BLACK HISTORY MONTH - HAIR & BEAUTY
Have you ever wondered about the origin of hair pomade or who was the founding mother,
creator of the fundamental elements, on which all hair pomades are based today - the product that conditions, renovates, repairs, invigorates, preserves, and grows our crowning glory. Meet Madam C.J. Walker who after suffering from a scalp ailment resulting in her own hair loss, invented a line of African-American hair care products in 1905 that today is known as hair “Pomade”.
Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, on a cotton plantation near Delta, Louisiana. Sarah was the fifth child born to recently freed slaves Minerva and Owen Breedlove and the first in her family to be born free. Following the death of her parents Sarah was sent to live with her older sister and husband. To escape the servitude and ill-treatment she frequently suffered at the hands of her brother-in-law, aged only 14, Sarah married a man named Moses McWilliams. On June 6, 1885, aged 18 Sarah gave birth to a daughter, A'Lelia. Following the death of her husband Moses died two years later, Sarah moved with her daughter to St. Louis, to be near her brothers who had already established themselves as barbers. Sarah found work as a washerwoman earning $1.50 a day and managed to put her daughter through public school while attending night school herself whenever she could.
It was here that Sarah met her second husband Charles J. Walker, whose advertising experience would prove invaluable. Together they would travel the country promoting Walker's philosophy of "cleanliness and loveliness". Eventually Madame C.J. Walker Laboratories was established creating and producing the first black hair care products. This shrewd businesswoman became one of the FIRST AMERICAN FEMALE self-made millionaires.
Madam C.J. Walker’s legacy includes donating the largest amount of money by an African-American toward the construction of an Indianapolis YMCA in 1913.
In 1998, the United States Postal Service honoured her and issued a stamp of Madam C.J. as part of its "Black Heritage" series.
History says that in 1872 a hairdresser named Marcel Grateau created and used a pressing comb on his clientele in Paris, to create what was known as the "Marcel Wave". Now while the meaning of the word "wave" seems to have eluded everyone back then it is clear that it does not mean "straight". So while European women were trying to put "waves" in their hair and the purpose of the pressing comb is to remove the kinks from ours, the question is who created the pressing comb. It was a black woman written out of the history books called Ada Harris, the grandmother of the modern day hair straightener.
Aida Harris was a school teacher from Indianapolis with quite a different story altogether from Madam C.J. Walker in that Ada Harris did not create an empire from her invention. Exerts from the patent not only confirm Ada as the creator but moreover that she specifically created the straightener for "coloured" people.
“Be it known,” the patent application begins, “that I, ADA HARRIS, of Indianapolis, county of Marion, and State of Indiana, have invented a certain new and useful Hair- Straightener.... that when it presses the hair will make it straight. ...My invention relates to a hair straightener whose purpose is to straighten curly hair... and is especially of service to coloured people in straightening their hair”
The patent further stated that the device “heated like a curling iron” with two flat faces held together by a hinge that “when they press the hair, will make it straight.” The distinctive difference with Ada Harris' invention is the addition of a comb that separated the hair while straightening it. It remains a mystery to this day why Ada Harris never did anything with her patent, the first of its kind that has today become an indispensable household staple. Ada's legacy and ground breaking invention might have been omitted from the pages of black history but her legacy of the appliance we use to fix our hair must never be forgotten.
Is it a coincidence that these two entrepreneurs came from Indianapolis or that they were activists and played crucial roles in their community – no, where we are born is simply geography the fact that both women strived in the face of adversity was in their DNA.
Pat McGrath born in 1970, with no formal training, has become one of the most influential and respected make-up artists in the fashion industry and the creative design director of Procter & Gamble. Pat McGrath is constantly in demand to direct and create make-up on the catwalk for the world's biggest fashion houses.
McGrath has attributes her creativity to her mother, Jean McGrath. "She trained me to … look at the pattern, check the fabrics and then the make-up… She was always mixing up colours because there wasn't anything out there for black skin".
Giorgio Armani told Vogue."…She never used cosmetics to try to mask a woman." Pat McGrath's big break came when she received a phone call asking her to go on tour in Japan with Caron Wheeler from Soul II Soul, whose make-up Pat had done three years previously as a favour for a friend.
Today social media grants a platform to YouTube Gurus like Jackie Aina, to follow in the footsteps of the aforementioned icons and continue to campaign for makeup brands to extend their range of foundation shades for black women. To recognise that there are diverse shades of black with equally unique undertones.
CONCLUSION: I don't know if it is not commercially viable to research and produce a wide range of foundation for black skin. No matter I say history has repeated itself as Rhianna recently took up the batten and launched the widest range of foundation shades for black women in history. It seems clear to me that where these creative black entrepreneurs have lead others have had no option but to follow.