Squishmallows went viral in 2020 and are quickly becoming Gen Z's Beanie Babies

·9 min read
schuyler mckinley squishmalllow collection
Schuyler McKinley has 45 Squishmallows in her collection. Schuyler McKinley
  • Squishmallows are plush toys that were introduced by Kellytoy in 2017.

  • They've recently grown in popularity on platforms like TikTok and Reddit.

  • Collectors told Insider why they like Squishmallows, and what it's like to collect them.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

A week before Valentine's Day, I found myself holding a handful of chocolates at Duane Reade and staring into the adorable black eyes of a full wall of Squishmallow plush toys.

Squishmallows are adorable stuffed animals in varying colors, sizes, and species with simple smiles etched onto their faces. The ones at Duane Reade were just calling out to be hugged. After months of seeing Squishmallows pop up on my social media feeds, I caved and brought Carmen the Cream Cat Kitty home with me. A week later, I ordered Reina, a butterfly.

I'm not the only one who's given in to temptation.

Squishmallows have risen in popularity in the past year, with casual fans and collectors alike posting about them on TikTok, Tumblr, and Reddit. On TikTok, the #squishmallows hashtag has over 553 million views, and the r/Squishmallows subreddit has over 12,000 members.

Kellytoy, the company responsible for Squishmallows, said this time last year that it had sold millions of the toys. If you look at - or even better, hug - a Squishmallow, you'll start to understand why they're so popular. But their adorable nature is only part of the appeal. With over 500 distinct Squishmallows, including regional exclusives, they've also turned into a collector's item that follows in the footsteps of toys like Webkinz and Beanie Babies.

"They're just really simple and cute," said 20-year-old Lee Wilkinson, who bought their first Squishmallow on a whim during a Walgreens snack run. "Their squishiness is a very specific kind of squishiness. It's a little bit firm, a little bit spongy, but still very squishy."

Squishmallows launched in 2017 and have been growing in popularity

Squishmallows originally launched in 2017 with a line of eight characters sold at Walgreens in three sizes - 8, 12, and 16 inch - Jonathan Kelly, copresident of Kellytoy, told Insider.

Each Squishmallow has a name and a personality: My newest Squishmallow, Reina, is a "style icon" who loves to do hair. Maui, the pineapple Squishmallow, "doesn't like to be scared, so she tries to conquer her fears by trying new things."

Since 2017, Squishmallows have expanded past a child audience and attracted people of all ages, Kelly said. The original line of eight has grown to 800 Squishmallows (a number that's likely to surpass 1,000 this year) sold in 40 countries. And though the company announced in early February that it had sold 50 million of the toys to date, Kelly said that it's sold 73 million of them and expects to hit the 100-million milestone within the next several months.

Squishmallows everyday lineup
Some 2021 Squishmallows, including Jackie the Tulip, Leticia the Lemon, and Bernard the Burrito. Kellytoy

Last year, Squishmallows began to pick up traction online. According to Google Trends, search interest in the term has been climbing since August.

"While children love Squishmallows, it's the Gen Z fans who have made the plush a true social-media phenomenon," Kelly said, adding that he also attributed some of the toy's boom to people seeking comfort during a difficult year. "In 2020 in particular, we saw a huge increase in videos featuring them on TikTok."

Popular TikTok creators like @mooptopia have been posting about Squishmallows since mid-2020, and activity around the toys on TikTok only seems to have increased towards the end of the year: many of the top videos in Squishmallow-related hashtags are from late 2020 and early 2021.

Collectors, and others who have casually gotten into the toys, have noticed the boom.

Schuyler McKinley, a 23-year-old Squishmallow collector, said that she had noticed Squishmallows blowing up online, helping to establish them in the pop-culture landscape. That online activity ranged from viral TikToks to increased membership on the Squishmallow subreddit, which McKinley said had grown significantly in membership in the six months since she joined it.

The subreddit-tracking site Subreddit Stats found that r/squishmallow had 292 subscribers on January 1, 2020. That number crested 1,000 subscribers in late June and began to grow exponentially in the final months of 2020. While there were only 2,000 subscribers in the first week of October, the subreddit surpassed 5,000 in the first few days of 2021. Now, at the beginning of March, there are over 12,000 members who share their collections, exciting finds, and struggles to get difficult-to-obtain Squishmallows.

Collectors have turned Squishmallows into a serious pastime

Online communities like the Squishmallow subreddit and content under TikTok hashtags like #squishtok, which has 88.7 million views, are a testament not only to the growing popularity of Squishmallows but also the fervor around collecting them.

