Finding Pokémon Merch Is Hard If Your Favorite Isn’t Pikachu

Finding Pokémon Merch Is Hard If Your Favorite Isn’t Pikachu

Plushies of my six favorite Pokémon are sitting on my desk. They’re from the Sitting Cuties line (called Pokémon Fit in Japan), an ongoing line of stuffed toys meant to give every Pokémon (yes, all 1000+ of the little guys) a piece of merchandise. Sitting Cuties touches on a sentiment that Pokémon fans have been preaching since the games did away with the National Dex in Pokémon Sword and Shield. Statistically speaking, with millions of people infatuated with the franchise, each and every one of the monsters Game Freak puts into the games is probably someone’s favorite. And yet, for a franchise that drills attachment into the hearts of its fans, Pokémon has a lot of ground to cover if it wants to give every hypothetical fan at least one item to put on a shelf commemorating their favorite ‘mon.

I’m lucky. My favorite Pokémon is the Raichu line, and because that includes the series’ mascot, I’m never left wanting for merch of my favorite little guy. My other top faves are also popular fixtures in the Pokémon world. We’re talkin’ ‘mon like Palkia, the god of space; Torterra, an evolution of a starter in a popular generation; Latias, a popular legendary; and Houndoom, another fan favorite who was recently featured heavily in Scarlet and Violet. That said, I also dig Beautifly, a bug/flying-type Pokémon that was featured prominently in the anime once, but has been largely forgotten as far as merch goes. So the Sitting Cuties line letting me put her on my shelf made me really happy.

Sitting Cuties isn’t the only time The Pokémon Company has attempted to make merchandise of each Pokémon, but the other pillar of the company’s “give every Pokémon something people can buy” is shutting down this week. Original Stitch is a shirt company that creates custom-designed shirts, and has, until recently, been rolling out designs based on every Pokémon. Sadly, on May 26, the company announced it will be closing on June 11, and will be taking its designs with it.

Image: The Pokémon Company (AP)

Original Stitch only made it up to Generation IV, meaning if your favorite Pokémon was introduced in a game after Diamond and Pearl, you never got a chance to buy a cute top adorned with your favorite. The designs were lovely and subtle enough that it didn’t feel like you were walking around with a giant Pokémon logo on your shirt. But they were also expensive, as each shirt had to be custom-made. Again, I was lucky, as the line got far enough into the Pokédex that I got shirts for all six of my favorites (two for Raichu and Houndoom thanks to far superior redesigns). But for a lot of people, one of the best ways to rep your favorite Pokémon is now gone.

For some, this is just an inevitable falling back into something The Pokémon Company has always done. If your favorite isn’t a cute, marketable mascot, odds are you won’t get much of anything based on them, especially as time passes and The Pokémon Company prioritizes new Pokémon over your favorite from generations ago.

Adam Schifani, community manager for the gaming-oriented children’s hospital fundraising program Extra Life, is particularly partial to Sandslash. This ground-type pangolin Pokémon comes right after Pikachu and Raichu in the Pokédex, and has even had an ice-type regional variant in Pokémon Sun and Moon. But as far as the OG? Schifani has had to rely on independent, third-party sellers to find anything of his favorite. Yes, Sandslash has a Sitting Cutie plush as a first-generation Pokémon, but Schifani, like many others, has had trouble actually getting his hands on the thing.

“As someone who hasn’t been able to get a Sandslash Sitting Cutie because I never see it restocked, I don’t have much faith in The Pokémon Company having a way to represent every Pokémon that people want,” Schifani says. “I get from a business perspective it’s not cost-effective, but it’s disappointing anyway.”

A series of Pokemon Fit/Sitting Cuties plushies are seen on a white background.

Image: The Pokémon Company

For some, the struggle comes from their favorite being more obscure. For others, the trouble is that their favorite is overshadowed by their evolutionary sibling. As a Raichu fan who mostly settles for Pikachu merchandise because it’s readily available, I sympathize with YouTuber RV’s plight as a Wigglytuff fan drowning in Jigglypuff merch.

“I would be more drawn to certain merch if Wigglytuff was afforded the same conveniences that Jigglypuff was offered,” he says. “Jigglypuff has become a headliner for the fairy type [so] it’s always front and center in new merch. For instance, I own a Jigglypuff necklace from the Pokémon x Rocklove collaboration, would I like one of Wigglytuff too? Well it’s less that I would go out and buy new merch, but if the option existed at the time I would have preferred Wigglytuff.”

The Sitting Cuties line is propped up as a solution to this problem, but now that the line spans five generations totaling roughly 649 creatures, The Pokémon Company hasn’t consistently kept early plushies in stock. If you search for Sitting Cuties on the online store, you’ll get a few hundred available results, but eventually, you’ll find a graveyard of out-of-stock plushies that have no known return date. With the official Pokémon Center site feeling inconsistent and unreliable, some fans have just opted to make their own merch or have some commissioned.

A hand is shown holding a crochet Koffing.

