…In a Barbie World

May 2, 2011

Growing up, who didn’t love Barbie? She is an American icon. She grew up with our daughters and planted unattainable desires in their hearts. She was a role model for women and a bane to men. But do you know how this little, plastic Jezebel put a small Taiwanese city on the map? Well, gather ‘round kiddies and I’ll elucidate.

In 1967, Mattel set up a manufacturing plant in the small town of Taishan just to the west of Taipei. For the next 20 years, the manufacturing facility brought jobs, respect, and prosperity. As many as 8,000 jobs were created at the manufacturing plant, not to mention the countless jobs set up in order to support the workers. However, in 1987, Mattel packed up and left town due to cost concerns, leaving behind a city that was built around Barbie and now had nowhere to turn to. Once busy streets were now deserted; Thriving businesses shut their doors. Now this may remind some of you of Flint, MI but the next point is where the two cities diverge.

It took ten years for Taishan to come up with a solution but in 1998, the Ministry of Education subsidized a small number of communities in order to create new educational opportunities. The plan was called the Multi-Facet Community Development (MFCD) and it channeled money towards community development programs that allowed for three things. First, a man-power database was established in order to create and cultivate managers in the community. A university was set up in the city, thus helping Taishan transform itself into a learning community. Second, living accommodations were restored or built in order to make Taishan a more attractive city for workers. This helps bring in Taipei workers because of the close distance between the two cities and the cheaper real estate. And finally, Taishan’s government used the knowledge Mattel left with them in order to create jobs and opportunities for the future.

While Flint may be resentful that General Motors left its city, Taishan holds a gratefulness for the memories and knowledge left behind by Mattel. It seems as though the people of Taishan understand that bitterness will not bring their old jobs back and that they must innovate and reinvent in order to survive in the future.

Showing Gannon and Arieanna how Barbies are assembled.

So a group of entrepreneurs got together and formed a business model and in 2003, the Mei-Ning Workshop was created. This new company would tailor custom made outfits for Barbie and her friends.

The dresses are really works of art. They are as intricate as any dress one would see on a catwalk and 1/50 the size. The workshop creates custom dresses for occasions such as weddings and birthdays; it has a Taiwanese first-lady line of outfits; and it also has outfits from almost every ethnic background.

What makes these outfits so cool is that they are hand-made and one of a kind. Like snowflakes or Sting albums, no two are alike. If I say I wouldn’t mind owning some of these sartorial pieces for my home, would my masculinity be called into question?

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