Barbie honors Madam C.J. Walker with doll in ‘Inspiring Women’ series

A new doll from Barbie’s inspiring women series honors Madam C.J. Walker, whose hair-care business made her the first documented self-made female millionaire. 

“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, 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’s exciting to see Walker honored alongside these figures.

“It’s great to have her in that company,” Bundles told the IndyStar, part of the USA TODAY Network.

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The Madam C.J. Walker doll dons a stylish turquoise and purple dress and comes with a “Madam C.J. 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 that said to me, those are her favorite colors,” Bundles said. Since many photos from the early 20th century are in 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, signaling that she knew fabric and loved clothes.

Walker’s hair care and cosmetics products were an important part of her legacy, so representing those products was crucial as well, Bundles said. The accessory is based on the original container for the product.

“We wanted to focus on the fact that she manufactured hair care products and to make to make the young people and and the adults who love it think about her being a businesswoman,” Bundles said.

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Though Black dolls are more common than they used to be when she was a girl, Bundles said it’s extremely meaningful to have Walker represented in this way.

“It’s still very special to me that Madam Walker is part of a Barbie series because I know Barbie is international and reaches millions of people,” she said. “So it just really gives her a new exposure to an entirely new generation as well as the longtime Barbie collectors who are very passionate about it.”

Madam C.J. Walker is being honored with a doll as part of Barbie's "Inspiring Women Series."

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 formerly enslaved parents, who became sharecroppers, in Louisiana. By 20, she was widowed with a young daughter.

Walker’s hair care products were born out of necessity because she started suffering from an ailment that caused her to lose her hair. She tested many homemade remedies, which resulted in Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula.

Walker changed her name after marrying Charles J. Walker, a newspaperman.

Walker traveled through the South and southeast selling her hair products door-to-door, and temporarily moved her base to Pittsburgh to train “hair culturists” 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, hair and manicure salon and an additional training center, and contributed $1,000 to the building fund for the Black YMCA in Indianapolis, earning her notoriety in the Black press nationwide.

In 1916, Walker moved to New York, before passing away in 1919. Her legacy lives on.

Contributing: Dawn Mitchell, Indianapolis Star.

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