Photo: Eli Fitch

Eli Fitch, engineering manager at collaborative design tool Figma, loves Koffing. Despite some early anime love, the gas-spewing poison-type hasn’t received a ton of attention in recent years. So instead of waiting, Fitch says he “bribed” a coworker to crochet a Koffing for him, which he says is “way better” than anything The Pokémon Company has offered, as he wasn’t impressed by the Sitting Cutie plush, saying it “felt kind of small and cheap, didn’t really capture the essence of the design.” Despite The Pokémon Company’s lack of follow-through, Fitch thinks Koffing has a lot of merch potential through other avenues.

“I think Koffing has this big grin that seems a perfect fit for graphic tees, mugs, the classic Redbubble, Society6, etc. stuff,” Fitch says. “Koffing has a round shape that’d be perfect for a Squishmallow as well.”

While a crochet Koffing is adjacent to the plushies The Pokémon Company already sells, some fans are going with more unorthodox homemade merchandise. Christopher “Griver84″ Dunn is a Twitch streamer and Hippowdon fan. While he says he will likely buy Hippowdon’s Sitting Cutie at some point, the hippo’s lack of official love had him looking to other avenues to represent his fave, including having a Perler bead mockup of Hippowdon’s in-game sprite from Diamond and Pearl made as a birthday present.

For a lot of adult fans, these kinds of items are preferable to a plushie or figure, and it seems like The Pokémon Company has caught on to that, as Pokémon increasingly feels less like a line of games and toys than it does a full-blown lifestyle brand. Dunn says this shift has given the brand longevity for him, as Pokémon has given adult fans more practical merchandise as the years have gone on.

“I usually don’t hunt down merch but [instead] buy things on the fly if I happen to stumble across them and have the budget to do so,” Dunn says. “I like the fact that Pokémon is kinda a lifestyle these days and not just a ‘merch’ or ‘video game’ line. It’s one of the few constants in my life since the Red and Blue days.”

RV echoes the sentiment, saying that merch beyond toys, such as clothing and home items, has helped keep Pokémon an “all-ages” franchise similar to Disney, or to Lego’s shift from mostly making sets for children into offering plenty of adult-oriented merch as well.

Image for article titled It's Hard Out There For Pokémon Fans If Your Favorite Isn't Pikachu

Photo: Christopher Dunn

“In the time that Pokémon has shifted into more lifestyle products and less exclusively toys, I have turned from a bumbling teenager to a fully formed adult, and as such I would be lying if I said I did not enjoy the pivot,” he says. “More items that are more socially acceptable for older audiences to own is not a bad thing, especially as more and more people grow up consistently loving the franchise.”

Pokémon is a globally recognized brand, but depending on where you live, your options for merchandise may be far more limited. Dan Moore, a UK-based fan of Pokémon, and of Dracovish and Aeigslash especially, says he feels a bit of jealousy toward those in territories that have more options available. While the UK has received some love with pop-up stores, Moore feels Japanese fans will always have access to more merchandise just by proximity. The series originates in Japan and there are 16 Pokémon Center store locations in Asia. The U.S. had one in New York City in the early 2000s until it was repurposed into a general Nintendo store in 2005.

“Japan has much more choice than in the UK and I always hope for a full Pokémon store outside of the pop-ups and the more robust online store of recent years,” Moore says.

In the meantime, he says he’ll wait until his favorites get Sitting Cutie plushies in future waves, as both Aegislash and Dracovish originated in Generations VI and VIII, and as of this writing, the line has only reached Generation V. While these plushies may not be the highest-quality pieces Pokémon has ever put out, they are affordable, especially compared to Original Stitch shirts, which would run you around $100 USD, at minimum.

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“[Original Stitch was] just too much for me to afford,” Moore says. “A shirt for that much money is just not something I could reasonably afford but would dote over semi-regularly. I just spent half an hour looking through Sitting Cuties. [I’m] very much on board, but my boys are not there at the moment. For shame.”

An Elekid pin shows the Pokemon with its arms up like it's flexing.

Image: The Pokémon Company

For some of the more obscure picks, if they do get merch, it’s rarely on their own. Jordan Deeb, a podcaster who loves Elekid, wants a pin of the electric-type baby Pokémon, but the Pokémon Center only sells it in a bundle with several other pins. This, of course, raises the price far beyond what an individual pin would cost, but if you don’t love any of the other Pokémon, it’s harder to justify the money.

“Trying to find Elekid merch outside of just plushies is hard, and if any exists it’s often lumped in with others,” Deeb says. “For example, the Pokémon Center sells a set of pins of baby Pokémon that include Elekid but do not sell Elekid’s pin on its own. I don’t have strong feelings about the other Pokémon that come in that pin set.”

Elekid was, at one time, a prominent Pokémon in merchandising as a tie-in to Pokémon The Movie 2000, having made its debut in the film. But that was 20 years ago. Now there’s speculation that Elekid specifically has dropped off the merchandise train due to its design including what look like AC power plugs, and The Pokémon Company not wanting kids to try shoving the little guy into electric sockets. But unlike the early 2000s, when Pokémon used to constantly have cross promotions with other brands, these days, The Pokémon Company has an airtight lock on merchandising rights and you’re less likely to see Pikachu on the side of a cereal box. So finding something of an older Pokémon often means buying older collectibles that have skyrocketed in price.

