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More than a toy: ‘I stopped counting after I had 500 Barbies in my collection’

Since 1959, the Mattel doll has represented inclusivity, diversity and progress, with some models being sought-after collectibles

Barbie collection
Claudia López's Barbie collection.Claudia López
Andrea Jiménez

Pink has taken over the world. The marketing campaign for the premiere of the Barbie movie, directed by Greta Gerwig, is truly one of the best ever, as Barbie’s vibrant pink covered the globe. It’s no wonder that this iconic doll has been bringing happiness to children, young people and adults worldwide for over 64 years. Claudia López, at the age of 30, has been an avid collector for a decade now. Her passion began when she stumbled upon four of her childhood Barbie dolls that she had long forgotten about. “You know, when I was little, I wasn’t a fan of them at all. I didn’t even ask for the ones I had — they were just given to me,” said López. It’s a different story now — López has over 500 Barbies on her shelves.

Barbie made her debut in 1959, heralding a revolution that would shape the world. In an era when dolls were usually babies for little girls pretending to be mothers, the famous blonde embarked on a mission to show children they could be anything they wanted to be. “Barbie has played a significant role in the history of toys. She brought about a whole new set of values for boys and girls, something that was quite groundbreaking at the time. Nowadays, they’re coming out with Barbies that are inclusive, orthopedic, even Barbies with hearing aids and Down syndrome. It’s all about making sure every child feels represented and can relate to their dolls,” says López. Her passion for everything pink has garnered her over 800,000 TikTok followers, where she is known as Chicle de Fresa (Strawberry Gum) and talks about her Barbie collection and latest acquisitions. “I buy stuff I like without overthinking it. It doesn’t matter if it’s cheap or expensive because if I get tired of it, I can always sell it for more than I paid.”

The first Barbie doll she bought for her collection was the one inspired by Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which sparked a wave of doll craziness and collecting. “That’s when I thought, ‘That’s it! I gotta start collecting them.’ I just totally fell in love!” Because of Barbie, López has formed friendships with other collectors like 41-year-old Jonatan Núñez, who has been a Barbie fan since childhood. “You know, even though the toys I had were always labeled as ‘for boys,’ I was actually into playing with dolls. I loved styling their hair, dressing them up... It’s been about 11 years since I started collecting them, and now I even go to conventions where I design clothes for these events.” The Madrid Fashion Doll Show, held every September and organized by Mónica Núñez del Castillo, brings together dozens of Barbie enthusiasts from all over Spain. Jonatan not only collects Barbies made by Mattel, but also designs his own dolls and buys models from other creators that he showcases on social media. His impressive collection numbers over 300 Barbies.

Claudia López with her Barbie collection.
Claudia López with her Barbie collection. Claudia López

When his shelf space runs out, Jonatan has a straightforward solution — he just sells the items with less sentimental value or that lack uniqueness. The hobby of collecting Barbie dolls thrives on the global buying and selling of these iconic toys. It’s a market characterized by soaring prices, particularly for the most unique and sought-after pieces, with an ever-increasing demand. According to a recent press release by Milanuncios (a Spanish website for online classified advertisements), there has been a 75% surge in searches for the original or oldest Barbies in the past year, leading to a notable increase in demand of 28%. “The most I’ve ever paid for one was €150 [$165],” says Jonatan.

Mónica Núñez del Castillo is an expert in all things Barbie-related, and also in the art of buying and selling. “I stopped counting after I had 500 Barbies in my collection. I honestly don’t know how many I have, and I don’t even care. All I know is the ones I’m missing and really want to get my hands on,” she says. Mónica has acquired rare and sought-after pieces from websites and conventions she regularly attends. “Some dolls you can only get by sheer luck.” Even though Barbies are collectible items, some sellers are unaware of their true value and sell them at significantly lower prices. “Sometimes people sell things cheap because they don’t know better. I’ve seen ads before and thought: ‘They have no clue what they’re selling or it’s probably just a scam.’” Monica was able to purchase dolls for €150 ($165) even though their actual market value was €2,000 ($2,200).

The special Barbie collection issued for the movie starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.
The special Barbie collection issued for the movie starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling. Anadolu Agency (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The turning point for Mónica was when Mattel decided to release more special dolls. “Those were actually pretty fascinating because they took inspiration from historical and movie models. I see them as dolls geared towards adult collectors.” Mónica says her most special and hard-to-find doll is the Moschino Barbie. “Mattel actually gave away this rare doll at the front row of the Moschino fashion show in Milan. There were only like 50 or 100 of them, but you couldn’t buy them anywhere because they weren’t being sold. Then in 2022, someone put one up for sale on Wallapop! Turns out it used to belong to their mother who worked at Moschino’s store. I managed to get it for €250 [$275]. The last one auctioned off in Milan went for €3,000 [$3,300]!”

The success of Barbie and her movie owes much to Mattel, the company that manufactures and distributes the doll. André Moreira, Head of Consumer Products at Mattel Iberia, told EL PAÍS: “2023 has been all about work, commitment and dedication. We want to make sure fans can have an awesome experience beyond just the big screen.” Their strategy has been tremendously successful, with over 100 brands partnering with Mattel to offer Barbie-related products. Predictably, these products sell out within hours of hitting the market.

Jonatan Nuñez’s Barbie collection.
Jonatan Nuñez’s Barbie collection. Jonatan Nuñez

“Barbie is 64 years old now. She started as a simple doll, but she’s become so much more. She’s not just a toy anymore — she’s an idea, a movement. And it’s amazing to see how society has evolved along with her. We’ve worked hard to make Barbie the most diverse and inclusive brand in the world,” says Moreira. Barbie embodies a rich history, as a cherished doll that has been handed down through generations and will continue to be cherished in the future. “The grandmother first played with Barbie, then her daughter and now her granddaughter plays with Barbie too.” Mattel recognizes the value and significance Barbie holds in people’s lives, which is why the company is so committed to fostering a connection that endures. ”We want people to really connect with the brand.”

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Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling have reignited feelings that seemed to have faded away, but never truly disappeared. In just two weeks, the vibrant and colorful movie raked in an impressive $811 million worldwide. The captivating legacy of Barbie will continue to enchant us for years to come, whisking us away to the enchanting realm of Barbie Land.

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