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“chaser” and “nft” mean something else in the sonny angel universe
welcome to strong feelings! Essays by writers we love, in which they share their most impassioned opinions on a given subject. If you love our usual advice column — don’t worry it’s not going anywhere. This month for strong feelings, writer and creative director for Strike Magazine, Skyli Alvarez, kicks off our first collector series featuring Adi Miller, a Sonny Angel and Squishmallow collector based in Athens, Georgia.
It’s the little things in life that matter the most. And sometimes, those little things are three-inch-tall cherubs that wear vegetables and pastries as hats.
These tiny figurines have taken hold of the digital world in the past couple years, and every collector, new or old, remembers their first Sonny. Mine was the Fruit Series’ melon, which I purchased at a toy store in Seoul the summer after eighth grade. Forget autograph graduation dog plush – Melon was, by far, my most cherished graduation trophy to memorialize the transition from junior high to ninth grade.
I’ve since pulled the same melon on two more occasions, but not to worry: I turned to Instagram to ask if anyone wanted to trade Sonnys and quickly found a mutual who also had a repeat of a figurine I didn’t own. We mailed our respective dolls to each other, eagerly awaiting the tiny cylindrical packages that would be delivered to our doorsteps.
A large part of what makes Sonny Angels a unique collector’s item is the “blind box” — a sealed package that keeps the contents within a mystery. The thrilling uncertainty of which Sonny Angel you’ll unbox out of (typically) 12 possible figures becomes a dopamine rush, but it also makes the community highly motivated to swap and trade their duplicates for the other figurines on their “In Search Of” (ISO) list. For Adi Miller, 25, who works at a veterinary teaching hospital in Athens, Georgia, accumulating Sonny Angels is a continuation of her life-long enjoyment of collecting. The Squishmallow and Sonny enthusiast highlights her assortment of nearly 100 figures across social media, which has allowed her to meet and swap with others across the country.
I sat down with Miller, in her room filled floor-to-ceiling with plushies and whimsical knick knacks, to learn more about her first trading event, her ever-growing collection, and of course, to talk all things Sonny.
First things first: Why Sonny Angels? How did you first get into collecting them?
I grew up as a collector, being raised by people that collect things. My mom collects shoes and vintage clothing, and my dad likes collecting instruments. [We] each have little things that we’re drawn to.
My dad also likes spooky and weird and eclectic things. Especially anything clown-related. I’ve gotten so many clown Squishmallows, and I gave him a keychain clown that he wears to work.
[The first Sonny Angel I wanted was the clown]...I first thought I was gonna be able to just stumble upon it and get it easily, and then I started looking into the different collections…I saw [Treehouse Kid and Crafts’] Sonny Angel wall and I was like, “oh no.” I bought two and then two turned into going in twice a week to get more.
What did you first think of Sonnys when you learned about them?
They reminded me of my mom’s Kewpie dolls. Growing up, I got to play with some of her childhood toys. [They] were always strange types of little toys. Like I loved Littlest Pet Shops: the big head, big eyes, the “Chibi”-ness. I like cutie things, [and] that nostalgia really is what drew me to [Sonny Angels], [but] it’s not like you could really go out and buy tons of different blind box Kewpie dolls. Sonnys are fun in that way, and are smaller and easier to collect than my Squishmallows.
What was the first Sonny Angel you received? And what was the first one you bought for yourself?
The first [Sonnys] that I pulled naturally (Edit Note: pulling a Sonny naturally is unboxing a blindbox as opposed to trading for a figurine.) were the little flower one and the reindeer. At the time, I had been eyeballing some online that I was going to try to get, obviously including the clown. The clown started it all. That’s the one I’m still chasing, and eventually I’ll have it.
Can you explain Sonny Angel-specific jargon or terminology that collectors use?
A “chaser” is the one that everyone wants, it’s most sought after, and is more elusive, [like] a Robby or a secret. My personal chaser is the clown. It’s one that just seems like it’s going to be impossible to get. Then there’s “ISO:” “in search of.” “DISO” is “desperately in search of.” “NFT” is “not for trade.” “UFT” is “up for trade.” A “Robby” is the little mouse man [that] is one of the more elusive ones from each series — he’s one of the two “secret” figurines in each of the blind box series.
What is a recent TikTok video or post about Sonnies or Squishmallows that made you smile?
I always love watching people unbox “secrets”. It’s so fun seeing the sheer joy people have from getting a Robby or just a “secret” in general. One of my mutuals pulled the sprout, which is the secret for the Fruit Series. Everyone is chasing the Sprout.
