Featured Photo: Margaret Silver’s dragon collection has grown by six since she discovered Squishmallows. Photo by Margaret Silver.

Margret Silver hates needles, so after getting her annual flu shot at Walgreens, she scoured the aisles for something to make her feel less rattled. What she found was an 18-inch, light-blue stuffed dragon.

What she didn’t know at the time was that the dragon was a Squishmallow, a plush toy that can be anywhere from 3.5 inches to two feet. They are round with noses, eyes and sometimes wings or horns protruding from their bodies.

Most of them are animals, but a subsection of food-shaped Squishmallows are available as a potato, strawberry or even a serving of french fries. Holiday-themed Squishmallows are available seasonally and can be anything from a Halloween vampire to a Christmas elf.

The plushy toys have skyrocketed in popularity since they came out in 2017. They have become so popular, in fact, that collectors have started organizing meetups across the country, including in the Triad. People gather at these meetups to trade, sell their Squishmallows or just bond with new friends over a common interest. Online, eople connect through Facebook groups like NC Squishmallow Squad, which has over 2,000 members.

Since Yahoo! reported on Squishmallows in March 2021, the TikTok #squishmallows tag has gained 1.5 billion views, from 553 million in March to 2.1 billion as of December. The Squishmallows subreddit has gained 24,100 collectors, climbing from 12,000 to 31,100 members in the last nine months.

At the time of her first purchase, though, Silver didn’t know any of this.

“I’ve always had a thing for dragons, and I liked how soft they were,” she said. “Once I found out it was a brand, I decided to keep an eye out for more. I already had several Ty stuffed dragons at home and figured I might as well run with the theme. I now have four 18-inch Squishmallows, two 12-inch ones and an assortment of non-Squishmallow plush dragons”

Kellytoy, the brand behind the stuffed toys, has made more than 1,000 varieties, including the six Squishmallow dragons Silver now owns.

“A huge part of the fun for me is the tags that come with them,” she said. “They have little introduction blurbs with a different name and personality for each different squish. It’s super cute.”

There are meet-ups in both Winston-Salem and Greensboro now. Draven Ward, a self-professed Squishmallow fan, started organizing the meets in Greensboro after she was inspired by the ones in Winston-Salem.

“We have them about once a month at this point,” said Ward, who started collecting during last year’s holidays. “At our meet in November, people started throwing out suggestions and ideas for things to do for our next meet and someone suggested we do a toy/squish drive for the holidays.”

The drive was a success, with Ward and her cohorts collecting dozens of Squishmallows on Dec. 4 for children in the Greensboro community. She estimates the group gathered between 50 and 70 total of the toys. The drive was in person at College Park Baptist Church, but throughout the pandemic, the group has been meeting online when needed.

The Squishmallow toy drive was a success. Photo courtesy of Draven Ward.

“I know a lot of people have struggled to find connection throughout the entire pandemic and going to these meets and connecting with people who are also interested in Squishmallows online has helped me feel connected,” Ward said. “We have a really diverse community of folks. Some folks are in their teens, some folks are in their thirties, some people come with their kids.”

Morgan Talley, for example, is a Squishmallow aficionado who collects with her 8-year-old son. Talley got her first Squishmallow at Walgreens, which she says is funny because they’re so hard to find in person now.

“I love watching them be more popular and Kellytoy grow,” said Talley. “That means there’s always new styles coming out. At the same time, the more people collect them, they can be really hard to find. They’re hardly ever at Walgreens anymore, and my boyfriend knows all I want for my birthday and Christmas. He has to track down the big ones. Now every time I see one in person, I’m like, ‘A Squish in the wild.’”

Right now, some of the classic Squishmallows are selling on Amazon for anywhere from $10.51 for a multi-colored bug Squishmallow to $2,500 for a special edition black cat, though most of the rarer ones cost somewhere between $100 and $200. There are also social media groups specifically for buying and selling cheap Squishmallows, some with tens of thousands of members.

Gabriela Zerbe, who buys Squishmallows for her 12-year-old daughter, Jordan, says that she has struggled to get them at all in stores.

“When she finds ones she really likes, even though she has so many stuffed animals, I just roll my eyes and let her get them,” Zerbe said.

Jordan now has about a dozen Squishmallows, which she says is not a big collection compared to some people she knows. One of her good friends has 23.

Jordan found her first Squishmallow at Five Below before they became harder to find in stores. She did not know yet that she had tapped into a cultural phenomenon.

“They looked really soft and floofy,” she said. “It was right before we were going to go to DC and [my Mom] thought it would be perfect for me to rest my head on. I fell in love with them after. They really help with my anxiety too because they’re so great to snuggle.”

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