit: Madam Walker Family Archives)

Afrobella:  What do you think Madam C.J. Walker would think about Sundial?

A’Lelia Bundles: Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture is taking what Madam Walker envisioned more than 100 years ago to a fresh, new level with products and formulas I believe she might have imagined for the 21st century. In one of her last speeches, Madam Walker emphasized the importance of healthy hair – whether curly-kinky, straight, wavy, or in-between – each style beautiful in its own uniqueness. With this line, every woman can have healthier hair while also confidently expressing her beauty in the best way possible – hers.

Afrobella:  A’Lelia, as Madam C.J. Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, how do you feel about her legacy continuing in this way, with Sundial? 

A’Lelia Bundles: I’m thrilled that Sundial has introduced this line of hair care products bearing Madam Walker’s name. Her place as an icon – in women’s history, African American history and as an entrepreneur – already was in tact. And it’s been a privilege for many years to share her inspirational story with others as her biographer. But there’s always been a missing piece for me and that was being able to link her legacy as a beauty industry pioneer with today’s exciting hair care and hair styling initiatives.

When Madam Walker founded her company in 1906, she insisted on using the highest quality ingredients and most-up-to-date science. She was an innovator and an early-adopter in everything she did from business practices to new technology. She drove the latest cars – including a Waverly Electric – and illustrated her lectures with slides that would be the equivalent of today’s PowerPoint. So I have to imagine that she would have evolved to embrace the scientific advances that have gone into creating the formulas that make up the four collections of the Madam C. J. Walker Beauty Culture line.

I especially love that the Dream Come True Collection includes scalp treatments and hair conditioners, since these were critical elements of the Madam Walker System of Beauty Culture. Her primary goal was helping her clients have healthy hair, regardless of the texture. So her philosophy and core values are embodied in the new line.

Afrobella: What do you think about the fact that the products are at Sephora vs other retail outlets?

A’Lelia Bundles: Although I’ve shopped at Sephora for make-up for many years, I honestly didn’t realize that they carried hair care products. It’s my understanding that they approached Sundial because they realized they were missing a key market.

I think it’s an interesting strategy that we’re all hoping will provide options for women with various textures and various styling goals in what’s called the prestige market. The price point is higher, but I honestly think the quality merits the price.

My guess is that I’m like a lot of women who have a hair products “grave yard” of jars and bottles that cost less, but that I no longer use because they didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. I like a bargain just like the next person, but I also think I’m worth the splurge! And I’d rather buy one of something that works than have five or ten of something else that I never use.

Afrobella: What do you think Madam C.J. Walker would think about the modern natural hair movement?

A’Lelia Bundles: I think Madam Walker would be very comfortable with today’s natural hair movement. I’m sure you are one of the people who knows that Madam Walker did not invent the hot comb! But because of myths and misinformation, it might surprise some people to learn that Madam Walker was more concerned about healthy hair than straight hair.

Like many women during the late 1800s and early 1900s – when most Americans lacked indoor plumbing and electricity – she washed her hair so infrequently that she suffered from severe dandruff and scalp infections. As a result, she was going bald. Her original products – a vegetable shampoo and an ointment that contained sulfur – were designed to make her scalp healthier so her hair would grow.

She told a reporter in 1919, “Let me correct the erroneous impression held by some that I claim to straighten hair. I deplore such impression because I have always held myself out as a hair culturist. I grow hair.” She wanted women to feel good about themselves regardless of their hair texture. And she also provided opportunities for them to become economically independent as her sales agents and beauty culturists.

Afrobella: Which products are your favorites?

A’Lelia Bundles: I love the Dream Come True Pre-Wash Protein Treatment and the Co-Wash from the Jamaican Black Castor & Murmuru Oils Collection. The Brassica Seed Oil and the Jamaican Black Castor Oil are great for adding light sheen. My hair is really responding to everything in the Coconut & Moringa Oils Collection.


To learn more, check out their official website, MCJWBeautyCulture.com. Historical photos provided by Madam Walker Family Archives.

Are you familiar with Madam C.J Walker Beauty Culture, bellas? Have you tried any of their products? Which do you want to try the most?


Pets says:
March 3, 2017, 10:22 pm
Beautiful link between the history and intent of this brand and the modern methods being used to continue that historical legacy.
Camgie says:
March 5, 2017, 8:35 pm
This devotee of the Jamaican Black Castor and Murumuru Oils Collection since November is sure that Madam Walker in heaven is smiling down on her healthy, shining and growing 4c hair styled without heat in finger coils that everyone admires--and I mean everyone! Thank you so much, Mr. Dennis and Ms. Bundles! I also use the Dream Come True Deep Conditioner. I have been told that my hair looks both elegant and modern. A very big plus is the smell! Mr. Dennis, I love the Shea Moisture lines, but the fragrance of MCJWBC is incomparable. How I wish this had been around twenty-five or thirty years ago when I was still a grad student and first went natural! My dear Afrobella, congratulations on this well-written entry. I love your website.