Madam C.J. Walker was a pioneer in many ways. She was America’s first documented self-made woman millionaire, cultivated the industry of modern Black haircare and cosmetics, and created the role of the 20th-century businesswoman. So, it's only fitting that Mattel added Walker to their Inspiring Women series alongside others like Ella Fitzgerald, Helen Keller, and Jane Goodall.
Walker was born in 1867 as Sarah Breedlove on the plantation where her parents were formerly enslaved. Growing up as a farm laborer and laundress, she’s known for saying often “I got my start by giving myself a start.”In the 1890s, she did just that when she began experimenting with a solution for a scalp ailment that made her lose most of her hair. She soon changed her name to “Madam” C.J. Walker and started selling Madam Walker’s Wonderful Hair Grower, a scalp conditioning and healing formula. For a year and a half after the product’s creation, Walker traveled throughout the South and Southeast and went door-to-door to sell the formula. By the early 1900s, Walker had created multiple factories, hair and manicure salons, training schools, international brand recognition, and many philanthropic endeavors.
Mattel’s new doll “…[captures] Madam C.J. Walker in the period of her life when she was building her empire, the true definition of self-made. Thinking about how she believed in her Wonderful Hair Grower as a product, selling it door to door,” explains designer Carlyle Nuera. “So I had to include that as an accessory for the Barbie!” The mini-Walker has a tin of the product small enough to fit on the tip of a finger and was engineered to have a removable lid complete with a scaled-down image of the haircare pioneer on top.
Nuera worked directly with Walker’s great-great-granddaughter, A’Lelia Bundles, who has spent years learning about her ancestor’s legacy. Bundles wrote the biography On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker, founded the Madam Walker Family Archives, and became the brand historian for the hair care line MADAM by Madam C.J. Walker. Thanks to Bundles’ extensive knowledge of Walker, even the most detailed aspects of the doll were perfected, like the colors of her clothes. “It was important to show Madame Walker in a different light,” Bundles says. “She loved purple and turquoise. In the past, photos were in black and white so you couldn’t see that. So it was good that we were able to give her a bit of whimsy and use brighter colors.”
Bundles hopes the doll will share her great-great grandmother’s story and legacy with a whole new generation. “It means a lot that now little girls everywhere will get to play with a Madam C.J. Walker doll and learn more about her organically,” the author and historian states. “The image and symbolism of this doll will carry Madam Walker’s story out into the world in another way.”
Scroll down to see more images of the incredibly detailed Madam Walker doll.