5 Women Who Defined Black Excellence in the Beauty Industry


March 25, 2024

We thank these daring women for giving us options and ease!

In our rich Black history, there are extraordinary Black women who defied the odds, challenged norms, and redefined beauty standards. Among these stand Annie Turnbo Malone, Madam C.J. Walker, Anita Patti Brown, Eunice Johnson, and Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty—visionaries whose work has revolutionized the beauty industry, leaving a legacy of empowerment and inclusion.

Annie Turnbo Malone / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Annie Turnbo Malone and Madam C.J. Walker emerged as pioneers of the African American beauty industry, pioneering entrepreneurs who developed hair care and beauty products tailored to Black women’s needs. Born to formerly enslaved parents, Malone and Walker understood the significance of appearance in a society that is often judged based on Eurocentric beauty standards. They embarked on a journey to empower Black women, creating products, establishing beauty schools, and building successful businesses that employed hundreds of African Americans, predominantly women.

Madame C.J. Walker / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Annie Turnbo Malone, born in 1869 in Metropolis, Illinois, recognized early on that grooming represented more than personal style for African American women—it signified social status. Facing the challenges of a segregated and sexist society, Malone persevered, establishing her business empire with products like the “Hair Grower” and Poro College Company. Similarly, Madam C.J. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove in 1867, transformed her personal hair struggles into a thriving enterprise. Through her renowned Wonderful Hair Grower and Lelia College, Walker became America’s first self-made female millionaire, inspiring generations to come.

Anita Patti Brown /Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Anita Patti Brown, celebrated as the “Bronze Tetrazzini” of her time, transcended the boundaries of music to become a pioneer in the beauty industry. Leveraging her fame, Brown founded Patti’s Beauty Emporium, offering cosmetics and perfumes tailored to Black consumers. She ran ads for Patti’s Beauty Emporium’s Brazilian toilette luxuries in early editions of The Crisis, the NAACP’s quarterly magazine. Her strategy would be later adopted by Rihanna.

Eunice Johnson / Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Eunice Johnson, the visionary force behind Fashion Fair, shattered racial barriers and boldly established a new affirmation of Black beauty. Established in 1973, Fashion Fair became the first international prestige cosmetics brand for darker skin tones, breaking stereotypes and celebrating the diversity of Black beauty, the Council for International African Fashion Education highlights. Johnson’s commitment to representation and empowerment resonated beyond the makeup counter, as she used her platform to elevate Black voices and redefine standards of beauty in mainstream culture.

Robyn Rihanna Fenty / Credit: Fenty Beauty

When she became a billionaire, INC. highlighted Robyn “Rihanna” Fenty–acclaimed singer, actress, and fashion icon–as a trailblazer in her own right. She is reshaping the beauty landscape with Fenty Beauty. Inspired by her experiences as a woman of color, Rihanna prioritized diversity and representation, offering an expansive range of foundation shades. Through Fenty Beauty, Rihanna challenged industry standards and ignited a global conversation about inclusivity and self-expression in beauty.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us honor the contributions of these visionary women who transformed beauty. Because of them, we can redefine our beauty on our own terms.

Cover photo: The late Terri Springer, an early model for Fashion Fair Cosmetics / Credit: Ebony Magazine


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