Since 2003 the lives of thousands of young girls in rural Mexico have been made brighter thanks to a retired Californian who loves to crochet.
Upon retirement in 1990, Geri de Moss returned to a long-neglected hobby and began crocheting afghans and doilies. She kept at it for ten years, accruing a generous supply of afghans and, in the words of her husband, “enough doilies to put doilies on top of doilies.”
But after winning many blue ribbons from county and state fairs, and selling and giving away many of her creations, Geri looked for another avenue to use her crocheting expertise.
Thus began the great “Barbie Doll Adventure,” she recounts.
Geri took a look at her great-granddaughters’ hand-me-down Barbie dolls and began searching for patterns to make new clothes for them.
“At a local rummage sale, I came upon an old instruction book for making knitted and crocheted Barbie doll clothes, which I purchased. It is still in use, although over the years I have learned to create some of my own designs to supplement the original patterns.”
The De Mosses had spent decades driving around every part of Mexico. When they finally got tired of touring, they chose the beach pueblito of Rincón de Guayabitos in Nayarit as the perfect place to spend each December.
During the Christmas holiday of 2003, Geri crocheted clothes for a dozen Barbie dolls and gave them to a friend to distribute to local girls. The next year the number increased to a couple of dozen and the following year the Guayabitos Homeowners Association collected 100 dolls.
Since then the number has kept on growing until it reached around 500 Barbies handed out each year to girls living in humble villages on the coast or in the nearby mountains.
At first, Geri and her friend Dawn Bevins were the only ones crocheting outfits for the dolls. Soon they had the help of a dozen ladies, assisting them year after year in cleaning up the dolls, doing their hair and clothing them – not to mention managing the rather complex logistics of collecting the donated dolls and getting them all the way to Guayabitos.
“The donated dolls have come by the boxful from all over Canada and the United States,” says Geri. “During the past several years, I’ve had suitcases stuffed full of naked Barbies arrive from Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia. Dolls from Alaska were donated though publicity sent out to all of their Lutheran churches. Two loaded-down suitcases from eastern Canada were gathered by ladies working in their local hospitals, who asked their staff to donate used dolls. We get boxes coming from Seattle, Washington and Minnesota. One year I received two boxes from school children in Baltimore, Maryland, through their teacher.”
How long does it take to make an outfit for a Barbie doll? Geri, – a fan of American football – says it takes the length of a typical game: “Three hours more or less, depending on the difficulty of the outfit. Some of the fancier, more complicated designs may take a couple of games to complete.”
Once the dolls began arriving in the mail, Geri’s problem was getting them to Mexico.
“I fly to Guayabitos and can’t bring all those dolls with me so I put out word on the Internet that I was looking for someone who could bring them down by car. A man named Rick contacted me and offered to be my ‘Barbie mule.’ That was maybe 12 years ago and ever since he has been one of my best buddies.”
Rick the Barbie Mule lives in California and every year receives dozens of boxes of dolls.
“This year I brought down five boxes of clothes and dolls,” he says. “Customs used to give me weird looks when they saw all those naked Barbies in the back of my car. I got smart and now I leave them inside the original packages, sealed up, addressed and stamped, just as I received them. All of this has aduana running in circles because, as you know, they always ask, ‘Are you carrying any packages you got from someone else?’”
Rick is one of several Barbie mules who transported some 800 dolls to Mexico this year. And it should be mentioned that the beneficiaries of the project are not just girls.
“I usually bring down a case of Hot Wheels so the boys don’t feel left out,” says Rick. “I mean, what boy likes getting a pair of socks for Christmas?”
The Barbie doll was born on March 9, 1959 at the U.S. National Toy Fair, and like so many Americans, she was actually an immigrant, virtually identical (at first) to the Lillie doll, made in Germany in the late 1940s and, according to Time Magazine, based on a “Blonde Bombshell” cartoon character in Hamburg tabloid Bild-Zeitung. The German doll was initially sold to adults but quickly became popular with children who enjoyed dressing her up in outfits that could be purchased separately. In 1956, Ruth Handler, co-founder of Mattel, spotted some Lillies in Switzerland and bought three of them, recognizing the market potential of a doll that girls could dress in the latest fashions and role-play in different careers. She renamed the doll after her daughter Barbara and the rest is history. Today, well over a billion Barbies have been sold, suggesting that Geri’s “Barbie Doll Adventure” could go on for many years to come.