By Melissa Stough
“Lions, tigers and bears, oh my…bank account?” College students’ savings are all a little lighter thanks to the shelves of soft, plush creatures known as Squishmallows.
In 2017, Kellytoy LLC launched the line of “loveable buddies made from super soft, marshmallow-like texture and polyester” which come in a variety of sizes from 3.5-inch clip-ons to an extra large 24 inches, according to squishmallows.com.
These often limbless stuffed animals stole the hearts of college students as they peruse the aisles of Walgreens, CVS, Target, Five Below and T.J. Maxx. In Walmart, these toys range from $5.78 to $216.54,” which is certainly quite pricey.
Though these stores are not the only carriers of Squishmallows, that does not deter the hoards of people from scouring the market for the plush animals.
But where exactly did this bizarre trend of young adults dashing to the children’s section of your local Homegoods begin? Of course, the answer to many questions revolving around modern trends lies in the home of hopeful influencers and businesses, TikTok.
TikTok, the well-known social media platform which took the world by storm, provided an outlet for Squishmallow-obsessed teens and young adults to find common ground. Their youthful splendor combined with their inherently collectable nature continue to bolster the product’s popularity.
When asked why she collects Squishmallows, TikTok star and KU student Kiera Spann, username kieramarie.xx, stated, “They’re so soft, and they’re also a collectible, with some being rare. So, I think that really appeals to people.”
These squishy toys often start as a simple purchase and escalate into, as Spann says, “a treasure hunt” to find them all.
Spann also mentioned her first Squishmallow was the snail. She picked “her” up at FiveBelow, and that’s when things escalated. “I went down the rabbit hole,” Spann said. Her collection now totals well over 80 different Squishmallows.
When looking at the phenomenon created by this viral TikTok trend, it makes you wonder just why people are so enamoured with these plush collectibles. There is merit in what Spann and other TikTok users claim: Squishmallow’s popularity lies in their “collectability” and “cuteness.” However, there is more to the recent success of the brand.
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed people back into homes and into situations where they were forced to come to terms with uncertainty, something many experienced for the first time. Children grew up much faster, and young adults were faced with online schooling and the difficulty of navigating the ‘real world.’
Squishmallows offer a sense of childhood, their “cuteness” almost masking the challenges outside of our quarantined lives. These plushies serve as security blankets, providing at least a modicum of serotonin in these times where the search for such joy is a “treasure hunt.”