When you think of the major beauty influencers, names like Elizabeth Arden, Estée Lauder, Mary Kay, and even Coco Chanel might come to mind. But there's one often overlooked pioneer who's been bringing beauty to women since 1905 — years before these iconic businesswomen — and that's Madam C.J. Walker. Well, the team over at Sundial (which owns brands like Nubian Heritage and natural-hair fave SheaMoisture) is hoping to help put Walker and her accomplishments on the same pedestal — and within the same constellation — as other well-known influencers. And it's doing so by reincarnating her beauty products and, along with them, her legacy. When the name Madam C.J. Walker comes up in conversation, the first title that most people slap on her is "first female American self-made millionaire" — an accolade listed in the 1910 Guinness Book of World Records. And while this is obviously an impressive feat and one any entrepreneur would love to accomplish, Sundial CEO Richelieu Dennis wants her reputation to reach beyond that. He wants people to know that she was a trailblazer who brought beauty to women of color — focusing on their needs at a time when no one thought of them as people, let alone beautiful. "We want to tell the broader story; we don't want this to just be a 'Hey, she had a company and she was successful.' It was what she did, how she did it, how she impacted a world that didn't pay any attention to women that looked like her," Dennis says. "We want to make sure that the world also knows how she impacted the culture of beauty, how she helped women of color not just around beauty but around confidence, around economic empowerment." Doing Walker's legacy justice wasn't an easy task. Dennis refers to the process of rebuilding the brand as a labor of love — one that took almost a decade to bring together. "It took us so long to really wrap this together and figure out exactly what would be the most impactful way to bring her legacy back to the forefront," he says. Along the way, the company connected with A'Lelia Bundles, Madam Walker's great-great-granddaughter as well as her official historian and biographer, to make sure that the values and principles remained true to Walker's aesthetic throughout the re-imagination.
"I was so excited because [Dennis and his team] have been so successful, and I could see that they had the capacity to really reimagine Madam Walker's brand — to keep the philosophy of empowering women, of helping women discover their own beauty, and also the idea of community commerce," says Bundles. The line — which goes by the name Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture and will be available March 4th — is taking what Walker originally envisioned and elevating it with new, modern ingredients for the 21st century (no more petrolatum or sulfur, which were present in Walker's products more than 100 years ago). The four-piece prestige collection is meant to serve specific hair-texture needs — whether your tresses are straight, wavy, curly, or coily. There are popular natural ingredients, like coconut and Jamaican black-castor oils, alongside deep conditioners and blowout creams — all of which help users achieve another main goal of Walker's: healthy hair. And by partnering with Sephora for the launch, Dennis hopes to spread these hair benefits and Walker's lasting impact on a wider scale. "There's no reason why people shouldn't think of Madam C.J. Walker the same way they think of Coco Chanel. It's been all too easy to marginalize us over the decades, and it's time for us to stand up and say 'Hey, no, I won't be marginalized,' and this is what we did and we're going to make sure everybody knows that — through all lenses."