If you have never caught yourself driving around town to stare at empty shelves at various Walgreens, Kroger and Five Below stores in search of incredibly soft stuffed animals, you can proudly say you’ve never succumbed to the cult that is the Squishmallow hunting community.
My own Squishmallow collection, like any great love affair, started off unexpectedly. During the summer after my first year at Tech, I moved into the North Avenue South apartments without any roommates for the semester. After I moved into my barren apartment, I naturally made my way to the Atlantic Station Target, where I made my first Squishmallow encounter.
I was wandering the aisles, looking for those cheap plastic Home Essential brand plates almost everyone has in their cabinet, when I stumbled upon a blue mass with two dots for eyes and a simple smile.
According to the tag attached to his back, this creature’s name was Benjamin and he was a self-proclaimed trivia nerd who would be the perfect partner for your next game night. Fifteen dollars was but a measly price to pay for my new companion who occupied the loveseat of my apartment over the course of the next year.
My love for Squishmallows reignited with the release of the Star Wars collection, which featured three different sizes of Grogu, better known as “Baby Yoda,” Squishmallows. Once pictures of this collection flooded my social media feeds, I knew the hunt was on. After many tanks of gas, numerous empty handed trips to stores across the state, hours scouring Squishmallow swap and trade Facebook groups, and two years later, I now have a bed, closet and bookshelf full of Squishmallows.
Squishmallows have rapidly become one of the most sought after toys in the United States, with moms, dads and college students alike in desperate search of them. There are three reasons I believe people like me have surrendered their hard earned money to these stuffed animals: lack of availability, the novelty of a constant stream of new releases and the personalities and backstories attached to the Squishmallows themselves.
The search for these oftentimes unattainable plush critters is coined as “Squishmallow hunting” for good reason. There is no central storefront or online website to purchase Squishmallows from which leads to a huge lack of stock availability. The main website for the brand only hosts a few select collections that are constantly sold out. Therefore, Squishmallow hunting was born out of necessity. Enthusiasts can find themselves searching the shelves of Cracker Barrel, TJ Maxx, HomeGoods, Learning Express, the occasional random gas station and other various brick and mortar stores to pursue their list of “DISO’s,” a term often used in Squishmallow hunter forums meaning “Desperately In Search Of.”
This lack of mass market availability plays into the Beanie Baby like infatuation of Squishmallows, sending fans of the brand on a mass hunt for the toys before they are all bought up by scalpers who resell known fan favorites and harder to find Squishes on buy-sell apps such as Mercari for triple the price. Thus, when a hunter finds a Squishmallow in an actual store, the intense impulse to buy takes over and the serotonin rush of the search reaches its climax until the feeling fades and the cycle starts all over again.
What propels this never ending search-find-buy cycle is the novelty of the product itself. Kelly Toys, the toy manufacturer behind the relatively inexpensive polyester fiber stuffies, has to be working their market interns to death with the constant stream of new collections being sent out into the void for hunters to stumble upon.
Their social media pages are a deadend for information, with most of their content being fan produced photographs of their own collections.
Every now and then, their PR team will throw us a crumb of information that hints at a new special collection, but for the most part, Squishmallows remain a highly unusual and unpredictable phenomenon, with collectors frequently collaborating over social media to figure out what new line of Squish characters there is to fawn over next.
At this point, you might be asking yourself why would anybody invest time and money into such a ridiculous and often fruitless hobby?
Well, the answer can be found upon examination of the product. There is no doubt that anybody who has had the chance to touch a Squishmallow would attest that it is truly one of the softest stuffed animal products on the market.
With the variety of sizes, one can use a massive Squishmallow as a body pillow — which is what I have adapted Benjamin into as he retired from his seat in the living room — or you can clip the smallest of sizes onto your backpack for some extra comfy motivation throughout the day.
What really attracts people to the Squishmallow cult is the small back stories and personalities that are attributed to the stuffed animals through the biography tags attached to them, which is again reminiscent of tactics used by Ty Warner to help Beanie Babies gain their following.
Whether it is Violet, the purple octopus that has a degree in Archeology who explores the sea for sunken treasure, or Archie the hot pink axolotl who started his own club to teach “Squishmallow Sign” to others in the community, the Squishmallow canon is as expansive as it is expensive.
It is the intricacies of the Squishmallow lore that suck collectors in and hold them tight with an iron fist as they find joy in reading the tags to find out that this unsuspecting green dragon named Miles with a heart on its belly aspires to one day be a computer engineer.
While Kelly Toys took a huge risk in already naming your soon to be favorite stuffed animals for you, a sacred pastime for anybody who has shared a bedside with their beloved childhood teddy bear, it paid off immensely and made the community surrounding Squishmallows even more fascinated with the product.
As you can tell through this piece, my passion for Squishmallow hunting runs deep.
What some may call an expensive coping mechanism to combat the stressors of Tech’s academic rigor, I call the thrill of a lifetime.
Steve Jobs once said, “the journey is the reward” and I believe that is the perfect metaphor for the Squishmallow hunting experience.
There’s nothing more exhilarating than being in search of a rare Squishmallow for weeks, sometimes months, to finally walk in and find what you have been looking for in a random Costco fifty miles away from your home on a Sunday afternoon.