Born Annie Minerva Turnbo in Metropolis, Illinois, Annie while in high school took an interest in chemistry. Due to illness, she frequently missed school, and it was while at home she grew fascinated with hair and hair care that she often practiced hairdressing with her sister. Because of this combined interest, chemistry and hair care, Annie began to create hair care recipes of her own.
Previously many Afrikan American women used goose fat, heavy oils, soap and other harsh products to straighten their thick curls, which damaged both scalp and hair. Annie was able to produce a line of safe non-damaging, hair straighteners, special oils and hair growth products for Afrikan American women. Annie copyrighted her products under the name Poro (which is a West Afrikan name meaning physical and spiritual growth, as well as the name of a Mende male secret society) because she felt that a number of fraudulent imitations or counterfeit versions were on the market. Due to the high demand for her product, in 1904 Annie opened her first shop on 2223 Market St. in St. Louis. Additionally, she launched a large advertising campaign in the black press, held press conferences, toured many southern states and recruited many women she trained to sell her products. She named her signature product “Wonderful Hair Grower” and to promote it, she began selling it from door-to-door.
By the turn of the century, she hired and trained three assistants or “Poro Agents” who went door-to-door marketing her hair care and beauty supplies. One of those selling agents was Sarah Breedlove. This would make Annie Sarah's mentor. According to A’Lelia Bundles the great-great-granddaughter of Madam C.J. Walker, in the late 1890's Breedlove had a scalp condition that caused her to lose most of her hair, and that after experimenting with a variety of treatments she discovered Malone's pomade. It was the effectiveness of Malone's products that lead to Breedlove becoming a Poro agent and her moving to Denver specifically to sell her products. Her Denver stay was short and she moved back to St. Louis and met and married Charles James Walker, a journalist. She changed her name to Madame C.J. Walker, and decided to sell her own products, which included her signature pomade called Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower, which, like Malone's Wonderful Hair Grower, was a scalp conditioning and healing formula. Part of Walker's branding to distinguish herself from Malone, was to create a story. It went something like this:
By the time she was in her late thirties, she was contending with hair loss because of a combination of stress and damaging hair care products. After experimenting with various methods, she prayed on her hair and she was given her hair care formula in a dream.