What the heck are Squishmallows—and why is everyone buying them?
These egg-shaped stuffed animals have taken over the internet—and millions of hearts, including my own.
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“Have you ever seen a panda pegathorn do muay thai?” I certainly haven’t. But so reads the quirky intro on the tag of a Squishmallow, the insanely popular plush toys that exploded in fall of 2020. (In fact, between January and March of 2021, the volume and frequency of searches for “Squishmallows” outpaced searches for “Selena Gomez” a few times.)
I’ve run across the puffy plush animals on TikTok on a handful of occasions, but I didn’t pay them any mind until I went shopping at Costco and saw a giant bin of mega-sized Squishmallows right after walking through the door. And when you see a brand on TikTok and at the very front of Costco, you know it’s kind of a big deal. Which got me wondering, what exactly is it about these toys that captured the collective adoration of millions?
What are Squishmallows?
Squishmallows are egg-shaped stuffed animals (and, ahem, fruits) with pieces of different colored fabric or embroidery that create features such as the stomach, mouth, and eyes. They're sold across various online retailers including Amazon and Walmart. You can find designs ranging from pandas and elephants to avocados and pineapples to cats crossed with unicorns (picture a kitty with a sparkly forehead horn and you got the idea). They’re popular among all age groups, from little kids who love imaginary play to college students to adults who have Instagram accounts devoted to the purpose of showing off their collections. Squishmallows’ popularity has led them to be likened to Beanie Babies, Furbies, and Webkinz.
The first Squishmallows date back to 2017, says Jonathan Kelly, Co-President of Kellytoy, the company behind the craze. Initially Kellytoy released just eight characters that were sold at Walgreens. When they quickly disappeared off store shelves, Kelly saw their potential. To date, “more than 85 million Squishmallows have been sold,” he says. “The brand [is] expecting to reach its 100 million milestone in the next couple of months.”
Each Squishmallow's tag features a brief personality description and name for the character. Some are bakers, others are sports narrators, and others, like the cat that I bought, sound like borderline millennials, despite their Gen Z appeal: “Tres’zure loves to plan events for her friends… [her] favorite part is creating the vision board and making memories...,” the tag reads.
Squishmallows come in seven sizes, starting at a mere 3.5 inches tall, and going up to 24 inches. They range in price from as little as $5 (for the smaller ones, of course), to a jaw-dropping $119 for a 24-inch Maui Pineapple from Walmart. Most Squishmallows aren’t that expensive, though, and come in somewhere between $22 and $50.
Why Squishmallows are so popular
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what launched these plushies into the spotlight, but a combination of social-media attention, collectibility, and envelope pushing are likely key factors in their sudden success.
Squishmallows are a hit on social media
Social media platforms, including TikTok and Instagram, no doubt played a huge role in making Squishmallows surge in popularity. Charlie D’Amelio, a 17-year-old dancer who’s amassed an impressive 100 million followers on TikTok—the largest following of anyone on the app—posted about her Squishmallow collection in February on Instagram, where the post garnered nearly 5 million likes from her 42 million followers there. (My 18-year-old sister, for one, thinks that might have been the first time she heard about the soft toys.) Kate Hudson and Lady Gaga have also made posts about Squishmallows.
Squishmallows are collectible
Aside from social media, Squishmallows’ characteristics appeal to Gen Z’s consumer buying patterns. “Gen Z is likely to be a strong market for goods that cater to escapism,” Stacy Wood, a professor in marketing and the executive director of the Consumer Innovation Collaborative at North Carolina State University wrote in a publication for the school’s Institute for Emerging Issues. “Collecting, as a consumer behavior, can be seen as a form of escapism because it lets a person focus and be immersed in a quest to grow the collection,” she says. “Squishmallows are easy to collect because they are not expensive, they are widely available, and they have a variety of appearances.” Indeed, the company offers more than 1,000 characters, so the sky’s the limit to the number of Squishmallows someone could collect.
Though no Squishmallows have been officially retired, according to a spokesperson, certain characters aren’t continually sold—rather they’re brought back for occasional small-run batches (something the company does “to help drive the element of collectibility,” the spokesperson says). If you’re hoping to purchase a “highly collectible” Squishmallow, you can watch for “Select Series,” which are “runs where only a small number of plush are introduced to the market.” Take Jack the Black Cat, the company’s first limited edition character that was introduced in September 2020. The 16-inch Jack was the 500th character, and as such only 500 were made. He was exclusively carried on Squishmallow’s official website, and sold out within two hours of release. The company announces limited runs and other news via the website for trade magazine Toybook.
Squishmallows are super soft
Aside from collectibility, Squishmallows have a couple other traits that may compel consumers. Namely how soft and cuddly they are—I didn’t grasp the rage until I physically picked one up prior to purchasing it at Costco. The exterior fabric goes beyond being tactilely pleasing to being comforting and almost compelling—the animal was so soft I just didn’t want to put it down. Both my sister and a friend’s 10-year-old daughter say they love the squishy and huggable nature of Squishmallows, and how the animals can be used as pillows. My friend's daughter has given and received Squishmallows as gifts.
