From Senior Designer For Barbie to Unleashing Her Inner Catrina, How Lily Martinez is Building Her Personal Brand
If there was one trend that has taken the world by storm in 2023, it’s an iconic plastic blonde with a story to tell — Barbie. But the real one to watch is not necessarily Barbie herself, but a creative genius behind the brand, Latina designer and illustrator Lily Martinez.
Originally from Durango, Mexico, this Latina powerhouse worked as Creative Director for Barbie for 17 years. She now lives in Los Angeles with her husband and four children.
A daughter of Mexican immigrants who came to America in the 1980s, Lily Martinez has always been on a mission to create beauty. She’s certain she wants to share beautiful things with the world. This passion and deep love for Mexican culture have earned her countless accolades and valuable opportunities in her career.
Lily Martinez and the Barbie design revolution
Lily’s professional journey in the design and creative world began in the ’90s. She studied fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in DTLA. Martinez then participated in FIDM’s Debut 1998 Fashion Show and was able to showcase her student fashion collection. That proved to be a life-changing experience. Furthermore, while finishing school, Mattel hired her as a temp Assistant Designer for the Barbie brand.
From there, she was promoted to Designer, followed by Senior Designer, all the way up to Creative Director for Barbie.
In her last role at Mattel, Martinez led the creative team collaborating to create and design all Barbie products. She also worked consulting on Barbie’s toy line, online presence (website and social media), and art direction for Barbie’s animated movies.
During that time, Lily Martinez had her hands and creative influence over various popular doll products. These included the Barbie mainline fashion dolls, Barbie’s sisters and Friends, and Ken and Shakira dolls. She even designed the current sculpt of the Ken doll currently on toy shelves.
Her role in creating the MyScene Barbie line for Mattel (a string of dolls hugely successful in Mexico) led to the opportunity to be a guest judge on an episode of Project Runway called All Dolled Up.
To say Lily Martinez majorly influenced the Barbie brand and toy industry as we know it is a vast understatement.
She received several accolades along the way, including a 2012 Barbie Award for her contributions to toy design for inspiring girls to believe anything is possible, given by Mattel Mexico.
After many years of creatively guiding and building the Barbie and Mattel brands, Lily left her corporate job to pursue other creative interests and be a stay-at-home mom.
That’s when the real creative and artistic magic happened. And after her celebrated and inspiring career, that’s saying a lot.
At this crossroads of her life, Martinez realized what she was truly passionate about and how her personal brand and her reach could empower others worldwide.
“I pursued my passion for creating beautiful things (crafts, pancakes, costumes, parties, makeup, etc.) while balancing motherhood back at home after 17 years in the corporate world,” Martinez told FIERCE.
Embracing the beauty of her Mexican-American culture
During this time, Lily created a family and fashion-focused lifestyle blog called The Beautiful Circus. This way, she connected with her Latina roots and a community of other Latina moms. Her blog attracted the attention of several brands and companies that also wanted to reach the Latina mom audience.
“I feel very blessed to share my lifestyle through my creativity [and to embrace] my culture in a way that resonates with people,” Martinez said, adding she also recognizes the blessing of being able to “make a living to support my family.”
Her blog and social media presence also allowed Martinez to explore other passions. “I enjoy sharing my life as a modern, artistic Mexican-American mom on my social media platforms,” she explains. “At the same time, I started to explore and discover my passion for the Dia De Muertos holiday and Catrina making costumes.”
Growing up in Northern Mexico, Lily Martinez was not raised to celebrate Dia De Muertos. However, there was something about this day that always intrigued her and made her feel empowered.
“I love that Catrinas is a juxtaposition of all the things I love and feel passionate about,” Martinez explained. “Creating Catrina costumes combines my love for makeup, fashion design, my beautiful Mexican culture, female empowerment, and an outlet for me to celebrate and honor my loved ones that have passed on.”
Lily has become so passionate about Mexican Catrina culture that she is hosting an exhibit October 6-8 in Los Angeles to celebrate this iconic figure. She wants to showcase how she incorporates her love for her culture into her work.
The costume exhibit is titled “Lily L.A. Catrina: Siempre en el Corazón.” It will showcase the vibrant, modern side of today’s Catrina, the iconic symbol for the beloved Mexican holiday of Día De Muertos.
Throughout the exhibit, Lily will highlight a curated selection of her most popular Catrina costumes from her social media, which she handcrafts from scratch!
Lily Martinez’s passion and pride for her culture led to opportunity and success
Her journey to success and where she is today took time and patience, admits Lily Martinez. “It took a little while for brands to notice our content and grow our following, to actually make a living full time with sponsorships and collaborations,” she told FIERCE.
In the end, some of the biggest challenges were a matter of relationships and building a sense of community.
“We notice that the biggest obstacle was actually ourselves!” she explains. “A big difference in growing our social media was when we stayed consistent and disciplined in posting every day. That, in turn, created trust and support with our audience.”
Luckily, passion won out, and Martinez’s pride in her culture and love for her community led to several entrepreneurial opportunities that she credits to her Latino culture.
“My Mexican culture is a huge influence in all that I do as an individual, artist, and mom,” she recognizes. “The traditions I grew up with have proven valuable in helping me raise my own family and having that ‘SÍ Se Puede!’ attitude helping me persevere during the challenging times.”
Lily knows that the path to success, especially for a Latina entrepreneur, is not a straight line and requires a great deal of resilience.
Leaving her secure corporate job to pursue her passions taught her tough life lessons about perseverance.
“In my most challenging moments after I left my secure corporate career, and I was trying to figure out my next steps… that’s exactly what I did,” Martinez said. “[I] just took one step at a time.”
Lily Martinez was always inspired by the famous words of Martin Luther King Jr.: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” No matter what your struggles are in that moment — fear, exhaustion, anxiety — just keep going.
And her biggest advice for a Latina who wants to start a business or any new chapter in her life is to believe in herself, first and foremost.
“We are our own number one cheerleader and, with the same coin, our biggest naysayer,” she recommends. “It’s crucial to [believe] in our capabilities to develop our passions.”
“Never give up,” she says. “Always be true to your authentic self and surround yourself with people that encourage you.”
“Hard work, consistency, and dedication are all a must, of course, but believing in yourself is key. It all starts with baby steps and trying new things. Going with the flow, but also setting yourself long and short-term goals.”