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Barbie battles Shanghai crisis

Of all the places for a dinner date in Shanghai, grown-ups are now choosing a pink doll shop that they enter after riding an escalator through a narrow pink tunnel, writes Reshma Patil.

world Updated: Jun 26, 2009 02:42 IST
Reshma Patil

Of all the places for a dinner date in Shanghai, grown-ups are now choosing a pink doll shop that they enter after riding an escalator through a narrow pink tunnel.

On the sixth floor, they sit on shiny pink couches, open pink menus, order a Barbie burger lined with pink mayonnaise and sip a Barbietini served by waiters in pink shirts.

The new face of changing China is blonde, size zero and obsessed with pink.

Thousands of toy factories in China, the world’s largest toy producer and exporter, have shutdown since last year as global demand slumped amid safety concerns of Chinese toys and the recession.

Some major south China factories that made toys for the American toymaker Mattel also collapsed.
Toys have piled up unsold in warehouses and markets.

But Mattel has honed in on China’s old affair with the Barbie by choosing Shanghai’s hip Huaihai street to open the world’s largest Barbie store during the peak of the recession in March.
Ironically, millions of Chinese-made Mattel toys, reportedly even Barbie play sets, were recalled in 2007 due to potential safety hazards. But in this Shanghai dollhouse, the Chinese are not complaining.

Chinese mothers who grew up with a fake Barbie or Chinese dolls with yellow skin and black hair, bring their daughters to design their own blonde dolls, buy Barbie make-up, get a Barbie facial, catwalk on a pink runway and sign-up for classes to cook pizza or cut cookies.

Barbie, or Babiwawa as she is known in Chinese, started selling on the mainland less than 10 years ago. The size of China’s still untapped urban consumer market for western products is evident when Chinese aunties and grannies want to scurry to the store. And spend.

“Even old Chinese ladies are coming to the Barbie café for parties and to get dressed up and photographed,’’ assistant manager Elvin Jin, who wears a pink tie, told the Hindustan Times.

College students can be seen cuddling on a staircase surrounded by over 850 Barbies.

Young Chinese professionals, unlike their parents, have acquired a taste for coffee instead of tea. The latest addition in this six-storey Shanghai replica of every Chinese girl’s American dream, is pink iced coffee.