Barbie pays tribute to Madame CJ Walker with a doll in the series “Inspiring Women”
A new doll in Barbie’s Inspirational Women series pays homage to Madame CJ Walker, whose hair-care business made her the first documented self-made millionaire woman.
“As a pioneer of entrepreneurship, philanthropy and activism, creating the model for the self-made American businesswoman and 20th century innovators, Madame CJ Walker is an embodiment of our Barbie Inspiring Women series” , said Lisa McKnight, executive vice president and global head of Barbie and dolls for Mattel, said in a statement.
Mattel’s “Inspiring Women Series” has previously included Ida B. Wells, Ella Fitzgerald, and Maya Angelou, among others. A’Lelia Bundles, Walker’s great-great-granddaughter who wrote her biography, said it was exciting to see Walker honored alongside such figures.
“It’s great to have him in this business,” Bundles told IndyStar, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
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Madame CJ Walker doll wears an elegant turquoise and purple dress and comes with a “Madame CJ Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower” accessory.
Bundles said she worked with Barbie designer Carlyle Nuera on skin color, hair and fashion for the Walker doll. Walker’s stationery was purple, lavender and turquoise, “so it told me, those are her favorite colors,” Bundles said. Since many early 20th century photos are black and white, Bundles wanted the Walker doll to have a colorful outfit.
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Walker was also a washerwoman for many years, Bundles said, reporting that she knew the fabric and loved the clothes.
Walker’s hair care and cosmetic products were an important part of her legacy, so representation of those products was also crucial, Bundles said. The accessory is based on the original container of the product.
“We wanted to focus on the fact that she made hair care products and make young people and adults who love her think she was a businesswoman,” Bundles said.
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Although black dolls are more common than they were when she was a girl, Bundles said it was hugely significant that Walker was portrayed in this way.
“It’s always very special to me that Madame Walker is part of a Barbie series because I know Barbie is international and touches millions of people,” she said. “So it really gives her new exposure to a whole new generation as well as long-time Barbie collectors who are very passionate about her.”
Walker’s Barbie is available for purchase on Mattel, Walmart, and Amazon for $35.
Walker’s Legacy as an Entrepreneur, Activist
Walker was born Sarah Breedlove in 1867 on a cotton plantation to once-slave parents turned sharecroppers in Louisiana. At 20, she was widowed with a young daughter.
Walker’s hair care products were born out of necessity as she began to suffer from an illness that caused her to lose her hair. She tested many home remedies, which resulted in Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a revitalizing and healing formula for the scalp.
Walker changed her name after marrying Charles J. Walker, a journalist.
Walker traveled throughout the South and Southeast to sell her hair products door-to-door and temporarily moved her base to Pittsburgh to train “hair growers” at Lelia College, which she founded.
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But she was drawn to the black business scene in Indianapolis and moved her headquarters to the city in 1910. She built a factory, a hair and nail salon, and an additional training facility, and contributed $1,000 $ to the building fund of the Black YMCA in Indianapolis, gaining notoriety in the black press nationwide.
In 1916 Walker moved to New York, before passing away in 1919. His legacy lives on.
Contributor: Dawn Mitchell, Indianapolis Star.