Why do you think young people are so suddenly obsessed with Sonny Angels?
I think our generation specifically [is focused] on healing our inner child and reconnecting with things that bring us joy and youth to our lives without the monetary strain and stress of having an actual child. I think that’s really why there’s a sudden influx of people collecting toys and a rise of people being more comfortable about collecting in general. 10 years ago, I would have probably been on like TLC’s My Strange Addiction. I appreciate the way our generation has become more forgiving with ourselves: We can find joy in little things and not have to always be so serious.
Have Sonnys helped you grow into your own?
I’ve grown to respect things that my younger self would think are badass. Like my younger self would shit themselves with joy if they walked into my collecting room. They would be like, “oh my god, this is so cool.” It’s important to try and make my younger self feel protected and unjudged because it’s hard thinking about middle-school-me feeling like I was such a loser for having special interests that are totally normal for kids that age. So part of collecting has also helped me realize that it’s ok to have those whimsical, childlike interests…It’s something that took a little bit of time not to be fully embarrassed to post online about.
People from high school did find my social media when I first started posting, and I had to go through this whole second wave of adult insecurity. Then I realized I’m, like, 25 years old. Why do I care what someone from my hometown…is saying?
So [collecting] has sort of helped me toughen my skin, [and] it’s been a whole few years of self discovery and learning to not really give a fuck. It’s really cool that something so little can do something like that for me. Like it’s cool that a little piece of plastic can help me become a secure 25-year-old.
How has collecting helped you find community, online and IRL?
Making friends in your twenties is hard, especially after college when you don’t have the ease of going to class and seeing the same people Monday through Friday. Post-pandemic was really when I started posting online and meeting people that had similar interests to me. I met my best friend through TikTok, and now I talk to her every day…Posting my collection online helped me find someone that is literally now another piece of me. It’s also a way to get more involved with a community that I love so much.
Do you belong to any online communities for Sonnys or Squishmallows?
I had a Sonny Angel Discord with my friend [and] I’m in a few others. The Sonny Angel Facebook group is definitely the best way to trade…I try to host most of my trades through my Instagram account that I have for collecting as well. It’s a cool thing [to have] that sense of community, being able to talk to people through Facebook group chats that we have for Sonny Angels, and seeing how many people just in Georgia collect them.
Tell me about your online trades.
For each trade I make a little goodie bag, [with] Hi-Chew and coffee candies. Then I make little bottles into fairy jars, and I fill them with glitter and then glue them shut. I always include those in all of my trades, [for] all my friends [to] carry around like good luck jars.
What is your most precious doll?
The Town Musicians Series mouse. He’s just got so much irrational hate for no reason. I think he’s so cute, [and] I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t like him. His goatee is perfect and amazing. That’s my most precious baby angel right now. But if I had that clown, it would be the clown, 100%. I would probably never shut up about him.
What was the most difficult doll to source or find?
It’s funny, but it’s probably that freaking mouse. I pulled so many of the Town Musicians Series, and I tried shaking the boxes to see if one was heavier than the other, and every single time I would get the ugliest one. Someone pulled [the mouse] and [they] traded me for him. That’s another cool Sonny Slay.
If you could have any Sonny ever, that you don’t currently have in your collection, which would it be?
The one that I want the most is the sheep clown. Besides that one, I would say I want more Robbys. I want a whole row of little Robbys, because I’ve never pulled one naturally. One of the biggest goals is to pull a secret or Robby on my own without having to trade.
And if Sonny Angel could create the collectible of your dreams, what would it look like?
It would be cool if you could customize your own Sonny Angel, to get your pet made as [one]. I would cry, I would get all of my pets done. And could you imagine a Sanrio Sonny Angel collab? Like, how cute would Cinnamoroll be? I’ve seen people make customs of them with air-dry clay on top of a Sonny they don’t want, but I’m not that talented. Give me the real thing: a Sanrio collab with Sonny Angel. That would be to die for. Chef’s kiss.
Tell me more about your future hopes for meet-ups, trading events, and your Sonny collection.
I want to be able to get, maybe every two months, a meet-together. As long as the hype is still around, I feel like the traction and the traffic will be there, especially with how successful this first one went. I feel like more people will come with each new event and we’ll figure out how to do something new for each. I love putting back into the community, and I feel like that in itself will help me do so.
As far as my collection [goes], I don’t plan on stopping. We have trinkets literally scattered all over our house. It’s part of who we are, so the next goal is to get [my partner] David into Smiskis: Smiski bf, Sonny gf.