Many have heard of hair/beauty pioneer Madame CJ Walker, but not many people know about the woman she credits a great deal of her knowledge to; a woman that influenced her path of success—Annie Malone.
Before Shea Moisture, Miss Jessie’s or The Mane Choice, Poro Beauty Products was one of the first haircare and beauty lines developed in the 1890s for black women. Recognized as an African American business woman, inventor, and philanthropist, Annie created products not only for straightening black hair, but she wanted to ensure that her product would not damage it in the process.
Her school Poro College was the first educational institution in the United States dedicated to the study and teaching of black cosmetology. By 1926, the college employed 175 people, and franchised outlets in North and South America, Africa, and the Philippines employing some 75,000 women.
Annie developed a network of franchised agent-operators who operated salons under Malone’s guidelines using Poro products while also becoming the first to patent a hot comb.
A star student she helped and became rather fond of was Madame C.J. Walker. Although much of Annie’s success has been overshadowed by her, it is a known fact that Madame C.J. Walker got her start by selling Annie’s hair care products.
One of the first African American millionaires to be a serial entrepreneur, Annie owned her hair care college and company, a secretarial school, a hotel, and a number a real estate properties (she even owned a whole entire city block in Chicago). She became one of the wealthiest women in the world accumulating a worth $14 million during the 1920s.
However, despite her wealth, Malone lived conservatively and gave away much of her fortune to help other African Americans. Malone donated large sums to countless charities including giving thousands of dollars to HBCUs counting record-breaking gifts in large amounts to Howard University and Tuskegee Institute.
Throughout the years, Annie perfected her craft, continued building her brand, and created many opportunities for other black entrepreneurs. Her manufactured line of beauty products for black women created a unique distribution system that helped tens of thousands of black women become entrepreneurial while gaining self-respect and economic independence, and birthed the legendary career of our beloved Madame C.J. Walker.
This post is the part of The Bag Collector series – a spotlight posts that feature serial entrepreneurs of color each recognized for their ability to diversify in business, wealth and investments. These individuals exemplify what it means to be creative and unapologetic in pursuit of entrepreneurial excellence, and ultimately collect the “bag” then use it to make greater community impact.