Squishmallows are extra inclusive
The Squishmallows line-up has a number of characters that are non-binary. The first, “Bobby the Bunny,” is a tie-dye bunny with they/them pronouns that rolled out last year. “The feedback was incredibly positive and they quickly became widely sought after,” Kelly says. When asked about other LGBTQ+ characters, Kelly indicated the company has continued adding to its non-binary characters since Bobby's debut. He didn’t specify if other LGBTQ+ identities are currently represented, but said the company will “add more non-binary characters while identifying more ways to respectfully represent the LGBTQ+ community in the Squishmallows line.” Though representation isn't a make-or-break for some consumers, it’s very meaningful to others, including my sister. “Having a product that’s really big, that’s representative and appeals to kids is really important,” she says. She hopes that Squishmallows’ inclusion of non-binary characters may serve as a role model for other corporations, too.
Where to buy Squishmallows
If you want to get in on Squishmallows, the good news is that they are for sale all over, from major retailers to small local boutiques. The bad news is that the collectibility has made them so sought after that it can be tricky to track one down—just search “Squishmallow hunting” on TikTok and you’ll find plenty of videos of aficionados driving to different stores and sifting through bins in hopes of finding one plush or another.
Squishmallows are offered at a number of retailers online. Though they're sold on Amazon, you should be sure you only purchase Squishmallows that are “shipped and sold by Amazon” to guarantee authenticity. Other retailers have limitations on where you can buy Squishmallows—sometimes they’re in-store exclusives. Hallmark, for example, only carries Squishmallows in-store in small and medium sizes. Costco, in contrast, only stocks larger sizes. The 16-inch Squishmallows at the wholesale store sell for $12.99 online (I snagged one in-warehouse for $9.99)—cheaper than you’ll likely find anywhere else. Costco has eight different traditional Squishmallows, as well as a few in the 20-inch size. These larger Squishmallows cost $27.99 and are characters from pop culture—Chewbacca, and Hello Kitty as a mermaid and a scuba diver. I found both on Amazon as well, but they weren’t being sold by Amazon—a potential red flag.
Target often has a small selection (at the time of publication, there were nine available online), but you can look to Walmart for a larger array of options. Claire’s carries a variety of Squishmallows, including a few that are exclusive, like the Coral and Blue Puppy Dogs. You can also check your local CVS, Walgreens, TJ Maxx, and Marshall’s for Squishmallows, as these retailers don’t carry the products online.
Finding the most popular Squishmallows, such as Baby Yoda and Belana the Cow, isn’t easy and may require you to use eBay or other third-party sites. If that’s the case, be cognizant of fakes. Look for products with tags that are still attached and exactly match those you can see on the company's website to increase your odds of getting something that’s authentic.
How to wash Squishmallows
If your Squishmallows get dirty, don’t worry. You can clean them, but the manufacturer does warn they shouldn’t be washed in your washing machine because that could damage the plush toys. Instead, use a damp close to spot clean your dirty Squishmallows. You can also use a stain-removing pen or even a wet wipe to clean them.
But what do you do if your Squishmallows get so dirty that spot cleaning won’t cut it? Some parents have reported that they’ve cleaned them in the washing machine and not damaged them. Just be sure to put them in a pillowcase or washing bag and use the gentle cycle on cold and always let them air dry.
Are Squishmallows worth it?
According to the internet and numerous Gen Z folks the answer is a resounding “yes.” But “worth,” when it comes down to something like this, is always relative. I’m in my mid-twenties and last spring in the throes of the pandemic, I treated myself to a stuffed dog from Jellycat—which I’d liken to Squishmallow in that it’s a moderately priced stuffed animal that, as an adult, I didn’t really need. Nonetheless, I decided it was worth it in terms of the joy I get from having it on my bed.
If anyone hoarding Squishmallows en masse is hoping that their collection will be "worth something" down the line, that may not be the most sound rationale. Wood predicts they “will probably have a product life cycle that lasts a similar time to Beanie Babies, though without the 'high-dollar' investment aspect.” Gen X parents “remember Beanie Babies and understand the collecting desire… [they] will probably counsel their kids wisely about [not] expecting any long-term profit from it,” she says.
Still, after seeing and holding a Squishmallow and carrying it through Costco on my way to purchasing it for my teenage sister, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I was tempted to buy one for myself (researching for this article was treacherous). Squishmallows might seem silly—they sure did to me—but there’s something to their cute faces and soft fabric that you may need to physically touch to understand. I’d never be willing to spend over $100 for one, nor would I fork over more than $50. But if I saw a cute one for less than $25, well, let’s just say there’s a good chance I’d walk out of the store hiding it in an oversized bag.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.