More than Makeup: 5 Historic Black Leaders Who Revolutionized the Beauty Industry

More than Makeup: 5 Historic Black Leaders Who Revolutionized the Beauty Industry

You've heard of the legendary Madam C.J. Walker and her hair care empire. But Walker wasn't the only trailblazing Black businesswoman who transformed the beauty industry. From Annie Turnbo Malone's Poro Company to Pat McGrath's billion-dollar makeup line, stunning Black leaders have been breaking barriers and making their mark on the world of cosmetics and personal care for over a century. 

In this article, you'll meet five powerhouse Black women who revolutionized beauty, inspired legions of entrepreneurs, and opened doors for women of color. Discover how Iman forged a path for models of all backgrounds and how Lisa Price turned a homemade hair product into a multimillion-dollar business. These women made history while making women feel beautiful. Now, it's time to celebrate their groundbreaking legacies.


As a Black woman, Madam C.J. Walker knew firsthand the difficulties of finding hair care products that actually worked for her. In the early 1900s, she revolutionized the beauty industry by creating specialized hair care products for Black women. Her namesake company employed over 3,000 people and made Walker the first female self-made millionaire.

Like Walker, Annie Turnbo Malone saw a need for hair care products tailored to the unique needs of Black hair. Her Poro brand cosmetics and hair care line led to her founding the Poro College, which trained over 75,000 beauticians.

Makeup artist Pat McGrath is a pioneer in her own right. Dubbed the "most influential makeup artist in the world" by Vogue, McGrath's work has graced over 1,000 magazine covers and countless runway shows. She founded her own eponymous cosmetics line in 2015 to make high-performance beauty products accessible to all.

As the first Black supermodel, Iman knew the struggles models of color faced in finding makeup that matched their skin tones. She founded Iman Cosmetics in 1994 to provide products for women with olive and darker skin.

When Lisa Price couldn't find natural hair and skin care products that catered to Black women, she created her own. Carol's Daughter launched in 1993 and has become a leading natural beauty brand, with products sold in major retailers nationwide. These revolutionary Black leaders transformed the beauty industry, making it more inclusive and paving the way for greater representation. Their stories remind us that real change starts from within.

Madam C.J. Walker: America's First Self-Made Female Millionaire

As an African American woman in the early 1900s, Sarah Breedlove - who later became known as Madam C.J. Walker - faced immense challenges and obstacles. Yet through her perseverance, passion for hair care, and entrepreneurial spirit, she overcame adversity to become America's first self-made female millionaire.

Born to former slaves, Madam C.J. Walker grew up in a poor family and was widowed at 20 with a young daughter to support. She began losing her hair, like many African American women at the time, due to harsh hair care practices and products. After experimenting with home remedies and store-bought products with little success, she came across a solution that dramatically improved her hair health and grew her hair back.

Seeing how this product transformed her own hair, Madam C.J. Walker pioneered her own line of hair care products designed specifically for African American hair under the company she founded, Madam C.J. Walker Manufacturing Company. She recruited and trained over 20,000 “Walker Agents” - primarily African American women - who sold her products door-to-door and in beauty salons across the US, Latin America and the Caribbean.

Through her company, Madam C.J. Walker created job opportunities, empowered women, and revolutionized hair care. Her inspiring story of overcoming immense adversity as an African American woman in the early 20th century and achieving monumental success is an inspiration and symbol of hope. Her legacy lives on through her company, which continues to produce hair care products for people of color today.

Annie Turnbo Malone: The "Porro Beauty Magnate"

Annie Turnbo Malone was a pioneer for black entrepreneurs and helped revolutionize the beauty industry. In the early 1900s, she developed hair and skin care products specifically for African American women. Her Poro brand grew into a multi-million dollar business, making her one of the first self-made female millionaires in the U.S.

Malone got her start selling hair products door-to-door that she created herself. She saw an opportunity to help Black women embrace and enhance their natural beauty during a time when mainstream cosmetics were not made for them. In 1902, she founded Poro College, the first cosmetology and training school for Black women. Students there learned how to properly care for Black hair and skin.

Malone's business savvy and passion for empowering women led to great success. The Poro brand grew rapidly through its college, product sales, and a franchising model. At its height, there were over 200 Poro College locations across North America, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa and South America.

Malone's pioneering work and entrepreneurial spirit served as an inspiration for many Black business leaders. She provided jobs, training, and mentorship for thousands of women, helping them build their own careers and financial independence during a time of immense challenges and barriers.

Though not always recognized, Malone's contributions were instrumental in revolutionizing the beauty industry. Her Poro brand demonstrated that cosmetics and hair care for Black women could be highly profitable. This helped pave the way for future Black-owned beauty companies and made the mainstream beauty world take notice. Malone was a true visionary who overcame immense obstacles to build an unprecedented business and change the landscape of beauty.

