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How Barbie has survived for over 60 years in a 'volatile' toy industry

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer

The Barbie brand, at 61 years old, is still evolving to attract new customers. 

Lisa McKnight, global head of Barbie and dolls portfolio at Mattel (MAT), says her team has spent the last five years trying to “make her a better reflection of the world that girls see around them.”

The classic blonde Barbie, who was known for her disproportionate body, has grown and reinvented herself into many new versions. Just last month, Mattel introduced an inclusive line ranging from a Barbie without hair to one who has the skin condition vitiligo.

“We know that if girls can see themselves in the line, they will find Barbie more relatable and accessible,” McKnight told Yahoo Finance at the MAKERS Conference in Los Angeles this week.

28 January 2020, Bavaria, Nuremberg: Barbie dolls from the Fashionistas line of the U.S. toy manufacturer Mattel are on display at the company's stand at the International Toy Fair. (Photo by Daniel Karmann/picture alliance via Getty Images)

This kind of re-invention has helped Barbie, a toy launched in 1959, stay relevant in 2020, according to McKnight. “We are so honored to have the privilege to work on a brand that has spanned multiple generations ... This is an industry that is volatile, where the average life cycle for a toy is three to five years,” she said.

“So for Barbie to stand the test of time, it’s all about reinvention, evolution and really ensuring she’s connecting to culture. So when we look to the future, we’ll be going where culture goes. And we’ll be making sure that Barbie is in lock step with that.”

Still, Margot Robbie, who resembles the classic doll, is set to play the live-action version of Barbie in the forthcoming film written by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach. When asked whether she’s a good representation for this diverse new world of Barbie, McKnight said, “We are thrilled to be working with Margot, although it’s still early days. The script is still in early stages of development and all I can share is there will definitely be a multidimensional view of beauty in the film and the brand will be conveyed as multifaceted, modern and not what you might not expect.”

Mattel is set to report fourth quarter results after the bell on Thursday. This comes as the toymaker closes factories in an attempt to streamline its supply chain. Earlier this week, Hasbro (HAS) reported a blowout holiday quarter, driven by its “Frozen 2” and “Star Wars” toy sales, part of its licensing agreement with Disney. Like other toy manufacturers, Mattel will likely remain concerned over whether the coronavirus in China affects its supply chain.

Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s west coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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