Mattel’s latest release honors the life of entrepreneur, philanthropist and social activist Madame CJ Walker. Coinciding with August’s Black Business Month, the doll is part of Barbie’s inspirational women series.
Madame CJ Walker, born in 1867, was a black American entrepreneur who would go on to become the country’s first millionaire, as documented by Guinness World Records. Best known for creating a successful line of hair and cosmetics products specifically for women of color, her determination has led her to open doors for the next generation of women entering the business. Her legacy includes support for 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 model for the American businesswoman and innovators of the 20th century, Madame CJ Walker is an embodiment of our Barbie Inspiring Women series,” says Lisa McKnight, Executive Deputy. President and Global Head of Barbie and Mattel Dolls. “We are honored to welcome her to this group of pioneering women and introduce more children to her journey of becoming one of the country’s first successful founders.”
Madam CJ Walker doll is dressed in a floral printed blouse paired with a long turquoise skirt. It contains a miniature replica of their original Wonderful Hair Grower product.
Barbie tapped a prolific voice of today, Walker’s great-great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles, for the creation of the doll. as the author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madame CJ Walker, Bundles worked directly with Mattel—from packaging to hair development. The experience was particularly moving for Bundles, who became a doll collector in her adult life when she discovered black doll artists.
“Being able to have Madame CJ Walker included in the Barbie Inspirational Women series means her story will spread across the world in a way never before,” Bundles told Yahoo Life. “Knowing that little girls and little girls will have access to Madame Walker and just that physical symbolism of her story means it’s going to explode exponentially in a way that has never happened before.”
Her great-great-grandmother’s story 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 the big girls – women – are as excited about this doll as the little girls are,” shares Bundles. “…that they can take that doll and put it on the shelf in their office and look to it for inspiration.”
“For girls, I think there’s a real message in the way they play,” she adds. “They can look at someone like Madame CJ Walker and maybe see themselves as an entrepreneur – maybe they see themselves as a person involved in social justice.”
The opportunity for Bundles to work with Mattel was particularly exciting after learning about another doll in the series. “Within the Inspirational Women Series, there is another woman – Ida B. Wells – who she was friends with,” shares Bundles. “And then maybe there’s even a chance to have a conversation between the two of them. I just think the possibilities of playing, imagining and seeing yourself 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 tackle a unique challenge in 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 his favorite colors – to brighten things up and make [the doll] feel ahead of fashion.”
Attention to detail is present, even in the box the doll comes in. “We were able to use a vintage photo as the backdrop behind Madame Walker’s 1924 doll and mansion with several hundred of her sales agents. The message on the back, which gives her biography, we actually reviewed this for a period of time. a couple of weeks, just making sure we get all the important points.”
Launched in 2018, Barbie’s Inspirational Women Series pays tribute to incredible heroines of her time; brave women who took risks, changed rules and paved the way for generations of girls to dream more than ever before. Last year, the series paid tribute to Maya Angelou, Helen Keller and Eleanor Roosevelt. Other honorees as part of the Inspirational 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 of civil rights and conservation, respectively.
The launch is another step in Barbie’s commitment to inspiring, exhilarating and encouraging girls everywhere. For Mattel, it’s important that young women not only see themselves reflected in the product and content, but also see role models that came before them. With diversity and inclusion at the forefront, Barbie pledges to continue dedicating resources that directly impact the black community through the Dream Gap Project Fund.
The Madam CJ Walker Barbie is available from August 24th at Walmart, Target, Amazon and Mattel Creations for an MSRP of $35.
Well-being, parenting, body image and much more: discover the who behind hoo with the Yahoo Life newsletter. Sign here.