Cultural Makeover Barbie

Barbie doll clothes made by hand with natural fibers in Guatemela.

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Photo by Michael Schorr

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Thanks to a women’s collective in Guatemala, Barbie can trade in her pink sequins and polyester for something a little more auténtico—a traditional Mayan traje. These brightly colored dresses, with their handwoven patterns, are part of a two-thousand-year-old Guatemalan textile tradition. Each village has its own designs, and women keep this cultural art form alive, making trajes for everyday wear.

In the highland city of Quetzaltenango, a group of women makes miniature trajes for Barbie dolls out of cotton cloth woven by local farmers. This cottage industry is sponsored by Escuela de la Calle, an organization that helps at-risk children stay off the streets. Some mothers participate to supplement their limited family incomes.

According to Guadalupe Pos, co-director of Escuela de la Calle, the women enjoy the opportunity to let people know about Guatemala’s diverse clothing. But they do have reservations about Barbie’s sizeable bosom. “They say that children get an exaggerated idea about women’s bodies,” he says. “Women in Guatemala don’t have such breasts.”

The tiny handmade outfits sell for $12, making them an economical way to transform Barbie—in all her plastic glory—into a spokeswoman for natural fibers and the fight against poverty.