Mary Beth Sobolewski was one of the women who made Beanie Babies a success. HBO Max
"Beanie Mania"

Collectors turned entrepreneurs

Ellen Rolfes Aug 28, 2023
Heard on:
Mary Beth Sobolewski was one of the women who made Beanie Babies a success. HBO Max

This month Econ Extra Credit is taking a look at speculative investment bubbles with some help from Beanie Babies. We’re watching the film “Beanie Mania” from 2021. Subscribe here to get the whole series in your inbox.

We saw in “Beanie Mania” the way Beanie Babies benefited from then-new online chatrooms and eBay. The internet created opportunities for Beanie collectors to discuss, buy and sell them outside their own geographic region. But Ty Inc., the manufacturer of the stuffed animals, also raked in profits, thanks in part to suburban Chicago moms, who helped create a secondary market for the toys. 

The so-called soccer moms behind the initial Beanie craze came before the mommy bloggers of the early 2000s and what we now think of as influencers. Director Yemisi Brookes said highlighting their contributions was one of her primary goals for making the documentary “Beanie Mania.”  

Ty Warner, Beanie inventor and founder of Ty Inc., famously refused to give interviews or pay for marketing, so these women became proxy spokespeople for the brand, first as fans and then as entrepreneurs in their own right. They turned the expertise they developed as early collectors into full-fledged businesses tied to plush animals:

“The Beanie Bubble” highlighted the efforts of women inside Ty Inc. to expand the Beanie Baby market. Several of the female protagonists’ stories were highly fictionalized. These real-life women inspired those characters in the film:

  • Patricia Roche helped launch Ty Inc. and oversaw distribution for the company in Europe and the U.K. (Roche inspired Elizabeth Banks’ character, Robbie.)
  • Faith McGowan was a lighting designer and former long-term partner of Warner. Her daughters helped design and name several Beanie Babies. (McGowan inspired Sarah Snook’s character, Sheila.) 
  • Lina Trivedi is an online marketing pioneer who started working for Ty Inc. when she was in college. She came up with the idea for the poems featured on the Beanie Baby tags and wrote them. She also created the original website for Beanie Babies. (Trivedi inspired Geraldine Viswanathan’s character, Maya.)

The Econ Extra Credit team’s collections

Here’s what we collect, or used to collect. Can you spot the current collectors?

  • Baseball cards, Pokemon cards and Bionicles (Alex Schroeder, producer)
  • Legos (Tony Wagner, newsletter editor)
  • Old books, glass animals and machine-pressed pennies (Ellen Rolfes, newsletter writer)
  • Die-cast models of NASA space rockets (David Brancaccio, host)
  • Beanie Babies (Meredith Garretson, senior producer)
  • Encyclopedias (Kelly Silvera, executive producer)

“Beanie Mania” is available to stream on Max with a subscription. Later in the month, we’ll be talking about the new movie dramatizing this phenomenon, “The Beanie Bubble,” which is available to stream on Apple TV+ with a subscription. 

After you watch, send us your thoughts and questions at or reply to this email!

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