The band Journey is recognized for its lead singer Steve Perry’s soaring, full-throated vocals. One of the group’s most popular anthems is “Don’t Stop Believin’,” a song that encourages everyone to hold fast to their dreams. Given a new lease on life with the cast of TV’s “Glee,” which embraced it as one of their most requested numbers, this melody and its inspirational lyrics underscore what plush companies do every single year. They don’t stop believing (or believin’ as the title exhorts) that they know what their collectors crave. They don’t stop believing that there is a market out there for perennial plush creations. They don’t quit making collectibles, even in the face of fanatics who want the world to be stripped bare of any “clutter.” And you, the collector, you don’t stop believing in the power and allure of your beloved hugs.
That’s one of the perks of being the Plush Life blogger. I get to see what is heading down the pike for collectors the world over. It’s quite heartening to see how plush companies continue to manufacture and promote new characters and critters, when the rest of the world seems to be turning its back on the notion of collectibles and possessions in general. Being at the heart of the bear business, I am able to see how individuals and institutions pour their hearts and souls into these pieces. Are they working against a tide of irrelevance and consumer shunning?
If you’ve watched any programs on HGTV or TLC, you must have noticed the “tiny house” movement and the mantra of “less is more.” (That phrase always makes me chuckle when I remember an episode of “Frasier” where an out-of-control, egotistic Kelsey Grammer shouts, “If less is more, then imagine how much more, more must be!”) Yes, the new wisdom of the ages is that stuff—all kinds of stuff—is inherently wrong.
That’s quite a tough pill for a collectibles blogger (and a collector/artist readership) to swallow. Is there something intrinsically evil, or selfish, or anti-earth, about collecting? Should we all pare down our hugs, throw them away (or gift them to someone else), and reduce our inventory? In other words, is it being suggested that a good citizen of the earth wants to leave a very minimal carbon footprint, or for us arctophiles, a tiny pawprint?
I bring this up because Earth Day just occurred, and along with it comes all the suggestions of how to be a more eco-friendly citizen or dutiful Mother Earth son or daughter. Does having a pack of plush pals push you out of that fold? Truthfully, I can make the argument that having an affinity for plush and cloth creations actually makes you more in-tune with the environment and its inhabitants. Wanting to acquire effigies of teddy bears, bunnies, cats, dogs, and all manner of animals opens one’s heart and minds to their plight in the real, physical world. Locate a fan of ursine creations and I guarantee you have found a person who has wept while watching a Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial.
Teddy bear and collectible companies need to be supported and applauded because they are creating objects in a world that looks askance at space-consuming items and material possessions. We are all living in a world that could label our collections as clutter, and it is not that far-fetched to imagine a concerned friend or family member cooing how a piece should be discarded if it no longer brings pleasure or purpose!
Why, then, do we collect? Why is it that some people have the need to acquire and to display what is meaningful to them, and others don’t have a connection to anything that can be held in their hands? For some people, it is all about the ephemeral experience. For others, it is all about a totem that reminds them of that ephemeral experience. Gen Y and Gen Z are more inclined to turn up their noses to the idea of owning anything. They don’t need CDs or albums, DVDs or Blu-Rays, to enjoy entertainment. Everything is streamed. Everything is “borrowed”—the content is what matters, not containing that content in a container.
Collectible companies have had to reimagine themselves and rebrand themselves in order to keep up with the changing demographics. They’ve had to think about what will appeal to an up-and-coming consumer. Since more and more people are inclined to say they appreciate memorable moments rather than material gifts, companies have created the blind box and mystery box line of collectibles. People are encouraged to buy “blind,” not quite knowing what is inside the packaging. The thrill comes from opening it up (people film this on YouTube all the time these days) and seeing what was in store. If it is a repeat of what they already have, now they have an excuse to reach out to other like-minded collectors. They are going to have to communicate for a swap.
It’s daunting to be a company that has to reexamine where it stands in this brave new world. Toys R Us is shuttering its doors and brick-and-mortar storefronts that sell wares and goods are decreasing in number. Online is the wave of the present and the future. Since plush collectibles are a tactile sensation, it is difficult to convey that in a cyber universe. (That’s why doll-and-bear conventions, weekend shows, and artist meet-and-greets are so important.) This shunning of in-person, face-to-face commerce is a reason why licensing has skyrocketed so much. If the chance to browse and buy in a store, seeing a face that grabs your attention, is falling to the wayside, companies are banking that recognizable, well-known characters will grab a potential collector’s heartstrings, and purse strings, and will tug away!
One way to continue to have collectibles in our lives, and in the lives of generations going forward, is to buy them for the babies and the toddlers that are following in our wake. (Gosh, I don’t know what they’ll be called, since Gen Z suggests the end of the line. Maybe the new kids being born will be Gen ZZ Top?) Just like ZZ Top sang that famous ode to “Legs,” collectors are going to have to work hard to keep their hobby standing on its own two legs.
Reading storybooks that praise the legacy and love of a collectible plush friend (like the Velveteen Rabbit, Corduroy, Paddington, or Winnie the Pooh, to name a few) is necessary. Buying gifts that contain a little bedtime buddy for a baby is essential. In order to keep alive the appreciation of this artistry and these companies, individuals, and crafts suppliers, we have to support them. We have to share our affinity with others. Yes, we can pass along, and pay forward, some of our collectibles that are no longer among our favorites. But we can also bestow upon the children in our lives their own special, individual, unique new friends.
Animals have gone extinct in the wild. Don’t let plush life become endangered, too!