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Squishmallows Have Successfully Made Fans of Gen Z, Millennials, and Gen Alpha

We sat down with Jonathan Kelly, co-president of Kellytoy, to find out just how Squishmallows became the viral, collectible sensation they are… 


  • Squishmallows have a huge online fandom of Gen Z and Millennials, who collect the hundreds of characters
  • Media brand collab lines draw in new fans, and are especially popular among collectors for their exclusivity
  • By giving each character a name, pronouns, and personality, Squishmallows also has fans appreciating their inclusivity

Squishmallows have been around since 2017 but they’ve exploded in demand since the beginning of the pandemic. During an anxiety-filled time, everyone turned to things that bring them comfort and little bits of joy—and Squishmallows’ popularity skyrocketed as Gen Z and Millennials alike found joy in buying and collecting (and hugging) the soft, squeezable toys made by Kellytoy. The brand has now sold over 100M squishy friends, and only continues to release new characters to collect and love.  

The “huggable, collectible plush toys,” which usually come in the sizes of eight, 12, and 16 inches as well as the larger, pillow-like 20 and 24 inches, have grown from just eight unique characters to more than 1K, and are sold in 40 countries. Hunting for rare ones has become a popular pastime among Gen Z collectors: They’ve become the Webkinz or Beanie Babies of this generation, growing a huge fandom of young consumers. On TikTok, the hashtag #Squishmallows has 4.9B views, while #Squishtok has 1.4B of its own. Meanwhile, the r/Squishmallows subreddit on Reddit has more than 84K members (or “collectors”), and hundreds of groups on Facebook are dedicated to sharing information about the toys. Some resellers and collectors have even turned to resale sites like Mercari to buy and sell the most sought after, with some of the rarer ones going for over $100. 

Despite their huge success with older collectors on social media, the brand is still putting energy toward the young ones they originally were designed for, too. Their success pushed them to begin making animated content for their young Squishmallows lovers on YouTube (which we know from Millennial parents is one of the biggest sources for their kid’s video content watching). And recently, they partnered up with Gen Alpha and young Gen Z favorite Cocomelon to bring kids cuddly versions of their favorite characters.  

Beyond the fun of collecting and the comfort they provide, fans have praised the toys for being inclusive and diverse. One fan told the New York Times regarding a collection of Squishmallows which were gender neutral and used “they/them” pronouns: “I feel like it’s normalizing it for children, and I love that.” Jonathan Kelly, co-president of Kellytoy, said that “it was pretty clear early on that our community was inherently diverse and inclusive, and they’ll latch on to particular characters or squads that remind them of themselves, friends, and family.” 

We spoke with Kelly in-depth about why Squishmallows have become so popular with Gen Z and Millennials, their social media marketing strategy, how they tap into popular fandoms, and more: 


YPulse: Who is Squishmallows’ core buyer? 

Jonathan Kelly: Families, college students, and Gen Z as well as collectors of all ages. And boyfriends. 

YPulse: Has the brand been surprised by Squishmallows’ popularity with teens and older Millennials? 

JK: Our early emphasis on social media and community building allowed us to gain a good understanding of the segments in our audience. We soon saw a large contingent of fans, especially on Twitter, who would message or tweet us in a friendly or joking manner about how they are adults who like our plush animals—and that they know were originally marketed to kids and families. 

YPulse: Why do you think young adults are such avid collectors of Squishmallows products? What are some of the things driving the popularity of Squishmallows across age groups? 

JK: It’s a combination of the large variety of Squishmallows characters and exclusives as well as being part of the engaging online community. There is something quite appealing about Squishmallows each having a unique name and biography to which fans can relate. Thanks to social media followers and inbox messages, we have also seen how Squishmallows help people cope with stress and anxiety, by offering comfort that’s especially welcoming during a global pandemic. 

YPulse: There are billions of uses for the hashtag #Squishmallows. With a lot of fans are using social platforms like Reddit or TikTok to create groups and hashtags like #Squishmallows or #Squishtok dedicated to your toys, has that organic content changed the brand’s marketing strategy in any way? 

JK: It really gives us an incredible opportunity to listen and monitor our fan and collector base. We still focus on reaching families, but the brand is aging up. We are in the process of producing more content geared towards our older audiences and planning more in-person activations and fan events. 

YPulse: How are you marketing your products on social media? What are the ways you’re building a community on social media? 

JK: We have always prioritized product photography and user-generated content in our social media. We aim to consistently identify and amplify positive stories and posts from our followers. Additionally, we orchestrate hundreds of paid social campaigns designed to reach new and existing fans while encouraging them to join the “Squad” and collect the more than 1,000 Squishmallows characters available in the marketplace. 

YPulse: What kind of Squishmallows are you seeing that are selling out the most and fastest? 

JK: All of them! It really depends on the individual, but the 16-inch size is very popular as are the extra large 20-inch and 24-inch sizes. Jack, the black cat, was our first Select Series release and a very limited run of 500 pieces. Jack is one of the most sought after Squishmallows for collectors. The licensed Squishmallows including Disney, Star Wars, and Hello Kitty have been a huge hit. Halloween Squishmallows are our most popular seasonal mallows. 

YPulse: Is exclusivity—smaller releases of their products—an intentional tactic that Squishmallows uses to create demand? 

JK: Retailers want exclusives in addition to the “everyday” squads. A major part of Squishmallows’ success comes from the exclusive assortments available at key retailers, which helps drive collectibility. 

YPulse: Inclusivity is incredibly important to Gen Z—has Squishmallows been intentional about showing diversity and inclusivity in your products in any way? 

JK: The unique names and bios for Squishmallows resonate with fans. It became pretty clear early on that our community was inherently diverse and inclusive, and they’ll latch on to particular characters or squads that remind them of themselves, friends, and family. It was very natural for our team to incorporate descriptions and pronouns that are meaningful to all at the Squishmallows HQ, and in our community, and we will continue this practice with future Squishmallows. We never actively promoted the pronouns for example, as ultimately, fans discovered them on the tags and word quickly spread the word within the community. While most of our Squishmallows are animals, we do have some “human” Squishmallows, like fairies or mermaids, and are aiming to expand the skin tones represented. Fans quickly discovered Bobby, a blue tie-dye bunny and our first non-binary character. The feedback was incredibly positive and they quickly became widely sought after. We have been adding and will continue to add more non-binary characters while identifying more ways to respectfully represent the LGBTQ+ community in the Squishmallows line. 

YPulse: As mentioned, Squishmallows has made a special line of products that feature popular franchises like Hello Kitty, Star Wars, and popular Disney characters. How important are fandoms for Squishmallows? 

JK: We get messages daily requesting Squishmallows in the form of their favorite properties. We have really enjoyed the collaborations with the likes of Disney and Sanrio, which allow us to reach new fans. We will continue to extend the brand into beloved fandoms with key licenses that focus on the collectible market. 


Jonathan Kelly has 30 years of toy manufacturing and leadership, and is responsible for bringing to life one of the world’s most popular brands: Squishmallows. He continues to run the Kellytoy division of Jazwares, bringing the most adorable, collectible plush ever created to the world.