Barbie honors the nation's first self-made female millionaire, Madam C.J. Walker, with new doll
Mattel's latest release honors the life of entrepreneur, philanthropist and social activist Madam C.J. Walker. Coinciding with August's Black Business Month, the doll is part of Barbie's Inspiring Women Series.
Madam C.J. Walker, born in 1867, was a Black American entrepreneur who would eventually become the nation's first self-made female millionaire, as documented by Guinness World Records. Most known for creating a successful line of hair care products and cosmetics specifically for Black women, her determination led her to open doors for the next generation of women entering business. Her legacy includes supporting the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and several Black colleges.
"As a pioneer in entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and activism, creating the blueprint for the self-made American businesswoman and innovators of the twentieth century, Madam C.J. Walker is an embodiment of our Barbie Inspiring Women series," says Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and dolls for Mattel. "We're honored to welcome her into this group of trailblazing women and introduce more kids to her journey of becoming one of the nation's first widely-successful female founders."
The Madam C.J. Walker doll is dressed in a printed floral blouse paired with a full-length turquoise skirt. It holds a miniature replica of her original Wonderful Hair Grower product.
Barbie tapped a prolific voice of today, Walker's great-great-granddaughter A'Lelia Bundles, for the doll's creation. As the author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, Bundles worked directly with Mattel — from packaging to hair development. The experience was particularly exciting for Bundles who became a doll collector in her adult life when she discovered black doll artists.
"To be able to have Madam C.J. Walker included in Barbie's Inspiring Women Series means her story will go out across the world in a way it never has before," Bundles tells Yahoo Life. "To know little girls and big girls will have access to Madam Walker and just that physical symbolism of her story means it's going to be exploding exponentially in a way it never has before."
Her great-great-grandmother's story has led the former network television executive to pursue a life of service. Bundles currently serves on the boards of the March on Washington Film Festival, Columbia Global Reports and the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard's Radcliffe Institute.
"I hope that big girls — women — will be as excited about this doll as little girls," Bundles shares. "…that they can take that doll and put it on the shelf in their office and look at her as inspiration."
"For little girls, I think there's a real message in the way they play," she adds. "They can look at somebody like Madam C.J. Walker and maybe see themselves as an entrepreneur — maybe see themselves as a person who is involved in social justice."
The opportunity for Bundles to work with Mattel was particularly thrilling after learning about another doll in the series. "Within the Inspiring Women Series, there's another woman — Ida B. Wells — with whom she was friends," Bundles shares. "And so maybe there's even a chance to have a conversation between the two. I just think the possibilities for roleplaying, imagining and seeing one's self in some of these historical figures — it's just a wonderful thing."
Bundles worked with Mattel every step of the way. Together, they were able to face a unique challenge in the clothing design. "We only see black and white photos of women in the early 1900s," shares Bundles. "But we were able to use purple and turquoise — which were two of her favorite colors — to brighten things up and make [the doll] feel fashion-forward."
The attention to detail is carried throughout, even in the box the doll comes in. "We were able to use a vintage photo as the background behind the doll and its Madam Walker's mansion from 1924 with several hundred of her sales agents. The message on the back, that gives her biography, we really went over that over a period of a couple weeks, just making sure we got all of the important points in."
Launched in 2018, Barbie's Inspiring Women Series pays tribute to incredible heroines of their time; courageous women who took risks, changed rules and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before. Last year, the series paid tribute to Maya Angelou, Helen Keller and Eleanor Roosevelt. Others who have been honored as part of the Inspiring Women Series include Billie Jean King, Ella Fitzgerald, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Katherine Johnson, Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks and Sally Ride. Earlier this year, the series recognized Ida B. Wells and Jane Goodall for their heroic advocacy for civil rights and conservation, respectively.
The release is another step in Barbie's commitment to inspiring, uplifting and encouraging young girls everywhere. To Mattel, it's important young girls not only see themselves reflected in product and content, but also that they see role models who've come before them. With diversity and inclusion at the forefront, Barbie vows to continue to dedicate resources that directly impact the Black community through the Dream Gap Project Fund.
The Madam C.J. Walker Barbie is available beginning Aug 24 at Walmart, Target, Amazon and Mattel Creations for a suggested retail price of $35.
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