How Are Barbie Dolls Manufactured?

By Elizabeth Burns
Barbie is an icon for little girls.
Barbie is an icon for little girls.

Since Barbie’s debut in 1959, more than 1 billion Barbie dolls and members of her family have been sold in more than 140 countries worldwide, the Made How website reveals. The doll’s look and style is continuously evolving, which means that styling and packaging is a vital part of the design and manufacturing process. Barbie is owned by the Mattel Co.

Design Concept

The Forbes website notes that Barbie, like a model for the major fashion houses, showcases her latest spring, fall and holiday wear, each consisting of several "looks."

A team of more than 100 designers, tailors, beauticians and sculptors creates a design concept before the manufacturing process begins. The team works on Barbie's hair, makeup and wardrobe. The hair and cosmetics team has five fine artists and two licensed cosmetologists. The designers get to work on a prototype doll, selecting a skin tone and creating a color palette for eye shadow, eyeliner and blush colors. It takes about three hours to hand-paint Barbie's face.

The team dreams up Barbie's latest outfit, selects accessories and sculpts the head and body to create a prototype mold that will be used during the factory manufacturing process. Barbie is then shipped off to Mattel's Hong Kong offices for the "executive phase," which involves pricing and manufacturing the doll. The dolls are made in factories in China and Indonesia.

Materials

Barbie dolls are made from vinyl, according to the Made How website. According to the Azo website, vinyl is the world's most versatile plastic and is composed of chlorine and ethylene. According to the Dollyhair website, Barbie's hair is made from saran, a soft vinyl.

Manufacturing

Mattel’s manufacturing process is proprietary but, like all plastic dolls, Barbie’s head and limbs are made by a process known as rotational molding. The Made How website reveals that the metal mold cavities of plastic dolls are filled, closed and heated then cooled slowly inside a chamber using air and water. The molds are then removed from the chamber, opened and the finished product is removed.

Finishing Touches

According to the Made How website, the plastic doll’s eyes are inserted, lips and cheeks spray-painted and hair carefully trimmed, combed and set before its head is attached to its body.The Forbes website reveals that during Barbie’s initial design process, hair stylists choose between 52 hair colors and create a style. One in five Barbies is a brunette.

Packaging

Packaging is a key part of the manufacturing and design process. The box in which Barbie will be shipped is designed by the same people who created her outfits. "Whether she's going shopping or to a pajama party, we'll tell the story on the box through images and text," Evelyn Viohl, senior vice president of Barbie design for Mattel in California, says on Forbes' website.

History

Plastic dolls started being made after World War II. Plastic dolls are now ubiquitous. According to Made How, every second someone in the world buys two Barbie dolls.

About the Author

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Burns began writing professionally in 1988. She has worked as a feature writer for various Irish newspapers, including the "Irish News," "Belfast News Letter" and "Sunday Life." Burns has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ulster as well as a Master of Research in arts.