For centuries, Black women have constantly searched high and low for the right hair care products that cater to all of our hair care needs, and now that we are in a time where haircare is more prioritized within the beauty realm, we can now give back to our ancestors by helping to further their vision of what they once envisioned for us.
It’s been over 100 years since we’ve seen the likes of one of the most pivotal Black women leaders in history, Madam C.J. Walker, and though gone, she's never forgotten- A’Lelia Bundles, (the great great great granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker) and Cara Sabin the (CEO of Sundial Brands, the parent company of MADAM by Madam C.J. Walker) are honoring Walker’s legacy with a new hair care line that features damage fortifying remedies to respect, protect, and perfect all hair textures and styles. MADAM by Madam C.J. Walker is here after 100 years of history, and we had the chance to sit down with A’Lelia and Cara one on one to discuss more about the collection's importance within the beauty industry, as well as highlighting the history of furthering Madam C.J Walker's mission.
Gabrielle Tazewell: Can you both talk to me about your background? How were you introduced to the beauty industry and what made you want to continue doing the necessary work to make it more inclusive?
A’Lelia Bundles: Thanks so much, Gabrielle! I’m so excited about these new products!
I was literally introduced to the beauty business when I was born! Both my parents worked in the hair care industry. My mother, A’Lelia Mae Perry Bundles, was vice president of the Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company that had been founded by her great-grandmother. My father, S. Henry Bundles, was president of Summit Laboratories best known for Hair Strate and Pre-Con Gel. When I visited my mother’s office in the Walker Building in downtown Indianapolis during the 1950s and 1960s, I would play on her typewriter and adding machine – long before computers and calculators – and we would stop by the factory where two long time Walker Company employees filled tins of Walker’s Hair and Scalp Ointment by hand.
Our family vacations often included time at hair trade shows and visits with my parents’ friends who owned beauty supply stores in cities across America. I remember riding with my father on Saturdays as he did sales calls at Black barbershops and as he checked the shelves in neighborhood drug stores to measure how much shelf space his products had. I also worked in my father’s office during the summers filing orders from beauty supply wholesalers. So, I definitely grew up immersed in the business of hair.
I’m committed to making sure that Black women and girls feel confident, valued, and empowered. We know that how we feel on the inside is the most important ingredient to how we deal with the world and how we handle stress and daily challenges. Having products that are designed for us can make our morning routine easier and knowing that someone cared enough about our needs to create something just for us can make us feel seen.
AB: I love the Scalp to Strand System because it pays homage to Madam Walker’s original goals of promoting healthy scalps and healthy hair. Madam Walker’s key products – her Vegetable Shampoo and her Wonderful Hair Grower – were revolutionary when she founded her company in 1906. Her Walker System addressed the specific needs of the times when there were very few commercially available hair care options for Black women. MADAM by Madam C. J. Walker’s innovative formulas benefit from more than a century of research and development specifically focused on textured hair. It’s important to me that Sundial’s team has employed science and technology to take Madam Walker’s original ideas to a new and equally effective level.
GT: Can you talk to us a bit more about what customers can expect to see from the MADAM by Madam C.J. Walker line? How is this brand helping us to heal not only our hair, but our line of ancestry?
CS: The last part of your question, is a tall order for one brand to solve but Sundial has always been committed to investing in and supporting the Black community. Customers can expect a line that celebrates the multi-dimensionality of women with textured hair, enabling them to switch it up while promoting a healthy scalp, stronger hair, and unlimited styling possibilities. The products were created for polycultural women who proudly lead their lives. By offering products that allow women the freedom and confidence to style their hair the way they want, women can feel unbothered by society's ideals of how they should look, feel, and present themselves.
GT: For those who are unfamiliar with the notable beauty icon, can you tell us a little about Madam C.J. Walker’s mission? Why was she so pivotal in changing the hair care industry and how is MADAM by Madam CJ Walker furthering that mission?
AB: Madam C. J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 on a Delta, Louisiana cotton plantation where her parents were very poor sharecroppers. She was orphaned at seven, widowed at 20 with a two-year old daughter, and an underpaid washerwoman until she was 38. Absolutely no one would have predicted that she would become a millionaire by the time she died in 1919 at Villa Lewaro, her mansion on the Hudson River in New York.
Madam Walker’s initial mission of helping her customers have healthy scalps and healthy hair eventually evolved into a dual mission that included empowering women to become more financially independent and more politically active. She knew that hair had an impact on self-image and self-confidence, but she came to realize that her customers and her sales agents also were interested in improving their economic status for themselves, their families and their communities.
Madam Walker helped change the hair care industry by developing a high-quality product, by instituting creative marketing and promotion campaigns, by traveling throughout the United States and the Caribbean to train thousands of Black women as her sales agents and by encouraging those women to be leaders in their communities.
GT: It’s truly incredible to see an uprise in Black-owned beauty brands that are solely led by Black women. Can you talk to me more about your own personal journeys that have led you to where you are today?
AB: While I grew up in a family where hair care was center stage, my personal passion was writing. My parents encouraged me to pursue a career as a journalist. In a lovely twist of fate, while I was at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in the mid-1970s, Phyllis Garland (a former reporter for Jet and Ebony and the only Black woman on the faculty) recognized my name A’Lelia and realized that I had a family connection to Madam Walker and her daughter, A’Lelia Walker. It was Phyllis who insisted that I write my master's project about Madam Walker. Throughout my 30-year career as a producer and executive with NBC News and ABC News, I continued to research and write books and articles about the Walker women. Knowing the details of their inspiring story and how they paved the way for generations of Black women creators led me to this amazing partnership with Sundial Brands and Walmart.
I’m also old enough to have had a personal hairstyle journey that spans seven decades from chemical perms and blow-dried coifs to giant Afros and short naturals. As Black women, we are too often told that our natural hair is not enough, that it doesn’t measure up to a European standard of beauty. I’m so glad to have lived long enough to see initiatives like the CROWN Act and to see so many Black women of power and influence confidently rocking their textured hair. Because my personal hair texture and your personal hair texture are a mixture of the combined DNA of all our ancestors, we each have a slightly different hairstyle journey. Your hair is probably different from your mother’s, your sister’s and your daughter’s. It can take many years to truly become comfortable with our hair and to learn how it responds to products, to weather and to the seasons. I’m hoping that MADAM by Madam C. J. Walker will allow those who try it to find exactly what they need for healthy scalps and versatile styling options.
GT: (What if any) is some advice you can give to our 21Ninety readers wanting to break ground in the beauty/haircare realm? How is MADAM by Madam C. J. Walker living proof that they too can achieve their dreams and live out their goals?
AB: Madam Walker said that people often asked her the secret to her success. Her advice was first to have an excellent product with the highest quality ingredients, to market it with enthusiasm, and to train and mentor a strong sales force. She had a great instinct for surrounding herself with talented people on her executive team. She also believed in giving back. At her first national convention in 1917, she told her sales agents: “Your first duty is to humanity.”
Because she wanted them to be business and civic leaders, she gave prizes not just to the women who sold the most products but also to those who contributed the most to charity in their communities. Selling hair care products was just a part of Madam Walker’s success. It really was her entrepreneurial vision, her philanthropy, her awareness of the world around her and her ability to empower others that shape her enduring legacy.