Meet the creators making money from modified Furbies
The stuff of nightmares or your new creative outlet? We explore the nostalgic appeal of creepy-cute Frankenstein Furbies.
Images courtesy of Nicole Daddona and Devin Gardner
Meet Sexy Furby: he's six-foot-nine with fluorescent gym shorts, biceps, a six-pack, a luscious mullet, and the face of a 90s kids toy. Some might call him a monster, but for Los Angeles-based artist Nicole Daddona of @sexyfurby69, which has 28.8k followers on Instagram, he's an essential source of income.
Sexy Furby is the crown jewel in a collection of handmade, modified Furbies that Nicole has been creating since she first saw a picture of a human-sized, worm-like 'long Furby' in 2019. "I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, I've never seen anything like this in my entire life'," she says. "It was just so exciting to look at, so weird and disturbing and cute all at the same time." The image stuck in her head, and not long after, she had a dream about a Furby occupying the body of a buff, semi-human man. "I woke up and was like, 'Why is that so funny? There should be a hot, sexy, muscular, odd-body Furby that exists.' And so I made him."
While the original Sexy Furby isn't for sale, Nicole now sells X-rated plush versions of him online, alongside accessories, apparel and the occasional handmade 'odd-bodied' Furby. At 30, Nicole owned one of the original Furbies as a child. But her reconstructions are a far cry from the 90s version, with some of her Frankenstein Furbies spliced together with bananas, lobsters, spiders, pumpkins and pineapples. "It's very cathartic to like, cut the faces off of stuffed animals," she says.
Nicole might be a key player, but she isn't the only person to have made a legitimate business out of fucking with Furbies. Since the first long Furby appeared on Tumblr courtesy of a user named Aloe back in 2018, a whole cottage industry of Furby modifiers has sprung up. Many followed Aloe and made giraffe- or worm-like Furbies, which quickly sell on Etsy for over $100 each. The trend has since broadened out to span all sorts of distorted (and not necessarily long) Furbies.
There are bona fide collectors out there, too, like Steph, a 25-year-old Chicago resident, who has purchased several modified Furbies from Nicole. "I think them being handmade, being mostly one-offs, is appealing," Steph says, reflecting on the draw. "I think that really makes a community; you could trade them with people if you wanted to." Steph notes a distinction between modified Furbies and mass-produced collectables like Beanie Babies. While people to this day obsess over the latter, their Furby collection is a much more casual hobby. "I think it's definitely more just for fun… it's a conversation piece."
LA-based Devin Gardner, who runs the Instagram account and online shop Long Furby Fam (with 105k followers), had a similar revelation when he first saw a long Furby two years ago. "I was like, 'that thing is immaculate… and I need one'. It was like a bug in my brain. I was just obsessed with these creatures." With no sewing experience, Devin crafted his first Long Furby -- the final product was "awful and miserable", but he refined the technique and now has a similarly robust business on Etsy and social media. Not that all his creations are for selling. Some of them -- like a blue and white Furby hand puppet named Cookie, and a huge semi-spherical white blob named Biggest Loaf -- appear in an array of charming-yet-creepy vignettes on Instagram.
Devin estimates that there are a few dozen odd-bodied Furby creators out there, and while he hasn't met any in person, he keeps up with what they're doing, describing them as a friendly crowd who generally don't get into disputes over issues like who "owns" the rights to a long Furby.
While the community in question has mostly formed over the last three years, it's questionable whether the general public ever really lost interest in Furbies. According to Google Trends, global searches for "Furby" have been fairly consistent for almost a decade. For Devin, a horror-infused nostalgia has birthed the modification trend, rather than the warm-hearted, fond memories of a cute 90s toy. "Everyone's got the same story of 'oh, I had one in my basement, and it came alive at night and creeped me out.' It's a culturally ingrained memory at this point."
Both Nicole and Devin report that most of their followers are in the 18-24 age range, which means that they would have been toddlers when the Furby fad hit its peak in 1998-1999. Over those two years, around 16 million Furbies sold and, due to the intense demand, black market Furbies went for hundreds of dollars, with thousands of people putting their names on waiting lists for the robotic gremlins. But even though Gen Z missed that particular cultural moment, they didn't miss out on Furbies altogether. In the mid-2010s, parent company Hasbro released a series of updated Furbies to the market. Naturally, none of the new editions drummed up quite the same hysteria.
Instead, it seems that the unsettling, not-quite-right imagery of an odd-bodied Furby is what has created a community in 2021. Existing at the intersection of "adorable" and "abomination", they're almost unavoidably mesmerising, says Nicole. "Whoever designed the Furby face knew what they were doing when they gave them the eyes of a baby-slash-cat… It's just all the cutest things that exist on planet Earth in one face. You can't not look at it. It's like a car wreck."
Cassia Enright, a New York-based owner of two long Furbies, recalls an "immediate discomfort" when she first saw a picture of an odd-bodied Furby, and says that visitors to her apartment have outright hated seeing the ones she owns. "I definitely put it away if I've just started dating someone, like 'OK, Long Furby has to go into the closet'." For Cassia, it's the aura of a modified Furby that takes it from plush toy to compelling object. "It's a piece of art in my apartment," she says. "I put it on display on a bookshelf, so I kind of look at it as a fucked-up coffee table book." At 26, Nicole grew up during the Furby golden age, but doesn't believe there's a nostalgia element in owning her "long bois". Instead, they remind her of a different aspect of 90s pop culture. "It's just kind of its own thing," she says. "If anything, it reminds me of Toy Story and how Sid would manipulate his toys."
Even though the appeal of modified Furbies may stretch beyond momentary nostalgia, the creators are well aware that their "industry" could die at any moment. It's always possible that producer Hasbro might decide to stop people from making money off its trademarked toy. On top of that, it's getting harder and more expensive to find original Furby products to modify. Despite these looming issues, there's still no shortage of creators devising wild new Furbies, like Devin's "Mecha-Furby", a Mad Max-inspired de-skinned Furby with extra appendages. It is horrifying.
More than just a social media trend, the modified Furby has become a blank slate onto which creators can express themselves. "It's just whatever is coming through me," Nicole says. "It's very cathartic." Even prior to the current thriving era of odd-bodied Furbies, the creatures have been targets for all sorts of human impulses -- whether that's getting microwaved by destructive teens or refashioned into musical instruments -- and unless supplies of OG Furby corpses really do run out, the Furby carpenters of 2021 are unlikely to be the last to develop a new artistic medium around the toy. "I think Furbies are here to stay for a bit longer," says Devin. "So long as people keep coming up with new ways to torment them."