Monday, March 27, 2006


Barbie in China

One of the few things people don't know about me is that I'm a closet Barbie fan. Don't ask me how or why but I am. (What do you expect from someone who loves Barry Manilow?) Last week I had an opportunity to tour a Mattel Barbie factory in Chang An, China. I know this probably sounds like a really dumb thing to want to do and who cares about Barbie, but let me tell you, this was so totally cool. I have never really thought about what goes into making a Barbie, but what I saw that day was just unbelievable. I figured plastic would be poured into a machine and out would come a doll. The doll would then go into another machine and out she would come with all her make up and clothes done. Not even close!!!! Every single little tiny thing about her is done almost completely by hand. Machines are definitely used to make the doll and to cut out the material for her clothes, but they don't do a whole lot more other then spray some paint and sew some clothes.

Just a few quick statistics before I show you how she is made.

-During peak season there are 16,500 workers at the Chang An factory
-There are factories in Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangkok and Mexico
-China represents 60% of Mattel production
-The plant we visited produces 1 million Barbie’s a week
-All the factories together produce 80 million Barbie’s a year
-Mattel produces over 800 new toys a year
-90% of the workers come from really poor farm villages in China
-The employees work 6 days a week
-For 72 hours a week they get paid approximately US$200 a month
-The workers still have to pay room and board out of the $200

This is where her head is made. Rubber is squirted into these holes that are the mold, clamps are placed over the top, this round metal thing is then shoved into an oven for a few minutes, it comes out, gets hosed off, a hole is poked in the top of her head to release air, then her head is popped out of the bottom.

The leftover rubber stuff then gets trimmed off.

The hinge part of her leg (which makes her knee bend) is put in an oven where plastic gets shaped around the hinge in the form of a leg. The leg is then hung up to cool off.

This part is crazy. Every single bit of her make up is spray painted on by hand. The doll head is placed in a mold with the only thing exposed is what is to be painted, for example her lips. The girl then spray paints her lips pink, then the head moves onto the next girl who does the same thing for her eyebrows, then onto the next girl for her eyelashes, etc., etc. The doll head goes through about 20 different girls because of all the detail involved in her makeup.

This is evil Barbie head before she gets "exorcised".

Barbies makeup complete.

This is Superman's head. He doesn't get as much "love" as Barbie does.

This is a fancier Barbie. She gets a lot more makeup then the regular Barbie.

A line of workers doing the makeup of Barbie.

This is how Barbie gets put together. I'm not quite sure if her front is getting melted onto her back or what. No matter how she gets put together, it just looks wrong!

Bucket o' Barbies

This is how the hair gets sewn on the head. The needle is incredibly fast and somehow the girls manage to not get their fingers sewn into the head.

The girls that "style" Barbie's hair are highly paid because of how fast they have to be. Yes, the hair gets hand braided, combed, styled, you name it. A machine does not do it.

All the jobs are mind-numbing boring but this one takes the cake. This is some sort of water gun Ken doll. Her job is to press the button that brings the arm forward with the water gun, push it back into position, press the button again, push the arm back into position and then press the button a third time and then push the arm back into position to make sure it works three times in a row.

It is amazing how hard these people work for such little money (or what is considered "little money" to us). I saw no water coolers, I think bathroom breaks are discouraged because it distrupts the work flow and the least Mattel could do is pipe in some music for them to listen to (maybe a little Barry Manilow???) From what we were told though, this is a very good job to have. Since it is an American company the employees are treated very well and it is a coveted job. Go America!!!!


Thanks for such a wonderful account of your adventure! I always wondered how my fav doll was made.

By Blogger NapaBabs, at 1:50 AM  

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