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Squishmallows gain TikTok popularity, sales

Squishmallows come with a marshmallowy texture that can provide people with a sense of comfort and calm. | Juana Garcia/The Cougar

Some college students may find their wallets a little lighter and their living spaces a little more colorful in part due to the soft, pillow-like plush toys known as Squishmallows. 

Released by Kellytoy in 2017, Squishmallows are huggable stuffed toys made from a “super soft, marshmallow-like” stuffing and machine-washable polyester. People can choose from over 500 cuddly characters, which come in a plethora of different sizes ranging from 3.5 inches to a whopping 24 inches long.  

The round, limbless plushies have grabbed the attention of people of all ages shopping at retailers like Walgreens, Target and Walmart. Although Squishmallows’s marketing, which features candy-colored fonts and images of children half-submerged in a mountain of toys, is clearly tailored to kids, teens and young adults have cornered the market.

Squishmallows surpassed 50 million sales across the globe within two years of their launch. And that enthusiasm for these collectible cuddly friends hasn’t flagged. The brand’s limited edition 500th character, a 16-inch black cat named Jack, sold out in less than two hours. 

But it’s not just Squishmallows that have seen a rise in popularity during the pandemic. Toy sales rose across the board more than $25 billion in the U.S. in 2020, up 16 percent from the previous year. 

Toys can assuage antsiness in kids with cabin fever, but they can also provide a sense of calm for people of all ages. Stuffed animals in particular can help in coping with stress and anxiety, providing welcome comfort amid all the pandemic-induced uncertainty

 We look forward to things that calm us down and cause chemical reactions in the brain that induce sensations which make us feel good, said psychology professor Carla Sharp. 

“There’s a lot of research that shows that physical touch … if you are cuddling with something or if you are with an object that gives you pleasure, it does stimulate the reward centers in our brains,” Sharp said. 

“So physical touch, feeling close to people or things, those are all rewarding experiences that would increase your dopamine and oxytocin levels in your brain and that feels good. Those are the feel-good hormones and chemicals in your brain. It calms you down, so it makes you feel a little calmer and a bit more secure.”   

The collectible Squishmallows are not  just toys, but characters that come with their own unique identities. Each plushie has a tag that gives the toy’s name and a description of their personality.  

The brand’s array of colorful plushies includes non-binary toys that use they/them pronouns, as indicated on their tag. Squishmallow plans to expand their offering of non-binary toys in the future. For example, Bobby the bunny is learning to love their tie-dye print birthmarks and makes Easter eggs to share with the other Squishmallows each year. 

As peoples’ Squishmallow collections have grown, so have the toy’s popularity on social media. Video-sharing social media app TikTok has provided a platform for teens and young adults to showcase their growing family of plush toys. 

The soft stuffed critters have garnered 200,000 followers for the brand’s social media and over 20 million video views on TikTok.

The idea of collecting stuffed animals is nothing new, but Squishmallows don’t appear to be heading toward the boom and bust of the 1990 Beanie Babies trend. New Squishmallows are released each month, providing a seemingly endless number of toys to add to your collection. 

If you’re worried about whether reliance on stuffed animals for comfort and calm as an adult during the pandemic is normal, Sharp said not to fret.  

“I think we all need to do what we need to do during the pandemic to stay as healthy as we can psychologically and compared to turning toward drugs or alcohol, turning toward a (comfort) object is less problematic,” Sharp said. 

“So of the coping strategies, this is not a particularly terrible coping strategy. … I think, certainly, for people who have been very isolated, for instance an older person that really cannot see family. I think for these people it’s been very difficult and finding a way that is marginally healthy is completely appropriate.” 

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