Many use TikTok to engage with other Squishmallow enthusiasts and post about their own squads. There are TikTok videos that feature collectors showing how they prepare their bed to include all their Squishmallows; others with people sharing teary stories about strangers buying them the toys as a random act of kindness; and going "Squishmallow-hunting" at stores.

@alexis.mallows

NEW SQUISHMALLOWS AT 5BELOW PLUS WENDY!!!!!!!!!🤩🤩🤩 ##squishmallows ##squishtok ##fyp ##haul

♬ The Office - The Hyphenate

https://plush-place.tumblr.com/post/640946421120499712/i-just-thought-they-looked-pretty-in-the-sunshine

McKinley said she began collecting Squishmallows after receiving several as gifts before they became popular online. She'll occasionally go Squishmallow hunting, a hobby that started during quarantine, and search for them at different stores for hours at a time, filling the space between locations with podcasts and music. "Now I have 45 Squishmallows," McKinley said.

While collecting is serious business, so is the community that's formed around Squishmallows online.

"It's a tight, passionate, supportive, and inclusive community where people befriend and comfort each other," Kelly said. "They love to talk Squishmallows, share stories and support each other with tips on everything from navigating day-to-day life to hunting down the next Squishmallow to add to their collections."

Collectors say the popularity is making Squishmallows more difficult to find

Collectors are feeling the crunch of Squishmallows' increased popularity, saying that it makes the toys difficult to find. Kelly said "demand has outpaced supply," leading the company to ramp up production to meet it.

In January, the social-media star Charli D'Amelio drew criticism for posting a photo with her Squishmallow collection, Dexerto reported, with some saying that her post could inflate the price of Squishmallows.

But D'Amelio's post is only a drop in what may be an already unstoppable wave. One collector, 19-year-old Mac Acquaviva, said that it's become more difficult for her to find Squishmallows locally because of limited access to stores that carry them, and that buying them online is "often not even possible because they sell out so fast."

"Recently they have blown up on TikTok, and it's been increasingly difficult to find them in the wild," McKinley said. "There's definitely been a huge stir about them over the past year, and especially in the past couple months."

Katy Ring, 24, started collecting Squishmallows after receiving one as a gift in 2019. Now she has 49 of them. While she prefers to search them out naturally in stores, that's not always an option.

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Katy Ring "being ecstatic after finding Kent [the Chameleon] out in the wild at Target." Katy Ring

Sites like Mercari, an online marketplace, allow people to list Squishmallows for sale (some also use the website to make postings for ones that they're searching for). Some Squishmallows - including hard-to-find ones and bundles of them - can sell for over $100. At retail price, many of the 12-inch plushes cost around $20 (the larger 24-inch ones can be listed for close to $100 on their own), but resales can make that number balloon.

squishmallows mercari
A sampling of Squishmallows available for sale on Mercari in late February. Mercari

"It's such a great feeling to find one you've been looking for out in the wild, compared to searching on Mercari or Facebook Marketplace," Ring said. "It took me months of looking for Archie the Axolotl before I found one on Mercari."

The passion for collecting Squishmallows is comparable to previous generational collectibles like Webkinz (some "retired" Webkinz would sell online for thousands, Reuters reported) or Beanie Babies, which famously sparked a collecting craze back in the 1990s. Squishmallows, it appears, are on track to become the next hot thing - if they aren't already.

Despite a budding collection community, many just love Squishmallows

While the Squishmallow collectors' community is thriving, at their core, Squishmallows are cute toys that are nice to hug. Sometimes, it doesn't have to be deeper than that.

Deanna Schwartz, 20, said her mom gave her a Squishmallow as a gift in September when she was feeling down (after Schwartz had seen them on TikTok), and since then she's both received and given them as gifts.

"They're just so soft and squishy, and I don't know, they just make me happy," Schwartz said. "It's like stupid. I name them, and they bring me joy ... this is gonna sound so weird because I am a whole a-- adult and I like Squishmallows. It's just something really silly that just brings me joy in this joyless world."

Shayna Maci Warner, 24, said she and her partner decided to buy a large Dalton the Dragon Squishmallow at the pharmacy while preparing a recovery kit for her partner's upcoming wisdom-teeth removal. In that moment, it seemed just as necessary as vitamin C and extra hand sanitizer.

While Squishmallows are becoming popular collectible items, they're also toys, and soft, cute ones at that.

In Warner's opinion, a Squishmallow is a "perfect low-stakes investment for when you need to be baby."

Read the original article on Insider