How Squishmallows won the hearts of college students

Monica Nakashima, Staff Reporter

As college students embrace the ups and downs of adulthood, many have found Squishmallows, a line of stuffed animals initially marketed for children as “the softest, cuddliest, most huggable plush toys out there,” to be a subtle solution to life’s hard edge. 

For the past year, TikTok users have been captivated by Squishmallow’s unique designs and soft polyester material. Squishmallows range from 3.5 inches to 26 inches with over 100 designs. 

Jocelyn Ferguson, a freshman majoring in biology and a member of Pi Beta Phi, first learned about Squishmallows when her sorority “big” included one in a gift basket. Now, she has five. 

“I don’t even know how I ended up with that many,” Ferguson said. “I just blinked, and next thing you know there’s five squishies on my bed.” 

Ferguson said she thinks college students collect Squishmallows because they bring out a youthful energy many students haven’t experienced in a long time.

“Plus, they’re just too cute,” Ferguson said. 

Another quirk that sets these uniquely designed plushies apart from others is the personality descriptions on their name tags. 

Aziza the Stingray’s tag reads, “Aziza is a little alternative and loves to push buttons. Sarcasm, sleeping in and being silly are just a few of her favorite things. If you need a second opinion or a new topic to debate, Aziza is the mallow for you.”

Since every Squishmallow has a unique story or quirk, it drives collectors to search for their favorites. Squishmallows’ manufacturing company Kellytoy expects to hit a total of 1,000 unique plushies by the end of 2021, but the starting lineup was minimal. 

According to an Insider interview, Kellytoy Co-President Jonathan Kelly said Squishmallows launched in Walgreens in 2017 with eight characters in three sizes. Kellytoy expanded its availability to most major retailers, but Five Below became one of its most popular locations.

With the plushies becoming more widespread in stores, teenagers and young adults flocked to social media boosting Squishmallows’ popularity on TikTok specifically.

One TikTok user showed her friends partying in a college dorm with the text “what our parents think we do in college.” The video cuts to them introducing their Squishmallows to each other with text that reads “what we actually do in college.”

As the collection of Squishmallows has grown, many college students have become enamored with the plush companions. 

MacKenzie Hay, a junior majoring in advertising, said Squishmallows’ success is connected to nostalgia. As a child, Hay said she was a stuffed animals fanatic, and having Squishmallows reminds her of that time. 

Hay said she uses Squishmallows to cope with stress, including when she contracted COVID-19 earlier this year.

“I went into quarantine at the beginning of this year, and I decided to purchase two of them to help me get through it,” Hay said. She now owns 13 Squishmallows. 

Lexi Hall, a sophomore majoring in creative media and fine art photography, said she started  collecting Squishmallows last summer when her sorority, Pi Beta Phi, gave them to members during chapter meetings as incentives for activities. 

With the toy’s increasing popularity comes one downside. People are buying large quantities of Squishmallows to resell at higher prices on sites like Mercari and eBay. 

One person sold a Monica the Axolotl Squishmallow for $149 on eBay, about five times its retail price. Stores have limited the number of Squishmallows that customers can purchase which has sparked anger online. Ferguson, Hay and Hall agreed that it’s becoming harder to find Squishmallows in Tuscaloosa.

“Going to Five Below is like being in that ‘Hunger Games’ scene when the tributes first enter the stadium and they’re all running for the supplies,” Ferguson said. 

In fact, Ferguson said she’s seen Squishmallows sold online for over $300. 

“What’s crazy is that people will actually buy them,” Ferguson said. “Squishmallows are cute, but not $300 cute.”  

The opportunistic resale of stuffed animals is a phenomenon that has led many to compare Squishmallows to the Beanie Baby collections popular in the ’90s and early 2000s. 

Beanie Babies were stuffed animals filled with pellets rather than traditional stuffing and made from a soft fabric similar to Squishmallows. 

They also included a unique characterization to their plushies by having a small heart-shaped tag attached to the animal with its name and information. The tag determined its value, if any, in the future.

While Beanie Babies began its brand with different animal designs, they eventually branched out into commemorative plushies for holidays and celebrities. This led to widespread collection among older adults. 

“I remember my parents telling me about their whole Beanie Baby obsession,” Hay said. “They have so many different personalities and names, so it’s fun to collect them.”

As Kellytoy continues to profit from the plushies, it is a matter of time before we see if Squishmallows will be as priceless as Beanie Babies or just a throwaway fad. 

Editor’s Note: Lexi Hall is the photo editor at The Crimson White.