When Alex Furmansky took inspiration from his young sister to launch the start-up company Budsies, he had no idea that the company would grow into a worldwide phenomenon connecting service members and their kids across the globe.
In 2013, 26-year-old Furmansky was visiting his family in Philadelphia when he noticed a couple of things about his 11-year-old sister Michelle. One, she had a talent for drawing. And, two, she loved tucking her stuffed animals into bed at night and cuddling with them as she slept.
Maybe, Furmansky thought, there was a way to bring together Michelle’s creativity and her passion for plushies.
Within months, Furmansky had turned Michelle’s drawing of a red and blue piglike creature named Dongler into a stuffed toy. Then, with his background in finance and technology and $25,000 of his own savings, Furmansky scaled up his efforts to create Budsies. By August, the company was taking its first orders for custom-sewn stuffed animals created from children’s drawings.
“I started the company in my bedroom,” Furmansky said. “I thought I’d sell maybe a couple of hundred.”
Instead, more than 100,000 custom plushies have been created, including fanciful creatures like fish with legs and every iteration of a unicorn, and sent to 60 countries around the world.
The company, which is based in Boynton Beach, Florida, has expanded its product line to include Petsies, personalized stuffed animals made from photos of a beloved pet; pillow dolls and photo pillows; and Selfies, plush dolls made from uploaded photos of loved ones.
Its mission is to make a more huggable world. For Furmansky, some of the most heartfelt hugs are taking place around the Military Selfies, an offshoot of Selfies.
Furmansky says that the customers have always guided the company.
Selfies have been made for parents from every branch of the military with uniforms matched down to the embroidery of name, rank and other details. And, in a newly introduced feature, the Selfies can also include a 10-second voice recording.
Robyn Cassel, a clinical psychologist based who specializes in family and child therapy, believes the Military Selfies has great value for children of deployed service members. According to Cassel, the doll can serve as what she calls “a transitional object” for a child when a parent is deployed, a concrete representation of mom or dad that embodies comfort and safety.
“Children often experience anxiety when they’re separated from a parent,” Cassell said. “The sensory experience of touch through this soft doll that looks like mom or dad can be really comforting.”
For his part, Furmansky says that it is an honor to make these dolls for military families.
“I can’t think of anything that would be as impactful for a child as being able to hold and hug a family member that’s deployed,” he said.
Customers often turn to social media to share photos of the Military Selfies and the stories behind them.
“My son Tatum means the world to me, and this doll will always be a reminder to him that I can be close to his heart when I have to serve my country,” Jhenna, from Texas, wrote on Instagram.
Spouses, as well as children, feel cheered by Military Selfies.
“Sometimes these take a comic turn,” Furmansky said. “A wife or husband who’s left at home might pose the Selfie of the spouse who’s deployed on the dinner table, in bed or in a favorite armchair as though they’re watching TV, take photos of these tableaus and then share them with their spouse.”
Still, the tales behind these dolls are more likely to inspire tears than laughs. Take what a customer, writing under the handle “Rosies Riveters” posted on Instagram: “For our kiddos, the separation that comes with being in the military can be difficult. I created two daddy dolls for my munchkins. They absolutely love the fact that they can hug him and hear his voice anytime they want.”
“I’m not crying, you’re crying.”
A 16-inch selfie retails for $99 with an additional 10 percent discount for members of the military; voice recording is an additional $15.Read comments