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It’s Women’s History Month and what better way to celebrate than to appreciate the gains of women in the hair industry. There have been so many accomplishments pioneered by women over the years that today we take for granted. There are many more, but let’s look at 5 women who influenced the hair industry forever.
Martha was the first female to develop an international franchise system called the Harper System. She patented her own line of hair care products and developed a unique system for washing and styling hair that became the foundation for her franchise business which ultimately became known as the salon. A Canadian, Martha immigrated to the United States at a young age but when she around 30 years old, she opened her first salon in 1888 and in time she would go on to open over 500 franchise locations.
The innovation of the salon has had a resounding and lasting effect on the hair industry. Many of her innovations within the salon are still being used to this day as well. She invented reclining shampoo chairs, salon scalp massages and even offered childcare. The salons were open in the evenings and gave haircuts to both men and women.
Martha also developed a hair tonic because she thought the current hair products on the market were doing more harm than good. She used her own hair to advertise her product as her hair was so long it reached the floor. It was thick and healthy which was the greatest advertisement she could have.
Her first franchisee started in Buffalo, NY and then later expanded to Chicago. Each salon was owned by a woman. Moreover, the first 100 shops went to poor women. Martha would go to each location and train the franchisees, inspect the salons and make sure that quality was up to par. Although most people have never heard of her, she is one of the most influential women in hair history.
Also an entrepreneur, Walker was an African American civil rights activist in the late 19th and early 20th century who developed a hair care line specifically for African American women. She saw a need for affordable and effective hair care solutions. She went door to door, conducted classes and training for African American women and became a successful business owner selling her product. Her philanthropy was also well-known. She supported education and developed the Madam C.J. Walker College for Hair Culture in Indianapolis to raise the standards of hair care, teaching how to care for hair and how to become a successful entrepreneur themselves.
She became a highly successful woman of color against all odds and persevered to become one of the first female self-made millionaires in America. She made huge strides in the hair industry which only opened the doors for more women and women of color to join the beauty world.
While not a businesswoman, Irene simply started the bob hairstyle. She was a famous ballroom dancer and actress and in 1915 she decided to cut her hair prior to a surgery. At the time it was not common for women to have their hair short so while she was recovering, she wore her hair in a turban. But her friend convinced her to wear it short in public. This short haircut was eventually named the ‘Castle Bob.’ The look was short hair with curls at the bottom. Because she was already famous, the hairstyle spread, and soon other celebrities and women wore their hair short too.
While the bob hairstyle during this time was considered undesirable, it became a symbol of the women’s suffrage movement. Women wore shorter hair because it was more convenient, easier to manage when they were becoming more active and athletic. More women were rejecting common practices and politics. Instead, they were actively campaigning for their right to vote pushing for more rights and freedoms. So the bob became popular on accident. But it was bound to happen, and it couldn’t have happened at a more appropriate time.
In the 1950’s, after the bob had been around for 35 years, famous celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Jean Seberg popularized the pixie. Even shorter than the bob, it meant freedom, gender fluidity and nonconformity. It became completely accepted after the move Roman Holiday where Audrey Hepburn cuts off her own hair to symbolize new beginnings. Over time, the pixie has evolved to become even shorter and styled a variety of ways.
An African American woman named Christina Jenkins was the first to develop a hair weaving technique. This invention became so popular that she was invited to other countries to teach her technique. Prior to Christina’s method, hair was clipped onto the scalp, but they didn’t securely stay on the hair. Christina’s method involved an interweaving process that took hours to do but could be left for a few weeks. It worked by interlocking strands of real hair with supplemental hair which was tied together by a cord-like material. This method paved the way for new innovations in the weaving process. Today, there are not only sewn-in weaves but also clip-ins and tape-in weaves.
The hair industry is filled with many inspiring, successful women. From centuries ago through today, we have seen the hair industry grow and evolve. New inventions, techniques, products and styles are constantly being developed. But today’s accomplishments and ideas could not have come without those prior. In honor of Women’s History Month, we hope you take the time to honor the women who have paved the way.
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