Factory Innovation Changes the Face of Plush

Long ago all plush toys were made in a place far, far away (50 years ago or so, and in Korea, specifically). They were sewn together in huts, I suppose, not even in factories. Thus, white plush toys were not available – they were all brown or some other dark color because they all arrived at retail dirty. White plush would only become available years later when the plush manufacturing industry moved to Taiwan.

When the plush factories migrated to Taiwan they encountered a significant innovation – Congoleum linoleum on the factory floors. A clean factory meant that white plush could be kept clean and white, and only then could they become the Christmas promotion tradition that they remain to this day. Some of these white plush Christmas promotional bears are now celebrating their 30th anniversary.

Brown white plush

Way back then, Walmart had just forty stores and K-mart and Sears ruled the toy world. My, how things have changed! If K-mart caught you selling to that upstart Walmart, “your ass would be grass,” as we used to say when I was a kid. Some companies operated under different names so that they could sell to Walmart and K-Mart would never know. Some of them had as many as 20 different company names on their hang tags, (that little tag on each plush toy, pillow, and mattress that threatens criminal action if you remove it. Every time there is a knock at the door I am terrified because I tore off one of those tags recently. Ssshhh!) so that retailers would not be able to know to whom else they sold goods. It was a cat and mouse kind of game.  

Today Walmart has thousands of stores and K-Mart and Sears have been almost given up for dead, from the toy industry's perspective at least. I hope that will change, too.

Not only were the Korean-made plush always dirty but the eyes were always scratched from being in a dirt/stone/concrete environment. In the Taiwan factories, with linoleum on the floors, plush toys could finally have lovely eyes that weren't scratched from lying on dirt, concrete, or other non-ocular-friendly surfaces. Imagine that.

Finally, in 1979, when President Nixon opened China for business, the plush factories and the rest of the toy business migrated there. Today all plush toy production has moved to China, along with most every other toy category. That, too, will change one day. The only constant is change, so we must be always prepared to adapt. Change is good.  

3 thoughts

  1. Bruce:
    Thank you as well for the history lesson. Maybe just maybe in our life times we can hope that our lovely plush comes home to be produced. We do have some small bear factories here, that have been producing plush for years.
    It is after all about the safety of our children. That is why these lovely buddies aren’t made in huts any more. When we give our children and grand children a buddy that they may likely have for years, we want it to be their pal, a friend they can rely on.
    Just imagine a world of no safety recalls and lost buddies. How great a change this would be. Thank you again.

  2. Love the history lesson, thank you bruce- especially love the photo of the well loved plush ~
    Cheer’s to the new year !

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