February 25, 2024

Mattel has welcomed Black entrepreneur and America’s first documented female self-made millionaire Madam C.J. Walker as the latest Barbie doll in its “Inspiring Women” collection.
Walker is known for her beauty empire, in which she created haircare and makeup products made specifically for Black women, as well as her work as a philanthropist and activist. 

The collection pays tribute to women “who took risks and challenged the status quo” in their lifetimes, setting new precedents for generations of girls, according to Mattel. Walker will join an impressive list that includes Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Maya Angelou and more impressive women.
Walker, née Sarah Breedlove, was born in 1867 on the same plantation in Delta, Louisiana, where her parents were formerly enslaved and became sharecroppers. She was the first in her family to be born free, but was orphaned by the age of 7.
In her 20s, Walker began losing most of her hair, and that’s when she began experimenting with homemade solutions and store-bought products as a cure. She eventually developed the product Wonderful Hair Grower, upon which she built her business. 
Walker settled in Indianapolis, where she built the nation’s largest inland manufacturing center at the time, according to a website about her. She also built a factory, hair and manicure salon, and training school. She would go on to employ thousands of Black workers throughout her lifetime, including in the U.S., South America and the Caribbean.
Her self-made fortune also enabled her to do incredible philanthropic work, such as aiding in the building fund of the “colored” YMCA in Indianapolis. Her daughter would eventually convince her to move to the Harlem neighborhood in New York City, which had become the center of Black culture and politics in America. 
Mattel worked directly with A’Lelia Bundles, the great-great-granddaughter and official biographer of Walker, to create an authentic representation based on rare family photos and stories about Walker. 
“The first thing that people think about Madam C.J. Walker is hair. She’s a woman who founded a haircare products company,” Bundles told CBS New York in an interview earlier this year. So, true to real-life, Mattel created the Walker Barbie with “multi-dimensional color, a particular curl pattern and an era-appropriate style with the twist that goes across her head like a crown.”
The doll is also dressed in some of Walker’s favorite colors, including shades of lavender, purple and turquoise, and even comes with a mini version of Walker’s famed Wonderful Hair Grower product, complete with a historically accurate label and twist-off lid. 
First published on August 27, 2022 / 3:12 PM
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