How Annie Malone and Madam CJ Walker proceed to encourage Black hair stylists

PEORIA (25News Now) – In the early 1900s, two pioneering women made millions of dollars while, at the same time, making millions of women look and feel more beautiful.

In 2022, Forbes estimates people spent close to $90 billion on beauty products. When it comes to the Black hair industry, the market value is estimated at $3 billion.

Many women have become successful entrepreneurs in the beauty industry, but it all began with two women starting a journey to help Black women have a hair product that would allow them to hold down employment in white spaces.

Now, decades later, both the legacies of Annie Malone and Madam C.J. Walker are living on as the blueprint for entrepreneurship and economic freedom — one hair strand at a time.

Since the beginning of recorded time, Black women have always invested in their hair. Maps were braided into a woman’s head to show people the way north to escape slavery.

“So Madam Walker and Annie Malone really are two giants who deserve to have their stories told,” said Aishah Bilal-Ali, owner of Hairadox.

There are historical discrepancies over which woman became the true first self-made millionaire. Modern history says Walker was the first, but as a student in Annie Malone’s Poro College, Malone’s family says otherwise.

“What I can guess — I know she made $4 million in the early part of Poro, but after that, I’m not quite sure because I don’t have any records of things that I’m aware of that shows she made $10 to $20 million. I don’t know,” said James Agbara Bryson, the great-grandnephew of Annie Malone.

“People want to have this race between who was the first millionaire. I don’t think that’s what we should be focusing on,” said A’Lelia Bundles, Madam CJ Walker’s great-great-granddaughter. “These are two women who built businesses. Who employed thousands of women. Who made it possible for the next generation to get educated. To buy homes to have real estate.”

“More importantly, though, [they were] able to provide thousands upon thousands of jobs in the African American community in terms of entrepreneurship and helping people have their own businesses, work the hours that they want, and work 10 times as much money as they could, in terms of being a domestic servant,” said Bryson.

As the two families of the women sat down together for the very first time, the power of their legacies looked down on them and they knew their ancestors were just the start for so many women to make a name for themselves in the beauty space and capitalize on it.

Jasmyne Williams, a stylist at Hairadox, talked about how much she hopes to make this year.

“Lord willing, hopefully $90k. Maybe 90?” Williams said. “Hopefully. If it’s a good year. If it’s a good year, yes, hopefully $90K.”

Williams’ specialty is braids and protective styling. She says it was the education that came with learning about Black women’s hair that helped increase her clientele and profits.

“Anybody can know how to do things [and] have skills the technical work, but if you don’t have the knowledge behind what you’re doing, what are you really doing and why are you doing it?” Williams said. “I was a part of the braiding program at Woodruff.”

25News reporter Brett Brooks spoke with Audurone Simmons, a hair braiding teacher at Woodruff Technical Center, about what it means to her to be teaching kids this skill.

BRETT BROOKS: “Why is it so emotional for you to be able to teach these kids?”

AUDURONE SIMMONS: “It wasn’t available. I had become a cosmetologist in order to just braid.”

BROOKS: “So that’s important because when you did it, braiding wasn’t a part of it?”

SIMMONS: “And if you did, you would get barred or you would get fined if they caught you working in a shop without a license. I knew it was important for me to get a license. You couldn’t even do nothing in the state.

BROOKS: “How do you feel now seeing it come full circle?

SIMMONS: “I’m loving it. I can see them doing great things with it. I told them: ‘If you decide to go off to college, this is your job. You can make your own hours and you don’t have to worry about that test you have to take. You can just make your money and take off when you have to.’”

In Part Two of this Women’s History Month special, we will dive more into two schools in Peoria that are educating young girls to learn about the cosmetology and beauty industry.

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