Mattel’s Groundbreaking Hijab Barbie Honors Harlem Coached Olympian And More

November 14, 2017

Mattel made history on Monday by unveiling the first-ever hijab-wearing Barbie doll. It’s designed after Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American sabre fencer who became the first Olympic athlete to compete while wearing a hijab at the 2016 Rio Olympics who was coached by Harlem born Akhnaten Spencer-El.

The inclusive doll debuted at Glamour’s Women of the Year Live Summit as the latest doll in Barbie’s “Shero” line, an initiative that celebrates women breaking boundaries. Muhammad, who was one of Glamour’s honorees, debuted her doll on the red carpet there. It will be released next year.

One of TIME magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” of 2016, Muhammad not only breaks boundaries with her swordsmanship, but with the launch of her clothing line, Louella. Noticing a gap in the marketplace, Muhammad designs new fresh and vibrant looks for the modest fashion industry.

“I played with Barbie for a long time, what some people may call an uncomfortably long time,” she joked in an interview with Glamour. “But in those early days, Muhammad didn’t have Barbies that wore a headscarf, so she would sew on her own hijabs with her sisters. Now that Mattel has made a doll for girls like her, Muhammad knows it will make a difference: “I hope that little girls of color across the heartland will be inspired to embrace what makes them unique,” she said of girls who will play with this Barbie.

“I’m excited to just partner with a brand that I know honors powerful women who are breaking barriers and whose sole goal is to impact the future leaders of tomorrow,” Muhammad told People. “To be included in this conversation is very humbling and I’m over the moon about this whole thing.”

“Ibtihaj is an inspiration to countless girls who never saw themselves represented, and by honoring her story, we hope this doll reminds them that they can be and do anything,” Sejal Shah Miller, Barbie’s vice president of global marketing, said in a statement.

Miller, who was hired from L’Oreal, told espnW a year ago that she was hired—and took the job—precisely to make bold moves like this:

“When Mattel reached out to me for the role I was intrigued. I hadn’t thought about toys. But when I did, my research proved that sales were declining. We’d lost brand equity with moms. Girls were saying Barbie wasn’t as cool as it used to be. Being a woman of color, and having had played with Barbie dolls, turning the brand around was an interesting challenge for me. Take a look at the things the brand has done in the last three years: It’s shifted the idea of Barbie. It’s exciting to be part of the evolution of the brand, and the team was acutely aware of the problems ahead of us.”

“We want to highlight women that align with our purpose, and inspire youngsters to strive for limitless potential,” Miller added. “The brand is continuing to listen and make sure that it’s reflecting the world and trends. We are going to continue to evolve.”

Mattel’s “sheroes” program gives the Barbie brand an opportunity to recognize real people who are breaking boundaries with items that are a limited edition commemoration of these women. Other Shero dolls designed for female role models include Ashley Graham, Zendaya, Kristin Chenoweth, Misty Copeland and Ava DuVernay.

The Olympian helped design the doll, which won’t be released to the public in the fall of 2019. “I think its revolutionary for Barbie to take a stand in this moment that we’re in—and I would say, as a country, to have a doll wear a hijab and be the first of its kind,” she said.

“There has never been a Barbie doll to wear a hijab before. I’m really excited to have this moment happen in my life and also for all these little girls now who can shop for Barbie doll that may look them, may wear a hijab like they do, or like their mom does, or like a friend does. But also have kids who aren’t Muslim, who don’t wear a hijab, to also have the opportunity to play with a doll that wears a hijab.”

In 2016, Barbie rolled out tall, petite and curvy versions of the dolls—and made the cover of TIME magazine. Barbie’s boyfriend Ken is now available in three body types and seven skin tones. Last year Mattel inspired @Hijarbie, an Instagrammer (Nigerian pharamacologist Haneefa Adam) who imagines modestly-styled Barbies wearing a hijab.

Now Mattel is joining Nike, which has designed a hijab for Muslim athletes; Dolce&Gabbana, which sent a hijab down the runway; Uniqlo, which has designed Muslim-friendly modest clothing for a few seasons now; and Lifetime’s Project Runway, which currently features its second hijabi-wearing contestant in Iyana Ife, who showed in the finals at New York Fashion Week.

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