Squishmallow squad brings COVID comfort

·3-min read

Kathy Stajkowski was never the collecting type until about six months ago, when a friend in the US asked her to source a rare Australian Squishmallow.

She began what's known in the trade as "hunting for Squish" and she's yet to stop.

Now the 56-year-old Queenslander has more than 50 of the velvety soft toys and regularly visits the toyshops in her home town of Toowoomba to check on their latest deliveries.

They're a source of fascination for the children she looks after in her work as a nanny but it seems Ms Stajkowski also loves the thrill of finding a new or rare Squish.

She promises she doesn't have a favourite but told AAP, "Conrad the corn, I like him a lot."

Squishmallows were launched by US company Kellytoy in 2017 and have become an international phenomenon, with more than 50 million sold up till early 2020.

As the name might suggest, the toys are indeed squishy like a marshmallow and each comes with a description of its personality, including Squish with social anxiety and gender nonconforming Squish.

In Australia, thousands have joined online groups to buy, sell, swap and talk Squish, with enthusiasts developing collections known as ... Squish squads.

For Ms Stajkowski, her hobby offers a sense of connection with the rest of the world, despite closed borders - a yellow butterfly called Nixie, along with Edmund, a pterodactyl, were delivered to her home recently from the UK.

She laughs when asked how much she has spent on her new interest and answers "way too much".

At a guess, it's more than $1000, which brings us to a major issue in the world of Squishmallows - supply and demand.

There are reports from the US Kellytoy has increased production during the pandemic to more than 1000 different kinds of Squishmallow.

But only a limited number of each type are ever produced, with different characters manufactured for sale in various countries.

Rare and sought after Squishmallows might initially be offered for $20 at a local toy shop but end up selling for hundreds of dollars online.

Their resale value has led to the rise of "shelf cleaners" - scalpers who buy all the toys available at a store, to resell them at a profit.

"That's terrible, it's one of my hates," said Ms Stajkowski, who sometimes sells her toys at cost to people desperate for a particular Squish.

"The person that wants it the most is not necessarily the person who can afford it. I hate seeing people miss out because of money," she said.

It's not uncommon for Squish hunters to alert their online contacts when they step inside a toyshop, offering to post Squish to anyone, anywhere, who can quickly transfer the cost.

Ms Stajkowski recently posted Samir the Blue Whale to a mother in the US to give to her son in hospital.

She also hand delivered her "space squad" Squishmallows to a Brisbane nurse scammed when she tried to buy the toys online.

Ms Stajkowski has a particular "Squish buddy", a teenager in the town of Stanthorpe, three hours away from Toowoomba, who she alerts to the locally available toys and vice versa.

The pair meet up monthly to swap their toys.

"We talk every day about them ... it feels good when you work with another person," she said.

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