Originally Published: March 10, 2017 6 a.m.
The recent industry show Toy Fair New York featured a variety of huggable plush toys for everyone, from silky, infant comfort objects to cheeky stuffed novelties for grown-ups.
Sales in the plush category are surging, thanks to technical improvements in materials, broad-based appeal and collectability, said Isabel Carrion-Lopez, spokeswoman for the Toy Industry Association.
POP CULTURE PLUSH
The venerable Gund company, maker of plush toys for over 100 years, is now social-media savvy. If you’re on Facebook, you may be familiar with Pusheen, the cute comic cat tag. At the Toy Fair last month, Gund put Pusheen front and center at their booth, offering a collection of big and little cats as keychain and backpack clips, handheld toys, huggable pillows, and zippered cases, all covered in the tabby’s signature gray stripe. A series of mystery-box toys called “Places Cats Sit” features Pusheen on cat-friendly perches such as a shopping bag, laptop or towel. Buyers don’t know where their cat will be until they open the box and take off her Mylar wrap.
Gund also has licensing deals with Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli, producer of the movies “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”; there are plush versions of the films’ characters. And Gund has developed a line with DC Comics: superheroes like Wonder Woman and Batman as kid-huggable plush toys.
Curious George is also here, dressed as a firefighter, police officer, doctor and pirate. (www.gund.com)
Then there are the Giant Microbes: a booth full of human micro-organisms, including organ cells and bacteria, rendered in hand-size fuzzy plush, with little faces. Company president Andrew Klein pointed to a veritable hazmat lab of gnarly things like plague microbes, viruses and gross-outs of the science world. He says the toys are popular with educators, public health organizations, and science and history museums. (www.giantmicrobes.com)
Today’s plush toys have come a long way even compared to a few decades ago, when the material was stiffer and more rug-like. Improvements in fine microfiber production have resulted in a silky, squishable material. Stuffings are also soft polyester.
That makes them great for babies’ toys.
“Two collections are super-popular with new moms,” said Linda Colson, vice president of the company Mary Meyer, pointing out several families of neutral-hued, silky furred animals in her fair booth, and shelves full of small plush creatures with pacifiers attached.
“Today’s new mom wants her baby’s gear to reflect her own aesthetic. If she decorates with a certain color palette, she doesn’t want the baby’s room to clash,” Colson said.
So the Putty Collection features puppies, elephants, bears, and bunnies in gentle hues of cream, blush, gray and mocha.
The pacifier/toy is a Wubbanub, which Colson says was invented by a mom who kept losing her baby’s soother until she came up with the idea of sewing it to a small stuffed animal. (www.marymeyer.com )
Some books — such as Nancy Tillman’s storybooks “On the Night You Were Born” and “You’re Here for a Reason” — are available as a soft book and plush animal set. (www.demdaco.com )
Apple Park, a San Francisco-based children’s gear company, featured an “Organic Luxury” line made from 100 percent organic cotton. The collection includes plush booties, play blankets, and toys in gentle prints and hues. (www.applepark.com )
At Nat & Jules, creative director Julie Puntch picked up a Cozies Rattle Blankie, saying, “Moms buy these two at a time. They keep them handy in the stroller, car seat and crib.” The velvety-soft plush pets and wild animals have flat bodies, and a clip for a pacifier. (www.walmart.com )
Also at Nat & Jules was a plush puppet family of cows, unicorns, foxes, pigs and lions, ready for storytelling.
Toy designers are looking beyond the familiar animal world for inspiration, and a new world of wild is now available in plush form.
At Aurora’s booth, there were Rockhopper and Emperor penguins, orangutans, wild boars, lynx, crocodiles and meerkats. Rays, seals and aquarium fish were next to mammoths and pandas. (www.auroragift.com )
Gund had sloths and peacocks, as well as a fox with lustrous, life-like fur, and a dragon covered with plush fabric printed with a scale pattern, that somehow managed to look fierce and feel fuzzy.
TALK TO THE ANIMALS
A smartphone app guides the new Teddy Ruxpin from Wicked Cool Toys to interact with kids and tell stories from his 4GB hard drive; LED technology helps Teddy’s eyes move realistically. (www.wickedcooltoys.com )
At Gund, Flappy the Elephant plays peek-a-boo with his ears while singing “Do Your Ears Hang Low.” And Storytime Cub moves its body and mouth as it reads a funny version of the classic Three Bears folktale.