A Madam C.J. Walker doll produced by Mattel was launched through the toy company’s “Inspiring Women Series.” Walker created a hair care product making her a self-made millionaire. (Photo by Word in Black)

By Brenda C. Siler,
Word in Black

Madam C. J. Walker’s status as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist has long been a model for aspiring Black business owners. On August 24, she became a model too- a doll in the image of Madam premiered as part of Mattel’s “Barbie – Inspiring Women Series.” According to A’Lelia Bundles, Madam’s great-great-granddaughter and official biographer, the doll sold out on Mattel’s website in less than five hours. Restocking is underway for online purchases at Amazon, Target, and Walmart.

It was a short time from idea to retail shelf success. Bundles said Mattel presented the idea to her with conversations beginning just last October.

“I got an email out of the blue from Mattel Barbie asking if I were interested in a Madam Walker doll,” Bundles said. “Of course, I said, ‘Yes.’”

Bundles shared phenomenal statistics from the first-day launch of Barbie’s Madam. Coverage on August 24 was extremely positive from media across multicultural, lifestyle, and toy outlets. Launch day ended with 20 high-quality media placements reaching over 35 million people seeing information about Barbie Madam through various platforms like social media and online media sites. Further, on the day of the launch, Amazon’s data showed that Madam was the #1 best seller in the “dolls” category and #1 as a new release among all toys on that day.

Ida B. Wells’s connection

Helpful to Bundles during this process was her friendship with Michelle Duster, the great-great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells. In January, The Wells doll was launched in Mattel’s “Barbie – Inspiring Women Series.” Madam and Wells knew each other, as both were strong advocates for women’s and workers’ rights. Duster and Bundles posted on Twitter mutual excitement about their legendary elders being together again as Barbie dolls.

“Barbie is a big deal. I watched that process for somebody who went through the same thing I was going through,” Bundles said.

Getting the right look

Regarding working with doll designer Carlyle Nuera Bundles continued, “I had early conversations with the designer and the marketing team.”

Bundles sent to Mattel vintage photographs and sample tin containers used for Walker’s “Wonderful Hair Grower,” the hair and scalp product she created. A few weeks after those discussions, Bundle was sent approximately a dozen doll heads with different complexions, hair textures, and other features.

“I was able to say, here’s what I think. It is not going to be her exact features, but something in the ballpark,” Bundles explained. “They were very receptive to that.”

Regarding the clothing for Barbie Madam, Bundles wanted to bring in color, even though the photos from that era were in black and white.

“Some of Madam’s stationery was turquoise with purple and lavender lettering,” said Bundles about how she got ideas about the dress worn by Barbie Madam, the finished doll.

Bundles is an award-winning journalist and author. As the official biographer for Madam, she is the author of “On Her Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker” and “All About Madam C. J. Walker, a book geared to fourth and seventh graders. “On Her Own Ground” was the “inspiration” for “Self Made,” the fictional four-part Netflix series starring Octavia Spencer. Bundles is also the founder of the Madam Walker Family Archives and is the brand historian for “MADAM” by Madam C. J. Walker, a line of hair care products developed in partnership with Sundial Brands and Walmart.

Keep track of available Madam dolls on Mattel’s “Barbie – Inspiring Women Series” at https://creations.mattel.com/collections/barbie-inspiring-women-series. Follow A’Lelia Bundles on social media.

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