These chonky, squishy plush toys are about to hit a major milestone.
Hi, I’m Jack, and I’ll be your Squishmallows tour guide today. I’m the strong and silent type, butI’m always here when you need me. I’m not afraid to speak up for myself or for my friends. I can be a little feisty, but I love to cuddle. I love giving back and think we should always lend a helping hand.
There once was a time when it may have been considered dorky to have stuffed animals on your bed, but over the past few years, Squishmallows have dialed up the cool factor. The collectible characters have stirred up a frenzy among plush collectors that hasn’t been seen since Ty’s Beanie Babies hit it big in the ‘90s.
Created by Kellytoy in 2017, Squishmallows launched with just eight characters available at Walgreens. In the span of only four years, there are now more than 1,000 characters in the Squishmallows squad, and they’re the poofiest, chonkiest, squishiest plush characters around. To date, more than 86 million Squishmallows have been sold through specialty and major retailers across the U.S. Jazwares acquired Kellytoy last year and the companies expect to surpass the 100 millionth milestone in the next few months.
Squishmallows are made from soft and squishy spandex “EF” and polyester stuffing that makes each character as puffy as a marshmallow, so they are just as huggable as they are cute. That cloud-like squishiness is also a simple way to relieve stress and anxiety, making Squishmallows great for kids and adults on the spectrum or with sensory processing issues. The characters come in a variety of sizes ranging from 2-24 inches — and there’s even a 52-inch Cameron the Calico cat who makes appearances at trade shows and events. Most Squishmallows come with their names and personality-filled bios detailed on their hangtags, adding to the collectibility factor.
“We had always hoped to create a brand that would have broad appeal and be enjoyed by everyone, but typically it takes years to develop multigenerational appeal and I don’t think anyone could have predicted how quickly and passionately Squishmallows would be embraced by fans of all ages,” says Jazwares Vice President of Global Brand Gerhard Runken, whose favorite Squishmallow is Cameron, followed by Leonard the lion as a close second.
There is a steady flow of new Squishmallows that launch throughout the year, including licensed characters, retailer exclusives, and seasonal releases for which fans go wild. The most popular size is the 16-inch Squishmallows, and some of the most wished-for characters include Jack from the Select Series (that’s me!), the axolotls, Star Wars, Hello Kitty, and anything Halloween. There are also variations on the original Squishmallows design, such as reversible Flip-A-Mallows, flat Stackables, Squish-Doos with their wacky hair, and Hug Mees, the first upright-standing Squishmallows with arms and legs.
A SOCIAL MEDIA SENSATION
The easiest way to gauge the success of Squishmallows is to take a look at social media. The brand has more than 670,000 followers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter combined; more than 80 Facebook groups created by fans; and more than 2 billion TikTok video views on Squishmallows-related hashtags. Part of the fun for collectors is growing their Squishmallows squad by hunting down hard-to-find characters and sharing their hauls online using the hashtags #squishmallowhunting, #squishmallowcheck, or #squishmallowsquad.
“Collectibility was always something that was part of the plan,” Runken says. “Because of the popularity of the brand, we’re now seeing characters that were not intended to be limited editions are selling out, causing a chase with even everyday Squishmallows.”
Squishmallows had a huge increase in organic TikTok videos over the past year, and spring, summer, and fall orders increased three times the amount they were for the same period last year.
“Leading up to and during the pandemic, Squishmallows were becoming a true social media phenomenon,” says Kellytoy’s Co-President Jonathan Kelly, whose favorite Squishmallow is Hans the hedgehog. “We’re seeing influencers like Charli D’Amelio, the most-followed person on TikTok in the world, and Lady Gaga organically posting photos on their social channels showing off their Squishmallows lineups and garnering millions of likes.”
THE STORY OF A SQUISH
Kellytoy Marketing Manager Elisa Vazquez created the #squishmallowsquad community behind the brand and also wears the important hat of biography creator for the imaginative characters. “I had no idea when first creating names and bios that they would become so important or meaningful, and now when I hear someone mention their favorite bio or the ones that relate to them the most, it makes my day,” Vazquez says. “The inspiration comes from fan feedback, designs, locations, and general life experience, as well as colleagues, friends, and family. Also, tequila.”
