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An enterprising woman builds a business on outfitting African Barbie dolls.
MONROVIA, Liberia — Cora Taylor holds up a brown Barbie doll outfitted in one of her creations: a long dress and headdress in brightly printed African fabric.
“I wanted something else, something that looked like me,” said Taylor, whose full name is Cora Ann Elizabeth Evto Taylor Ferguson, though most of her friends just call her Miss Coco.
It’s hard for any doll to compare to Taylor, though. With hairdos that change more often than the weather, from a big afro to a slicked back ponytail that reveals a subtle streak of gray, arched eyebrows and a beauty mark on the top of her right cheek, she looks elegant even in a short-shorts green terrycloth jumpsuit and daisy-adorned flip flops.
Taylor, a Liberian who lived in the United States for most of the 20 years of intermittent civil war that shook this small West African nation, moved back to Monrovia in 2004.
During the war, nearly 1 million people fled, 1 million were displaced and more than 250,000 died. In a country of only 3 million, it’s safe to say that everyone suffered.
The war devastated Liberia. Now, six years into the rebuilding process, things are getting better but the process is tedious. During the war, the municipal water and power grids were completely destroyed, as was all basic health, education and other infrastructure.
Everyone who could leave did leave. Taylor left.
“When I first came back, I cried,” said Taylor, crying a bit once again. During the war, she lost her brother and a score of other relatives. Just outside her living room window is a pile or rubble that used to be her aunt’s home.
“I missed everyday life,” Taylor said, of her time in America. “Here, there are different kinds of stress today. But even if I don’t have a cup of water, all is still well with my soul.”
Though Taylor works a full-time job at a government office in town, she uses the living room of her modest but stylishly decorated home as a studio. With an abundance of energy and creative flair, Taylor began creating Liberian fashions for Barbie dolls.
"I'm not color struck, but most stores just have white dolls and I wanted something else," explained Taylor, who describes how when she visits the U.S. she goes from store to store looking for the black versions of Barbie dolls, and at one point had dolls with three different shades of brown skin. She can't find those anymore.
"These are not Barbies. These are $1 plastic dolls from Japan." She buys them at discount chain stores in Texas, Georgia, Maryland and anywhere else she can find them. They look like Barbies, with trim figures and startling bright blue eyes. They aren't ordinary Barbies, though. They have brown skin.
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.