Pat McGrath: The "Mother" of Modern Makeup

Pat McGrath is one of the most influential makeup artists in the world. Known as the "Mother" of modern makeup, McGrath has been revolutionizing the beauty industry for over 25 years.

Born in Northampton, England to a Jamaican mother, McGrath was fascinated by makeup from an early age. She began experimenting with cosmetics as a teen and eventually dropped out of school to pursue a career as a makeup artist. McGrath started out working for a variety of fashion publications, creating bold and dramatic looks. Her innovative techniques and daring styles quickly garnered attention.

In the 1990s, McGrath led makeup design for designers like John Galliano and Alexander McQueen during London Fashion Week. Her creative and theatrical designs were highly influential. Around this time, McGrath also began consulting for major cosmetic brands like CoverGirl and Dolce & Gabbana.

In 2016, McGrath launched her own makeup brand, Pat McGrath Labs. The brand is known for high-quality, fashion-forward products inspired by McGrath’s work in the fashion industry. Since launching, Pat McGrath Labs has become a global success and cult favorite brand.

Through her decades of work, McGrath has become a pioneer for diversity and inclusiveness in the beauty industry. Her brand offers an unmatched range of shades and products for people of color. McGrath’s unparalleled artistry, visionary designs and advocacy for inclusivity have cemented her status as a revolutionary force in beauty. She continues to inspire new generations of makeup artists and push the boundaries of creative expression.

Iman Mohamed Abdulmajid: Supermodel Turned Entrepreneur

As an internationally renowned supermodel, Iman shattered barriers as one of the first Black women in mainstream fashion. But her impact didn’t end on the runway. In 1994, Iman launched IMAN Cosmetics, a makeup line for women of color. At the time, the beauty industry routinely ignored the skincare and makeup needs of Black women. Iman aimed to change this by creating products that catered to a wide range of skin tones.

A Pioneer for Inclusion

Iman’s cosmetics line filled a void in the market and helped kickstart an important conversation about inclusivity and diversity in beauty. Her foundations and powders came in shades that complemented darker skin, while her skincare products addressed issues like hyperpigmentation. Iman used her platform to advocate for more ethnic diversity in cosmetics and fashion. Over 25 years later, Iman Cosmetics is still championing inclusive beauty.

An Inspiration and Role Model

Beyond business, Iman has served as an inspiration and role model for Black women around the world. As a model, she walked runways in Paris, Milan, and New York at a time when the industry lacked ethnic diversity. Her success helped pave the way for models of color today. Through her cosmetics company and philanthropic work, Iman has also empowered women from disadvantaged backgrounds. She is a true pioneer who has opened doors for generations to come.

Iman’s impact on beauty and culture is immeasurable. As a model and entrepreneur, she has inspired so many and given a voice to issues that truly matter. Iman proves that one person can spark real change and empower others along the way. Her mission to make beauty inclusive lives on.

Lisa Price: Founder of Carol's Daughter

Lisa Price founded Carol's Daughter, a popular beauty brand featuring natural hair and skincare products, in 1993. After making products in her kitchen and selling them at local craft fairs and flea markets, her business grew into a multi-million dollar company.

Price drew on generations of homemade family recipes passed down from her grandmother, Carol, to create high-quality products made with natural ingredients. Her products catered to the needs of Black women and resonated with many who had trouble finding hair products for natural hairstyles.

After gaining popularity, Carol's Daughter products were eventually sold at major retailers like Target, Ulta, and Macy's. The company gained even more mainstream attention when celebrities like Jay-Z, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Mary J. Blige invested in and promoted the brand.

In 2014, Carol's Daughter was acquired by L'Oréal, though Price stayed on as CEO. The acquisition allowed the brand to reach more customers worldwide. Under Price's leadership, Carol's Daughter has become a pioneer of the natural hair movement and inspired many other Black-owned beauty brands.

Price's story is a true inspiration. She built a company from her home kitchen that tapped into an underserved market and revolutionized the beauty industry. Her products cater to the needs of Black women and have empowered many to embrace and celebrate their natural beauty. Through hard work and perseverance, Price achieved the American Dream and created a legacy that will live on for generations.

From haircare pioneers like Madam C.J. Walker and Annie Turnbo Malone, to makeup mavens Pat McGrath and Iman, to skincare queen Lisa Price, these ladies broke barriers and built empires. Their innovative products and business savvy inspired generations of entrepreneurs to follow in their footsteps. And their commitment to celebrating and enhancing Black beauty left an indelible mark on the industry. The next time you're rocking fierce curls or a bold lip, remember it's thanks to trailblazers like these that diverse beauty is finally getting its due. These women prove there's a lot more than makeup when it comes to true beauty - it's confidence, creativity, and courage.

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