In 2021, Squishmallows took off. The toys, designed to feel like cushy marshmallows thanks to their stretchy fabric outers and unique inner filling made from recycled plastic bottles, look a little like your child’s favourite stuffed toy had a baby with a beanbag chair. They can be animals (think pastel rainbow-hued crabs and smiling pink cats in strawberry costumes), as well as fruits, vegetables, and popular franchise characters like Hello Kitty, Chewbacca, and Minnie Mouse. Like their 90’s toy-craze predecessor Beanie Babies, each Squishmallow has its own name and short biography, making them feel both highly collectable and weirdly relatable: Junie the Banana is planning a barbecue for her annual family reunion, for example.
The soft, rotund toys quickly shot to the top of children’s wish list. At the time, it seemed like they might be a short lived trend. Their popularity was largely due to a combination of TikTok hype (at the time of writing, the hashtag #Squishmallows has 5.2 billion views Squishtok currently has 1.9 billion views on TikTok) and what experts speculated was a pandemic driven desire for comforting, huggable toys in a time of uncertainty and isolation.
Fast forward, and two years later, Squishmallows are still at the top of wishlists. So what is behind the stuffed toys' enduring popularity?
- Squishmallows haven’t gotten stale. They launch new characters all of the time, continuously refreshing their offering. Collaborations with some of the world’s biggest franchises has kept collectors wanting more. On top of that, there are seasonal releases and limited production (some Squishmallows come with golden tags that pronounce them “Ultra Rare”) which makes them feel all the more stash-worthy.
- TikTok. It goes without saying that TikTok can be a powerful marketing tool, and Squishmallows have benefited from that, but it’s the kind of content that is produced that hits the right note with audiences right now. Squishmallows content feels refreshingly fun and wholesome. The hype hasn’t been driven by the brand itself, it’s driven by user generated content that Squishmallow lovers share with each other. Admittedly, there are some squishmallow unboxing videos, but a lot of the squishy-content online is made up of collectors doing silly Squish jokes and building enormous Squishmallow forts.
- They’re part of a wider trend for plush toys and other nostalgic classic toys. At this year’s Toy Fair, research from NPD showed that plush toys were the fastest growing category, up 29% year on year, driven primarily by brands like Squishmallows, TY, and Bluey. It makes intuitive sense that families are looking for toys that bring a sense of comfort right now. In a time when the economic outlook is tough, and the future is uncertain, surely we could all use a huggable, comforting toy.