The names come first and the bios follow. “There is so much power in a name,” Vazquez says. “Because I was the kid with a hard name who could never find it on a pencil or a keychain, I wanted to make sure that other people could find a Squish with their name on it.”
Cameron the cat was the very first Squishmallow. Vazquez took one look at the design and instantly gave him a name and a life story. He loves to jump in and out of boxes, build forts with his friends Hoot and Wendy, and use his skateboard to get around town. Paulita the tabby cat was inspired by one of Vazquez’s sisters; Doug the dog was originally a fan drawing that was turned into a reality as the first fan-created Squishmallow; and Maggie the stingray was created for a fan who was proposing to his girlfriend (She said yes!).
“Even though they are a plush toy, I want them to be meaningful,” Vazquez says. “Through the silliness and cuteness, I want them to inspire, I want them to educate, and I want them to make people feel seen, heard, and acknowledged.”
GIVING LIFE TO SPECIALTY STORES
Squishmallows got the ball rolling in specialty stores before the plush toys became available on Amazon and the Squishmallows website last year. Specialty stores work with Kellytoy to design retailer-exclusive Squishmallows that drum up extra attention from fans, such as Hank the hippo and Denise the mermaid for Walgreens, Archie the axolotl for Kroger, and Joy the sugar glider for Learning Express. As the Squishmallows brand grows and becomes more in-demand, that relationship with specialty retailers remains more important than ever.
“What’s great about Squishmallows is that specialty and independent retailers have a unique opportunity to tap into the craze and really connect with the devoted Squishmallows hunters to offer a more personalized experience,” Kelly says. “We always suggest that the shops think of Squishmallows fans as a community, not a consumer.”
“Learning Express stores routinely field multiple calls daily with customers inquiring as to which Squishmallows are in-stock,” says Learning Express Vice President of Merchandising Lisa Visco. “One owner reported that when a new shipment comes in, collectors get the word out to their ‘community’ before the store can even post it on their own social media. The frenzy is real!”
Squishmallows have been an important product for Learning Express since 2018, with sales increasing each year. Visco says that consumer demand began to explode this past January and credits that to the brand’s visibility on TikTok. She says it’s more difficult for specialty stores to get inventory now than it was even six months ago as demand grows. “Every retailer is now aware of how strong the Squishmallows brand has become, so everyone wants access to goods,” she says.
Rick Derr, owner of the Learning Express in Lake Zurich, Illinois, limits his store’s Squishmallows supply to in-store shoppers only. “We try hard to keep our supply of Squishmallows local for our core customer as collectors from all over try to purchase and resell them,” he says. “While that is the way a hot toy works, we just feel that our kids and locals deserve the best chance at the hottest and greatest selection. We love having kids join us in exploring and experiencing the joy of finding the right Squishmallow they have been dreaming about.”
A GROWING FAMILY
The world of Squishmallows continues to grow — or, in this case, perhaps shrink is a better word. Earlier this year, Jazwares launched its first line extension for the Squishmallows brand: Squishville by Original Squishmallows, a range of 2-inch plush characters and plush playsets, vehicles, and accessories that fans can use to create a tiny Squishville environment. Everything is soft and squishy, from the cars and airplanes to the furniture and backdrops.
“We wanted to expand the Squishmallows universe by extending play patterns that encourage creativity and imagination in a world where Squishmallows live, discover, play, and squish,” Runken says. There are plans to release more than 150 of the tiny Squishville characters by the end of this year.
Jazwares recently partnered with Moonbug Entertainment for Squishville, an animated YouTube series featuring 2-minute episodes. Additionally, the Squishmallows brand includes face masks, headphones, and plush backpacks.
Plush toys may come and go, but there’s always a way to squeeze in more fun with Squishmallows.
This article was originally published in the August 2021 edition of the Toy Book. Click here to read the full issue!