‘Pink is life’: Demand for all things Barbie spikes ahead of movie debut


Few people were more excited than Natasha Philpott when Mattel revealed it had given its blessing for its most prized brand, Barbie, to get the Hollywood treatment almost 65 years after it was born.

“I was Barbiecore before it was cool,” the 36-year-old library marketing and communications co-ordinator from Bradford, Ont., said ahead of the Friday release of “Barbie.”

Philpott hasn’t tracked what she’s spent on Barbie memorabilia but has dropped $800 on some of her most prized dolls, which are stored in a pink-accented room sprinkled with Barbie prints.

The remainder of her collection of 200 dolls and even more clothing and miscellaneous Barbie collectibles is temporarily on display at the local library.

But adding to her always growing trove is pricier these days.

With the Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling flick due in theatres starting Friday, Philpott has noticed all things Barbie rocketing in price as collectors and new fans clamour for vintage dolls and a wave of just released movie merchandise.

Several auction sites show rare, vintage Barbies that recently sold for thousands of dollars, while the Barbie marketing machine — complete with partners Xbox, Gap, Balmain, Burger King and Zara — speedily sells out of every conceivable Barbie product.

Even Philpott, who calls herself “the original Barbie girl,” considers it overwhelming.

“I knew this Barbie craze was coming since last year with the filming of the movie, so I’ve been anticipating it … but now everybody’s hopping on the bandwagon,” she said.

“All the brands have their own collaborations and lines with Barbie and I do notice collectors and other people trying to sell their not only vintage Barbies, but current Barbies, so my credit card is hurting right now.”

When “Little Women” director Greta Gerwig began shooting “Barbie” in 2022, the brand was searched on eBay more than 6,000 times globally and the number of dolls sold spiked by 200 per cent over 2021.

That was just the start.

When Warner Bros. released the film’s trailer in May, searches on the digital auction site for “pink gingham dress,” like the one Robbie wore in the teaser, climbed 70 per cent within one week. Her pink Corvette saw a 40 per cent boost.

The site also saw a double-digit increase in Barbies sold by Canadian sellers to buyers in the country in June 2023 compared with the same month last year.

As the movie neared completion and advance tickets went on sale, Philpott noticed prices escalated as much as searches.

The Totally Hair Barbie, which debuted its extended locks (down to the doll’s ankles) about 30 years ago and re-entered the spotlight when Robbie recently replicated its look on a red carpet, went from selling for $50 to roughly $200, she said.

The Barbie marketing juggernaut could be a boon for Mattel, which suffered a sales slump a few years ago and has since been revitalizing itself, but the surge in interest means more competition for enduring fans, said Joanne McNeish.

“I pity the poor collector,” said the associate professor of marketing at Toronto Metropolitan University.

“There is suddenly this strong demand for all things Barbie, so the regular consumer is buying indiscriminately.”

McNeish expects the Barbie fervour to dissipate with time, pushing casual buyers to resell merchandise and demand to ease.

She tells collectors, “Hang in there. You’ll get a lot of things less expensively next year.”

But some Barbie collectibles will hold their value.

For example, Marie-Claire Girard, a 69-year-old former professor from Montreal and collector of about 200 Barbies, has seen some of her dolls steadily rise in value.

The Athena goddess Barbie she bought roughly 15 years ago for about $150 now goes for $1,000.

“But I’m not going to sell it because I love it too much,” she said.

Jen Soon knows that feeling well. The Edmonton educational assistant runs a Barbie fan group on Facebook nicknamed Pink Maples and has amassed 122 dolls, many from the ’80s.

Much of the recent Barbie hype she’s observed is coming from movie merchandise rather than dolls.

“Her name is on everything right now,” Soon said.

“I started seriously collecting in 2018 and this is the most stuff I’ve ever seen in my life that had Barbie written on it.”

Soon grabbed Barbies designed like Robbie’s character; one where she’s clad in the pink gingham dress and another wearing a light blue frock and a wide-brimmed hat.

She also has about a dozen new Barbie shirts and products from the OPI nail polish and NYX lip gloss Barbie collaborations.

She’s seen people reselling glittery platform Barbie Crocs she estimates they spent $40 on for $800. The Cakeworthy bag Philpott covets is going for $200 on some sites, up from its original $69.

Those huge price hikes annoy Soon, who won’t pay more than $100 for a Barbie, because she wants fans rather than opportunists to nab Barbie merchandise.

“I’m a true collector and I don’t have access to half the stuff and I will never be able to get it,” she said as she readied for an advance screening Wednesday.

She planned to wear a pink dress covered in Barbie silhouettes to her first screening with her husband and said she would dress up again for a second viewing this weekend with friends.

At both screenings, her hair will be pink from a dye job she got just before her first screening.

Why pink rather than Barbie blond?

“Pink is life.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 20, 2023.

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