Material Exchange

Sustainability inspiration from Barbie fashion icon

Sustainability inspiration from a childhood fashion icon

Like so many people my age and younger, I grew up idolizing Barbie. I begged Santa for a Barbie dream house with a Barbie Corvette, Barbie camper van, and Barbie denim jacket and jeans.


I didn’t just want to play with Barbie; I aspired to be her. I wanted to grow up and have my own dream house, Corvette, and a huge closet full of trendy clothes and shoes.


One year, my older cousin handed down to me all of her Barbie dolls and accessories. I was ecstatic, and I wondered why she would give up so many great toys. But eventually, I too outgrew Barbie, and passed down my well-loved dolls to my younger cousin (who promptly cut off all their hair).

Andrea Kennedy with Barbie Eco-Leadership Team

A passion for fashion

My obsession with these fashionable dolls proved fruitful when I went to college for fashion, became a designer for well-known brands in New York, and began working toward a dream house of my own (actually, dream apartment).

Throughout my first decade working in fashion, I learned that, despite the glitz and glamor Barbie helped me fall in love with, the industry as a whole had some serious problems. I learned that common textile and fashion manufacturing practices harmed our planet and exploited vulnerable communities. As a designer, I realized I was participating in this complex and damaging supply chain.

Throughout my first decade working in fashion, I learned that, despite the glitz and glamor Barbie helped me fall in love with, the industry as a whole had some serious problems.

Andrea Kennedy, VP of Sustainability at Material Exchange

Honing in on responsible fashion

Fifteen years ago, I committed to pursuing a career in sustainable fashion and sourcing. I knew I had a lot to learn (and unlearn), so I got a second degree in sustainability. Today, I work and teach in the sustainable fashion space because I believe our future world depends on it.

Earlier this year, I came to Material Exchange because I saw a sustainable sourcing platform that wanted to change the future. Here, I focus on helping brands better source recycled fibers and showcase good factory practices, and am developing features to measure embedded carbon and water in materials. I support elucidating material chains of custody so designers can source with transparency, visibility, and trust. I do this because, again, I believe our future world depends on it.

I’m thrilled by the possibilities ahead, and the opportunities that come from working with many fellow future thinkers in the fashion sustainability space. It’s a career I highly recommend.

So, imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that Barbie is working in sustainability now too!

Barbie takes the sustainability stage

Yes, the beloved doll of my past has a great new job: Barbie is now working on the “Barbie Eco-Leadership Team” with three of her friends in a “2022 Career of the Year” boxed set! At $55 for the four dolls, lucky purchasers (lucky, because the set’s sold out already) get an FSC-certified box filled with Barbie and her buddies, who are made from recycled plastic.

Barbie’s sustainability squad includes a diverse team working as Renewable Energy Engineer, Conservation Scientist, Environmental Advocate, and Chief Sustainability Officer. These powerhouse ambassadors of a sustainable future are holding laptops and iPads showing energy emissions and global-climate data.

So, Barbie is back in my life and bringing absolutely as much joy as she did 40 years ago! Now, she and her friends sit at my desk, sharing their work in sustainability as I champion environmentally and socially responsible practices and processes around the clothing and shoes that fill their (and my) closets.

Barbie Eco-Leadership Team

Barbie's smaller footprint makes a big statement

So, which sustainable Barbie am I? Well, I’m Responsible Sourcing Barbie, tackling complex and opaque supply chains so high-profile fashion brands can reduce their impacts.

Today, I’m a Barbie consumer once again (yes, I purchased the set) and am inspired by the classic doll’s evolution (and no, I’m not sponsored by Mattel). The product is co-developed with the Jane Goodall Institute, whose mission is to conserve the natural world. And the set is certified carbon-neutral, so Barbie’s emissions have been offset or inset. Most of the doll’s body and all of the clothing fabric are made from river-bound and lake-bound plastic litter!

Are Barbie and her buds manufactured completely without impacts? No, but she’s on her way, and still ahead of the curve.

Are Barbie’s clothing and accessories made just as well as they were when I was young? No. Today, many of her clothing details are printed, not stitched. But for a sustainable doll, this makes sense as it allows for easy disassembly if Mattel uses them for a take-back and re-make program.

Barbie being made more sustainably, as well as working in sustainability, makes her an Eco-leadership superstar to young people, who need to know it’s not all gloom and doom in the climate change space.

By working in sustainability, today’s Barbie is a role model for the next generation and for me.

Andrea Kennedy, VP of Sustainability at Material Exchange

Inspiration for a life-long calling

Barbie’s story offers great personal hope. She’s learned the importance of changing from the old classic plastic body to a more sustainable one without losing her passion for great style. By working in sustainability, today’s Barbie is a role model for the next generation and for me.

Yes, this Responsible Sourcing Barbie would love to join Chief Sustainability Officer Barbie in her green office suite while she works to transform the Fortune 500 company she leads and I work with our Material Exchange team, accelerating toward a low-impact and equitable future of fashion within our Digital Sourcing Platform. We’ll craft new models for sourcing, designing, manufacturing, and distributing clothes in ways that have positive impacts for the world.

Together, we Barbies can brainstorm ways to reduce, reuse, rethink, redesign, reimagine, resist, and rebuild within the fashion industry and all its intricacies. Together, we Barbies can keep each other uplifted and hopeful while we advocate for a bright and wonderful future. Together, in this season of joy and hope, let’s allow inspiration to come from all the good that’s being done – including through our playthings – because even Barbie knows our future world depends on it.

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