Melange Collection

Gift Shop Plus Winter 2024
Gushing over Plush: New designs, textiles take over plush market By Hilary Daninhirsch

Plush makers are setting themselves apart with innovative designs, personality-centric products and niche products.

If one toy has stood the test of time, it is plush.

Colette the Duck. Mon Ami.
Colette the Duck. Mon Ami.

Stuffed animals have been the quintessential gift for babies and children for decades. Many have become cherished heirlooms and symbols of childhood for the recipients as they enter adulthood.

But plush has come a long way since it first appeared in the late 1800s, with new textiles, new inspirations, new designs and an expanded demographic. It has also proven to be a mainstay for brick-and-mortar stores.

“Plush doesn’t do as well in digital as it does in brick and mortar because people want to feel it; that is bucking the trend in retail, which is focused on digital,” said Steve Wampold, owner of Punchkins, a maker of punny, collectible plush designed for all ages.

TOP-SELLERS

Over time, stuffed animals such as bunnies have proven classic, maybe even more than teddy bears.

“We initially launched [bunnies] as an Easter product but now sell them year-round,” said Bethany Therrien, president of Melange Collection. ”Our bunnies are made with an alpaca-blended yarn, so they have a very natural fuzzy look that customers just love.”

Sara Fulmer, CEO of Mon Ami, agrees bunnies are popular but adds that teddy bears are having a moment again after taking a hiatus.

Additionally, animals that spark curiosity in children are top-sellers for plush company Mary Meyer, particularly its popular axolotl (salamander) plush in its Marine Collection, as well as a stegosaurus dinosaur.

“Dinosaurs are really big right now across toys,” said Edward Jekot, marketing director of Mary Meyer.

Also popular is the company’s Marshmallow Zoo line, with its signature super-soft fabric, and magical and mythical creatures continue to trend.

GooseWaddle.
Meg the Fairy Princess Gift Set. GooseWaddle.

PRODUCTS WITH PERSONALITY

While classics will always perform well, many plush designers are adding their own personal twists to the market.

For example, Mon Ami homes in on European trends and tailors them to the U.S. market, such as the company’s French dog stuffed animal, who dons a beret, or Boden the Nordic Bear, complete with a scarf and hat.

“There was a hole in the market, a need for nicer, quality plush toys and dolls that didn’t break the bank; that is our sweet spot regarding our plush,” Fulmer said. “Every brand needs a few distinct features that make them unique, and this is what we lean into.”

Meanwhile, GooseWaddle found that people like to have stories to go with their stuffed animals, so the company launched plush dolls that are accompanied by a book.

“Each plush has a personality, like the princess that has glasses with fairy wings,” said Tina Weldon, owner of GooseWaddle.

DESIGN-MINDED

Plush Basil Bear. GooseWaddle
Plush Basil Bear. GooseWaddle.

To capture customers’ attention in a mature stuffed animal market, companies should focus on quality and a niche.

“We try to stand out with fun and creative designs,” said Melange’s Therrien. ”We also pay attention to the details with high-quality embroidery details. My goal is that the face on every toy we make will have a personality that will make you smile.”

GooseWaddle carved a niche for itself by using trending colors and patterns for its printed plush, as well as a fabric called Velboa, which contains spandex. The company uses colors designed to coordinate well with many baby nurseries. It also structures its products with children in mind.

“We sew the arms to the side and put on longer legs so kids can grasp it easier,” Weldon said.

Weldon also noted newer fabrics have taken over the marketplace, as well as using multiple fabrics on one plush product. She said this is an indication that parents are becoming more intentional in their toy purchases — for example, looking for toys that have a sensory development component.

Mary Meyer now offers products for the baby market, including its Putty line. “The signature sculpted fabric comes in subtle colors. We found it works great with moms, dads, grandparents, gift-givers; it has broad appeal,” Jekot said. “Colors are muted, making it easy to be gender neutral. It’s also a super soft fabric.”

Mary Meyer also recently introduced a new Smootheez fabric, a stretch velour. “We like it because it sews very beautifully, makes nice, clean seams and takes embroidery very well,” Jekot added.

AN EXPANDED MARKET

Gluten Hates Me. Punchkins.
Gluten Hates Me. Punchkins.

Consumer demand has remained constant for years in this market with an added customer base: adults. At Punchkins, Wampold joked that he combines his love of puns with his sarcasm to create adult- oriented plush, which the company calls “punchy plush gifts with personality.”

Categories include Sweet, Salty, Naughty and Nice. A bestseller is the Dumpster Fire, with the message, “I’m Fine — Everything Is Fine.” Wampold attributes the success of this particular plush to a post-pandemic world. Next year, the company plans to launch a line of plush featuring dad jokes.

“I’ve been a fan of the way you can express yourself with plush,” Wampold said. “I saw plush exploding and wanted to do adult plush.”

He added: “These new niches — like emotional support plushies — is what is going to be popular. Overall, it’s not just for kids anymore. Everyone is working from home and needs to decorate their office space; plush toys are here to stay.”


Featured photo courtesy of Melange Collection.

Hilary Daninhirsch

Hilary Daninhirsch is an award-winning freelance writer whose articles have appeared in numerous trade and lifestyle publications. She lives in Pittsburgh with her family.




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