“Spread out over two small black wicker coffee tables is the studio where Taylor makes traditional African clothes for the Barbies out of lapa fabric. Lapa is a brightly colored and patterned cloth commonly sold in markets and by tailors everywhere in West Africa. Across the continent in East Africa, similar cloth is called kitenge. These days much of the fabric is manufactured in China, although it is still called “African.” Taylor makes miniature outfits out of the cloth to dress the dolls. She’s bothered that the dolls aren’t more “authentic” (her words) but she sews away anyway.
Today, she still uses scraps of fabric. Sometimes she sews the fabric, and sometimes she uses a hot glue gun and scissors to shape the dress. But regardless of how the outfit comes to life, the process always starts with the hot glue gun. She glues cotton balls to the dolls’ chests and butts to give them more “African” figures. Then she cuts all the hair off so that she can cover their heads in lapa wraps. The outfits are always unique mini-versions of the styles well dressed ladies wear out and about town.
Most recently, in March of this year, Liberia hosted an International Women’s Colloquium that drew dignitaries like the president of Finland, Tarja Halonen, former Irish president Mary Robinson, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s daughter and others, as well as nearly 1,000 delegates. Taylor sold her dolls at one of the exhibition booths just outside the venue. She sold about 60 of them, though is most proud of her sale to “Madame Ellen,” Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is the first woman to be elected head of state in Africa.
But to Taylor, being an African woman is more than just glamour. “When I think about the African women I know, I feel strength. They are all real women with direction, looking towards the future.”