Once caught in the eye of a societal storm, Barbie, a product of the Mattel company, has evolved from a brand in crisis to an emblem of diversity and inclusion. As Associate Professor Lauren Gurrieri of RMIT University explains, the brand faced severe criticism and dwindling sales due to its portrayal of unrealistic beauty standards and narrow ideals. However, in 2016, Mattel’s targeted ‘Project Dawn‘ introduced a range of Barbies depicting different body shapes, sizes, hair types, and skin tones to redefine its contentious reputation.
Barbie – The Symbol of Inclusivity
Despite the controversy surrounding the representation of the main character in the forthcoming Barbie film, Mattel continues to navigate the inclusivity revolution, making calculated moves to make Barbie resonate with contemporary consumers. “Barbie the film is simply the next step in an evolution to make brand Barbie inclusive,” comments Gurrieri. However, the underlying question remains: Is this an emblem of diversity washing or a genuine attempt to rectify a problematic past?
Barbie’s Resurgence: Nostalgia and Adaptation
The Reinvented Career Woman
Narelle Lancaster, Advertising Lecturer at RMIT University, believes Barbie’s transformative journey into a multifaceted career woman led to a resurgence in fans. The brand cleverly adapted, leaning into nostalgia, a key selling point for brands, bringing back vintage styles to captivate both new audiences and retro middle-aged mothers.
Barbie – An Indestructible Brand
The Barbie film and associated merchandise have not only reasserted the brand’s presence but proven that Barbie never truly left the cultural scene. “Barbie is the perfect antidote,” states Lancaster, “she never left.”
The Environmental Impact: Barbie and the Toy Industry
Barbie – An Environmental Conundrum
Alan Pears, Senior Industry Fellow at RMIT University, raises critical concerns about the environmental impact of the toy industry, notably with the impending release of the movie predicted to drive a wave of doll purchases. The plastic-intensive nature of toys, coupled with their short lifespan and disposal issues, are problems the industry must address.
“Toy manufacturers can – and should – use low carbon materials and supply chains, and focus on making toys easily dissembled. Toys should be as light as possible, to minimise transport emissions,” comments Pears.
The Push for Sustainability
Pears commends Mattel for launching a recycling scheme in 2021 and emphasizes the importance of sustainable practices in the toy industry. The goal should be to cut emissions and waste while ensuring toys continue to add joy to lives. While the road to sustainability is long, toy manufacturers, governments, and consumers all have a role to play.
Some toymakers have cut back on plastic in their packaging, given packaging immediately becomes waste. In a welcome move, the maker of Barbie, Mattel, launched their own recycling scheme in 2021, allowing buyers to send back old toys to be turned into new ones.Alan Pears