Innovation

How Stuffed Animals Got Cheaper, Softer, and Safer

Here's a true tale of why things are better than they used to be.

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I realize that I blew the news hook for this great story by Virginia Postrel of ongoing innovation in the plush-toy market, but better late than never.

Postrel, the former editor of Reason, writes at Bloomberg View:

The plush toys that line store shelves this time of year are cheaper, often safer, and much, much softer than in bygone days. They represent a small, squishy example of a pervasive phenomenon: goods whose quality has improved gradually but significantly over time, without corresponding price increases and with little recognition in the public imagination.

Let's start with price: If you shop around, you can find a stuffed Easter bunny for three dollars. You could in the 1970s, and you can today.

My neighborhood Target is selling two models at that priceone a gangly-legged anthropomorphic fellow with a ribbon bowtie and the other shaped like a classic teddy bear with long rabbit ears. At $2.99, they're the cheapest in a lineup of plush Easter toys that includes offerings for $4.99, $9.99 and $19.99 (a child-sized giant rabbit). Back in 1970, when I myself was young enough for Easter baskets, Walgreens advertised "plush bunnies in 'hot' colors" for $2.97, along with other plush rabbits for $2.19 and $3.77 (and a velvet bunny for $1.39).

The $2.97 bunny from 1970 was probably bigger (the ad doesn't say) than today's $2.99 model, but keep in mind that these prices are not corrected for inflation. The 1970 bunny would cost $17.97 in today's dollars. Or to use another benchmark, the federal minimum wage in 1970 was $1.45—about half the price of one of those Walgreens bunnies—compared with today's minimum of $7.25, more than double the price of the Target ones. Earning enough to buy the 1970 bunny required 123 minutes of minimum-wage labor versus about 25 minutes today. 

The changes range far beyond price, of course, and Postrel explains how the materials used to make stuffed animals are much softer than they used to be as well.

It's a great article that tells a big story by focusing on a small item.

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  1. Postrel explains how the materials used to make stuffed animals are much softer than they used to be

    Phthalates, isn’t it? I’ll bet it’s phthalates!

    *** reads article ***

    1. Damn! “Microfibers”. Well, they may make good stuffed animals, but bad dish rags.

      1. I bought a bunch of new undershirts recently for the first time in years and was suprised both by 1) how much softer they are now and 2) how much water they absorb. I through one of them in the washing machine and half way through the machine shut off because it was unabalanced and the shirt must have had 10 pounds of water in it.

  2. Wow, it’s almost as if capitalism enriches the common masses and the worker. Which is, you know, the exact opposite of what is supposed to happen according to the Marxist view of capitalism.

    1. No, it’s because they are now made in China. At least that’s why the price is still so low. And better materials were just inevitable given the 40-year timeline.

      /derp

    2. The sophisticated Marxist view of capitalism paints it as superior to slavery but inferior to communism. It at least acknowledges that there is something worse, and that something reigned for most of human history.

      The unsophisticated Marxist view is just trash peddled by thugs.

  3. realize that I blew the news hook for this great story by Virginia Postrel of ongoing innovation in the plush-toy market, but better late than never.

    This place was so much better when Postrel was running it.

    1. True, but the stuffed animals weren’t.

      1. But the stuffed shirts …..

  4. I regularly have the same experience. I purchased hair clippers for the same $25 dollars that I paid for the clippers I was replacing, purchased 12 years ago.

    Last weekend I bought a doorknob for an exterior door, with a keyset, for $9. Granted, not the top of the line model, but I am astounded that one is available at that price.

  5. Kids these days. When I was a kid we only had pet rocks to snuggle with, bunch of softies if you ask me.

    1. Wimp…I had a pet *cactus*!

  6. Are plush toys as popular as they were in the 70s? I grew up in the 90s, and I may have had one teddy bear.

    Also, does the new fabric hold up to the wear and tear of play?

    1. Dominant toy lines from 77 to 95:

      1. Star Wars
      2. He-Man
      3. Transformers
      4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
      5. Power Rangers
      6. The 1995 Star Wars Re-introduction line

      Am I missing anything?

      1. Just this, courtesy of Mainways Toys:

        https://screen.yahoo.com/bag-glass-000000237.html

        1. Still more fun than the Pet Rock.

        2. The Home Lobotomy kit is WAY more fun!

      2. Fucking LEGOs, dude.

      3. G.I. Joe!

  7. Perfect gift for UM snowflakes to give away at the movies.

  8. How is Toys R Us doing these days? They used to have 4 stores within a 100 mile radius around my hometown. But as of right now, they have zero.

    I think video games have largely replaced the excitement of toys.

    I think the memory of overly gimmicky toys from the 90s still is still fresh in a lot of people’s minds.

    When Saban realized that they could just reboot their TV story lines to introduce new toys, I think a lot of people got burned out on toys.

    1. I think the memory of overly gimmicky toys from the 90s still is still fresh in a lot of people’s minds.

      Mr. Bucket, buckets of fun!

  9. A second Postrel link today?

    *swoons*

  10. Blah, blah. Kids are too soft already. Maybe the softer stuffed animals are the reason.

    What kids need are stuffed animals made of burlap and stuffed with gravel.

  11. News hook? Is that what we’re calling the interns these days?

    I realize that I blew the news hook for this great story

  12. Wolfie, who picked me out in Macy’s Parkchester toy dept. in 1961, would be jealous if I told him about this story. But I think he’d swoon over Va. Postrel if he met her. He just got rug-shampooed a couple mos. ago, so he’d be ready for a date.

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