Madam. C.J. Walker is the latest role model to be added to Mattel’s Barbie Inspiring Women Series, a collection of dolls that pays tribute to incredible women of their time who took risks, changed rules, and paved the way for younger generations of girls to dream bigger than ever.
Barbie is honoring Walker for her unflinching determination to become a successful entrepreneur with a collectible doll in her likeness.
Who is Madam C.J. Walker?
Born as Sarah Breedlove in 1867 on a Delta, Louisiana cotton plantation, Walker is the first self-made female millionaire in the United States. The daughter of parents who were formerly enslaved and became sharecroppers, Walker achieved enormous success by founding Walker Manufacturing Co., a line of hair care products and cosmetics designed for Black women.
Starting from employing thousands of Black women at her company, Walker went on to become a noted activist and philanthropist, supporting orphanages and Black colleges, and advocating for civil rights organizations and women’s rights.
“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,” said Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and dolls at Mattel, in a statement to CNN Business.
Madam C.J. Walker Barbie Doll
The Madam C.J. Walker Barbie Doll features a version of the entrepreneur wearing a floral printed blouse with ruffled details and a turquoise full-length skirt. “Some of Walker’s favorite colors included rich purples and turquoises, so that’s what I put her in,” the doll lead designer Carlyle Nuera said in an interview with Mattel Creations.
Nuera added that the doll’s final outfit was backed by research with the help of A’Lelia Bundles, the great-great-granddaughter and official biographer of Walker.
“My research into what Walker wore, as well as what was typical of the early 1900s, was supplemented by access to the Walker family archives,” said Nuera. “A’Lelia sent us rare photos, as well as cultural insight for what was ideal for Black women at the time and insight to what Walker herself loved.”
Nuera continued: “I worked with A’Lelia to come up with a multi-dimensional color, a particular curl pattern [for the doll’s hair], and an era-appropriate style with the twist that goes across her head like a crown.”
The Madam C.J. Walker Barbie Doll comes complete with a small replica of the entrepreneur’s Wonderful Hair Grower product. “I wanted to capture Walker in a time in her life where she was selling her Wonderful Hair Grower, at public meetings and private home demonstrations – the true spirit of self-made,” Nuera explained. “So the doll even comes with a mini tin of her Wonderful Hair Grower!”
To make the tiny-sized Wonderful Hair Grower possible, Nuera “worked with Sean Olmos of the Mattel Sculpting Department to create a to-scale tin with lid that comes off to reveal sculpted hair grower inside!”
Graphic designer Jendayi Smith, who created the delicate floral print of the doll’s blouse, was also the one responsible for the accessory’s iconic Wonderful Hair Grower label, “scaling it perfectly to fit onto the lid of the tin, while also still being recognizable,” according to Nuera.
As for the packaging of the Madam C.J. Walker Barbie Doll, packaging designer Laydiana Chiv told Mattel Creations that they deliberately included Walker’s favorite colors in the final look of the box. “My favorite fun detail is that A’Lelia shared with us that Madam C.J. Walker’s favorite colors included lavender and purple – so we used those colors for the package,” Laydiana shared. “It’s almost like [Walker] helped us design it.”
For the Barbie Inspiring Women Series, the doll brand always tries to use a background in the packaging that shares a story related to the person being honored. And for the Madam C.J. Walker Barbie Doll, the insert background image used is Villa Lewaro, the entrepreneur’s estate where she employed many fellow Black people.
The women pictured in the background image were sales agents from the U.S., the Caribbean, and Central America who attended the annual Madam C. J. Walker Beauty Culturists Convention in New York in 1924, five years after Walker’s death.
Where to buy Madam C.J. Walker Barbie Doll
Priced at $35, the Madam C.J. Walker Barbie Doll is now available on the Mattel Creations website.
Barbie Inspiring Women Series
Walker joins Maya Angelou, Billie Jean King, Ella Fitzgerald, Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Katherine Johnson, Frida Kahlo, Rosa Parks, Sally Ride, and Eleanor Roosevelt on the list of role models honored in Barbie’s Inspiring Women Series.