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The 4 Pioneers of the Beauty Industry

Woman and scarf with text

Although many people all over the globe make significant contributions to the beauty industry every day, we assessed the last century and looked at four women in particular who helped shape the cosmetic industry as we know it today.

All four of them were born in a time where owning these items were considered a luxury, and took it upon themselves to pioneer the future of larger scale and more affordable cosmetics.

Most started with little to no money to their name, but with a certain vigour and great determination, they built empires that would build the foundation for nearly all the beauty products today.

Madam CJ Walker

“Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.” Madame C. J. Walker

Madam CJ Walker portrait

Born Sarah Breedlove, Mrs CJ Walker was born into a large family who had only just gained freedom from slavery. While working as a laundress, she learned about haircare from her brothers, who were barbers. She, like many other African-Americans, suffered from a range of scalp problems due to the use of caustic lye products.

She started her journey in the cosmetics business by working as a salesperson for another brand, after adopting her third husband’s surname.

With her foot in the door in the beauty industry, she devoted all her time to learning the ropes, listening to feedback directly from customers and began formulating her line of cosmetics and haircare products, specially designed for use by African-American women.

The rapid growth in her business began when she started selling her products door to door. She started including beauty parlours, a training school for sales agents and eventually grew to expand to establish a laboratory, manufacturing plant as well as offices in New York.

For the remainder of her life, she continued to be a philanthropist of note, donating to numerous causes and personally addressed campaigns for the advancements of African-American rights.

Helena Rubinstein

I fell in love with beauty a long, long time ago, but what I wanted was to create beauty – not to be blinded by it.” Helena Rubinstein

As a young woman, Helena moved to Australia with little to no prospects but for a beauty cream she crafted using sheep’s lanolin in the Australian outback. With her petite stature and a perfectly creamy complexion, she drew the attention of an investor, and her cream was selling as fast as she could make it.

According to historians, it was not only her business savvy that helped her reach such enormous heights in the beauty business, but also because she was a pioneer in the use of pseudo-science in marketing, wearing her lab coat in many advertisements, and introducing the concept of ‘problem’ skin types.

Helena went on to expand her business to the UK, and eventually the USA, keeping up the luxurious nature of her product and mirroring this in its packaging and presentation. The product brand still lives on today through L’Oreal.

Elizabeth Arden

“It is remarkable what a woman can accomplish with just a little ambition.” Elizabeth Arden

Elizabeth Arden

Florence Graham, as she was known then, started her journey into the cosmetic world when she worked as a cashier in a salon in New York, where she closely observed the practices and how the formulas were concocted.

In partnership with a woman named Elizabeth, the two opened the Red Door Salon. The partnership faltered but Elizabeth took her former partner’s name for signage and added a new surname. That’s how the name Elizabeth Arden was born.

In the years leading up to Elizabeth’s business, makeup was seen by some as being without class, and she pioneered the way to it becoming mainstream. She was uncommonly business savvy and philanthropic, and can be thanked for single-handedly pioneering the beauty concepts we take for granted these days, such as the art of makeup and its application.

Estée Lauder

“When I thought I couldn’t go on, I forced myself to keep going. My success is based on persistence, not luck.” Estée Lauder

Estée Lauder portrait

Combined with her fascination with her chemist uncle’s creams and business-orientated ingenuity, Estée saw opportunity in giving her products alluring names and making sales by targeting the average American woman in a world where only the rich could afford luxuries of this caliber.

She knew exactly how to spark desire for cosmetics in the women around her, and was considered one of the most influential business women of the 20th century, according to Time magazine. Her humble perfumed bath foam dominated sales, since the alternative was a costly, mere dab of French perfume, which the average American woman of the time could not afford.

Estée is considered a giant in the beauty industry and continues to inspire people everywhere even today, that humble beginnings do not necessarily mean that you cannot accomplish great things.

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