If the startup world needed more proof it was in fashion, here's more: This year, Barbie becomes an entrepreneur. (What type of business, you ask? That's not important. Just go with it.)
At Toy Fair this week, Mattel announced that an entrepreneur doll would join its I Can Be career line as its Career of the Year. The entrepreneur doll sports a sleek pink shift dress and carries a tiny tablet and smartphone. Her hair is styled in a poofier version of the ponytail the original Barbie wore in her debut at this toy expo 55 years ago.
The iconic fashion doll has held more than 150 of careers during her reign, many of them ceiling breakers. She was an astronaut before any American, male or female, had landed on the moon. She became president in 1992, a title we’re still waiting for a real-life woman to share.
In all likelihood, she’s been an entrepreneur before. With playsets like travel agencies, fashion ateliers and even a McDonald's dotting the collection over the years, one would hope she ran those operations and wasn't just a worker bee. Really, the entrepreneur doll seems the latest evolution of the career doll that’s been part of the line since 1963. With nearly 8.6 million female business owners, it’s not a stretch that the new career for women is one she forges herself.
Of course, when Career Girl Barbie launched in her tweed suit and elbow length gloves, “career girl” were still considered dirty words. In her heyday, Barbie was often the lone toy in the girl aisle introducing girls to choices they might not otherwise think they had. When she graduated in the early ‘60s, only 42.5 percent of women 25 and older held high school degrees. Only 5.8 percent of women in that age group held a bachelor's degree.
Recently, though, like any woman of a certain age, Barbie has been experiencing a sort of midlife crisis. Doll sales have declined significantly since their height in the 1990s, and year-over-year sales were down 13 percent in 2013. The lows seemed to even take a toll on her personal life. In 2004, she left Ken for a surfer named Blaine -- only to take Ken back two years later.
Jobwise, she’s been in somewhat of a career rut. She’s held the same nurturing jobs again and again. Instead of introducing girls to worlds they wouldn’t know, Barbie reflected what they saw every day, embodying pediatricians, vets and teachers. In one year alone Barbie was a Dog Sitter, Dog Walker and a Dog Trainer. As a career lowpoint, Dog Walker Barbie came with a scooper and trashcan for the magnets her dog left behind.
In recent years, toymakers have been under pressure to offer a wider range of toy options for girls. As these pressures have mounted, Barbie’s I Can Be line has included a handful of dolls that return the line to its roots, showcasing jobs that don’t usually see the doll aisle. In the past five years, Barbie has been an architect, a computer engineer and a news anchor. This year, for the first time, Barbie becomes a detective.
While these developments are encouraging, we note that Dog Walker Barbie has been relaunched in 2014 as Potty Trainin’ Taffy. We can’t judge Barbie for taking whatever work she can get in a slow-growth economy. That said, this year also launches a first-ever Girl Scout Barbie who comes ready for sales with tiny boxes of cookies. Hopefully the dog walker’s more entrepreneurial cohorts can teach her a little something about being her own boss.