In 1906, a washerwoman began making her own hair-growth treatments. With an investment of $1.25, she launched a brand that would eventually make her the first self-made woman millionaire in the United States. Her name was Madam C.J. Walker, and today Mattel is honoring her life as part of Barbie’s Inspiring Women Series.
At press time, the doll was sold out on the Mattel website.
The Walker doll was launched on Aug. 24. Retailing at $35, it’s available for purchase at Walmart, Target, Amazon and Mattel Creations. There reportedly are 58 million Barbies sold annually in 150 countries worldwide.
“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,” Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and dolls for Mattel told Yahoo. “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.”
At the height of the Jim Crow and Progressive Era, Walker, born in 1867, overcame racism and sexism to manufacture a line of hair-care and beauty products to meet the needs of Black women. In addition, Walker opened a factory, a beauty school and several salons specifically to help Black women become successful entrepreneurs. In addition, Walker was a philanthropist who supported the National Association of Colored People, the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Young Men’s Christian Association, as well as several Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Walker’s Legacy Supported Mattel’s Vision
When Mattel decided to depict Walker in doll form, the company didn’t have to do much research. Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, is the author of “On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker,” and is also an avid doll collector.
“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 told 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.”
Bundles collaborated with Mattel to develop Walker’s doll by providing insight to packaging, clothing design and hair development. The outcome: a doll representing a successful Black woman at the turn of the 20th Century. Packaged in a box featuring a background image of Walker posing with several hundred of her sales agents, the Walker doll is wearing a purple floral blouse with a full-length turquoise skirt. These colors were chosen since they were Walker’s favorite colors. The doll holds a replica of the Wonderful Hair Grower product in her hand.
Inspiring Dolls Collection
The Walker doll is the latest in a collection depicting historical figures in American history. The Inspiring Women Series, launched in 2018, features Black women such as Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks, writer Maya Angelou and jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. Journalist, activist and entrepreneur Ida B. Wells, who is also featured in the series, was a friend of Walker’s. Bundles believes this fact will inspire young girls to further consider their work and the obstacles they overcame to become formidable historical figures in the history of the nation.
“…Maybe there’s even a chance to have a conversation between the two,” Bundles told Yahoo. “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.”