Kids can’t get enough Squishmallows, the squeezably soft toys that are the new Beanie Babies

Plush Canada UncategorizedKids can’t get enough Squishmallows, the squeezably soft toys that are the new Beanie Babies

Nico Peralta is only 9 years old and but he’s got an addiction. His habit? Squishmallows. If you’ve never heard of Squishmallows, you likely don’t have a young child in your life. Or a tween, teen or even an adult who has fallen for these soft, squeezable, colorful and collectible plush toys that are as popular today as Beanie Babies were in the ’90s and Cabbage Patch Kids were a decade before that. But unlike these earlier stuffed stars, the popularity of Squishmallows has been turbocharged by social media, from Instagram and TikTok, where fans post pics and videos of their collections, to e-commerce sites such as Mercari that let them buy, sell and trade with other fans around the world. And, of course, there’s the requisite TV tie-in, an animated series called “Squishville” that streams on YouTube. For many collectors, Squishmallow mania started innocently enough. Nico, for example, got his first Squishmallow, an orange fox named James, when his mother bought it for him two years ago in a Las Vegas gift shop. Then in February, he bought another, Ben the teal dinosaur. He was hooked. “When I found him in the store, I saw more Squishmallows that I wanted,” said Nico, a Keystone School fourth-grader. “And once you get one, you want to buy more and more and more.” Soon, his bedroom was overrun with Squishmallows, his bed hidden under mounds and mounds — he estimates at least 300 — of them. His @squishmallow_news_station Instagram page, where he posts news and alerts gleaned from retailers and other collectors, has more than 8,400 followers.. Squishmallows have plump, round bodies and features that vaguely resemble creatures out of kids’ manga — often nothing more than simple black circles for eyes and a curved line for a mouth. Many also have tiny, vestigial hands, feet, wings and other appendages. Nico Peralts looks at the Squishmallows in his collection he’s decided to downsize, selling them through Instagram and Mercari. Made of specially woven Spandex with polyester stuffing, Squishmallows are so seductively soft that they likely comforted many collectors through the pandemic, which coincided with their exploding popularity. “They offer uncontrollable love, in a squeezably soft package,” said Sally Winey, who once helped develop and design Beanie Babies and now runs an online plush toy repair service out of North Carolina. “The timing for them during the pandemic was just perfect.” Taylor Hakimi said her Squishmallows helped her deal with the pressures of being a high school senior, working 30 to 35 hours a week in an ice cream shop and living in the age of COVID-19. “They’re like a security blanket,” said Hakimi, 18, who lives in Atlanta but soon will be attending Chapman University in California. “After a long day at work, I’d come home and sleep with one of them. It made me feel not so alone.” The Los Angeles toymaker Kellytoy introduced Squishmallows in 2017, with the first eight characters available only at Walgreens. Today there are more than 1,000, with new characters — say hello to Luther the tie-dye shark and Carlos the crab — introduced regularly. To date, more than 86 million have been sold, according to The Toy Book , a trade magazine serving the toy industry. (Kellytoy, which was aquired last year by the Florida toy company Jazwares, did not respond to calls requesting an interview.) Bianca Ramirez and her daughter Isabella, 8, pay for the Squishmallows they recently bought the Learning Express store in the Alamo Quarry Market. From Abby, a pink octopus with a rainbow tail, to Zuzana, a ringed planet, Squishmallows range in size from 2½ inches to 24 inches and sell for about $4.99 to $70. On the resale market, however, they can go for a lot more, especially rare and discontinued characters. The asking price for Jack, a 16-inch black cat, can top $2,000 because only 500 were made. Like the Beanie Babies and Cabbage Patch Kids that preceded them, each Squishmallow comes with a hangtag containing its pithy backstory, upping their collectibility. Stacy the squid, for example, is described “shy and quiet,” although “all her friends know she can be a little silly.” Chanel the cinnamon roll is “sweeter than your average pastry” and volunteers at her local food pantry. Winey credits social media for playing a key role in the Squishmallows’ success. Lady Gaga and influencer Charli D’Amelio both have posted photos of their collections. Squishmallow-hashtagged videos have racked up more than 2 billion views on TikTok. And the toy’s blue-checked Twitter page has 97,000-plus followers. On Charles Duke the astronaut and New Braunfels resident, now 85, is still the youngest man to walk on the moon The Learning Express store in the Alamo Quarry Market uses its Instagram page to alert collectors when it’s getting a shipment of toys. When that happens, shoppers often will start lining up the night before in order to get first crack at the new arrivals, said store owner Tim Hicks. “We have people come in from as far away as Brownsville, Del Rio and Laredo to buy them,” he said. Jessica Dao started seriously collecting Squishmallows only in November and already owns more than 200. “I collect frogs mostly,” said Dao, 24-year-old software developer in Massachusetts. “My boyfriend loves frogs and when he saw a Squishmallow he thought it would be nice to have one that was a frog.” She’s been able to accumulate so many by buying and traded with other collectors across the United States and as far away as Canada, Australia, Mexico and the Philippines. Most found her through her TikTok and Instagram accounts (both under the @Imdatingfrog handle), which have 630,000 and 15,000 subscribers, respectively. Adrian Hernandez, left, and Aubree Molina shop for Squishmallows at the Learning Express store in the Alamo Quarry Market. The two came to the store as soon as they read about the new stock arrivals on a Squishmallows online groupchat. She also created the Squish Alert app that sends real time notifications to her more than 21,000 users when Squishmallow retailers restock the toys. How long the fad will last is unknown, but the Beanie Babies story might offer a cautionary tale. In “The Great Beanie Baby Bubble, journalist Zac Bissonnette tells of the lucky few collectors who made killings big enough to buy houses and put kids through school, but he also tells of the many more who lost thousands when the market crashed. “General Hospital” actor Chris Robinson, for example, lost almost all of the $100,000 he invested in the toys hoping to fund his kids’ college education. Nico, the young San Antonio collector, seems to understand and has been paring down his collection, selling them off through Instagram and Mercari. “I’m selling them for their original retail price, plus shipping, because they were taking over the house,” he said, adding with a smile, “But the truth is, I’m really downsizing to make room for newer Squishies. Just don’t tell my dad.” | Twitter: @RichardMarini

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