“I’ve always wanted to get a nice, high-quality, small figurine of them but they’re either all bootleg or very expensive since they’re from the late 90s or early 2000s,” Deeb says. “Which has been the hardest thing about being an Elekid fanatic. Elekid was one of the Gen II Pokémon used on a lot of merchandising, alongside Pokémon like Togepi and Marill. They were slapped on cereal boxes, pop tarts, and other Gen II merch but now it’s hard to find really anything.”

While the UK may not be The Pokémon Company’s biggest priority, some places don’t have any official channels to go through at all. Journalist Willem Hilhorst is an Excadrill fan in the Netherlands, who has managed to get some merchandise like the Original Stitch shirts imported to the country, but because the Pokémon Center doesn’t ship to him, he’s had to use roundabout ways to get official merchandise, or ask friends who live elsewhere for their help. However, he was finally able to find the Excadrill Sitting Cutie after a trip to Japan earlier this year.

A hand is seen holding an Excadrill plush.

Photo: Willem Hilhorst

“Last month, I finally got to go to Japan myself and one of the main goals was to find any Excadrill merch, since I hadn’t owned any yet,” Hilhorst says. “I originally had planned to go on a specific day to one of the Pokémon Centers in Osaka, but when I saw voice actor SungWon Cho tweet about looking for a Mienshao plushie I only then realized that there was a Gen V set of Sitting Cuties that had just released. The next day I went to a Pokémon Center in Kyoto and finally found an Excadrill plush as well as a small hanger of it and Drillbur. I think I was very lucky to see that tweet, because all the other Centers I visited during my vacation did not have an Excadrill.”

With over 1000 Pokémon in the Pokédex now, it’s inevitable that certain Pokémon won’t receive the same love Pikachu does. But for a franchise that’s been around this long, asking for every Pokémon introduced to receive some love doesn’t feel like an unreasonable ask. Pokémon’s preservation of its own history has been an ongoing conversation in the community, especially in the wake of dropping the National Dex in the games, making it impossible to acquire or transfer every Pokémon in every game. While there are mainstays like Pikachu and Eevee that will likely always be prominent in the games, anime, and merchandise, the pipe dream of every Pokémon being supported with the same push has been unmasked as just that.

“Maintaining an ever-growing library of Pokémon designs is an impossible task, especially given the short development cycles for even mainline titles,” Fitch says. “I think it could be a tremendously cool thing to have seamless and easy access of all the Pokémon you’ve ever caught in 20+ years all in one place, but that ship has well and truly sailed at this point. Absent a ‘hardcore’ and/or competition-focused live service companion to the traditional mainline releases, I don’t think it’s feasible to have the full dex in each new release.”

Some folks are understanding of the Gigantamax task The Pokémon Company has in front of it, but it still stings when your favorite isn’t getting any share of the spotlight.

“I strongly dislike that they can’t keep up with their own history,” Schifani says. “In most previous games, there was a way for folks to get access to the Pokémon they liked the most while still introducing gamers to new Pokémon. Not including the National Dex is one of several reasons that I didn’t play Scarlet and Violet. I understand it is a lot of work to create animations for 1000+ Pokémon, but it’s disappointing that some Pokémon just don’t exist in newer games.”

A person is seen wearing a Pokemon Original Stitch shirt with the Venusaur, Blastoise, and Charizard designs next to them.

Image: The Pokémon Company

While Original Stitch may be shutting down, fans like RV are still hopeful that the spirit of it might persist in a new merch initiative, or that more games like Pokémon Unite might highlight some of the more niche picks. Even with one of the pillars of the “Every Pokémon is someone’s favorite” mindset going away, there’s still some hope that old favorites won’t be forgotten under the constant flood of newcomers.

“Original Stitch shutting down is definitely a bummer for sure, but I think projects like this, where they lay equal importance onto every Pokémon, are effectively only for those niche audiences in the first place. They didn’t make Original Stitch for the Pikachu shirt, they made Original Stitch knowing that the 15 Spoink fans are gonna come out the woodwork for the Spoink shirt and I say that as a proud Spoink fan. I am confident that the Pokémon company knows the worth of things like that, and even if we don’t get as much physical merch of the individual Pokémon, on the media side of things, our favorites will always have a role to play.”

In a way, plushies and shirts are how some fans keep the memories of their favorites alive when Pokémon games can’t anymore. I’m wearing my Torterra Original Stitch shirt as I type this, and the big turtle wasn’t in Scarlet and Violet (though he might be in the DLC, based on data mining). Even when my favorites don’t show up in my next adventure, I keep them with me knowing they might show up again in the future.

“I think that for the massive media empire that Pokémon is, you can always count on them returning to older Pokémon and creatures and giving them a new time to shine,” Hilhorst says. “Look at stuff like mega evolution and even regional forms and evolutions that put the spotlight back on some overlooked designs. Given that we have passed the 1000 mons, I know we can’t give attention to them all. But that’s okay, my memories and appreciation of my favorites aren’t going anywhere.”

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