I like to think that I’m doing my bit to support the local economy. I consciously look at where clothes are made before buying – but then there is the exceptions that I buy because I really like the print… especially for Lexa.

By now you should know that I love Barbie and by extension it means Lexa will never in her life own any other range of dolls that are similar. It will just not happen. She is very fortunate that I am a keen Barbie T-shirt buyer and that she probably has enough for 1.5 weeks without doing laundry.

Not all of them have been bought at retail prices as I am a frequent visitor to Durban’s factory shops… so don’t raise your eyebrows just yet.

You will be surprised to know that the Barbie clothing for your little princess found on the shelves of South African retailers isn’t imported and made in some country in the east – aikona, it is made right on the sunny shores of Durban! Plus if you have time to read about the manufacturing process (below) there are some other interesting facts.

It’s not the same picture for all

There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes once a retailer decides they want a Barbie line on their rails/shelves.

Blue Horizon Licencing, the agent for Mattel in South Africa, looks at what worked at the retailer in the past – colours, themes and styles – and work with the retailer’s trend department to work on a new line that could be brand new or incorporate an updated version of a past line.

…but it’s not all up to Blue Horizon and retailers as they receive a collection of artwork and style guides from the US/UK.

Blue Horizon has an in-house designer called Leanne and she will work on a concept and this gets send to the retailer and if they buy into the concept, the design is finalised.

Then it goes to the manufacturer

Leanne then hands over the artwork to Ayanda at TCI in Durban. The TCI team consisting of Ayanda the designer, Lisa the design manager and Lee who is a merchandiser to design a range incorporating  Leanne’s design.

They take into account the pricing range of the retailer, silhouette and styling and then it gets send off to the retailer and Blue Horizon to do final approvals.

Off to the printers

The approved artwork and cut fabric panels are then send to Ocean Blue, the printers, in Durban. They then print the beautiful Barbie artwork onto the garment panels in a variety of techniques on a huge industrial printer with many functions.

Sewing it together

After printing the panels are sent to TCI to be sewn together by seamstresses. Each garment then gets quality checked before being pressed and tagged with the retailer’s swing tags. Then it is send off to the retailer’s distribution centre.

PS… almost everyone working on the Barbie lines are women!

It’s not over yet!

Blue Horizon still has to create marketing material. They arrange for a photoshoot which includes sourcing models, getting samples of the range from TCI and planning the shoot. They have a stylist, usually Erin Smylie from www.erinsmylie.co.za, on set who ensures the models are on point and ready with hair and outfits all day long.

A talented photographer called Kat Grudko (www.katgrudko.co.za) does the shoot and directs the little models – with Leanne on set to help with funny faces, tickles and jumps to get the girls smiling.


The product can take up to 8 months from initial concept to on the shelves – with multiple lines being developed simultaneously!

And there you have it… the whole product cycle with a Fashionista holding it.

Barbie made in South Africa process

…but this is not all you need to know

Now that we know that the design, print, cut, make and trim are done by South Africans – what about the material?

They do source single knit jersey fabric locally and TCI is now also starting to buy cotton yarn locally – and this is great news for local cotton growers! Unfortunately some specialised fabrics still have to be sourced from international suppliers – like denim and mesh.

So next time you are shopping for Barbie clothing, look at the tags and see that it was made in South Africa!


Susann is a travel, parenting, beauty and lifestyle blogger in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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