Handmade bracelets constructed from non-latex rubber bands have become a playground craze. Meet Rainbow Loom, retail's latest kid-driven boom.
You'd think the moment elementary schoolers stop crushing candies on i-devices, parents and teachers rejoice. Not so much. There's a new offline obsession in town, at least in New York City.
Two years ago, the pre-holiday craze among kids was Silly Bandz, rubber bracelets created by an American small business. This year it's, well, other rubber bands created by another entrepreneur. And--ask any 8-year-old--these new rubber bands, which are woven together to form bracelets on something called a Rainbow Loom, are having a moment.
"It's an addiction," New York City Public School 107 principal Eve Litwack told local news site DNAInfo. "It was like the kids couldn't live without it. It was just getting to the point where it was really crazy."
So Litwack banned the Rainbow Loom bracelets from school grounds. She's not the first: A school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, PS 87, also prohibits them.
Children weave together the rubber bands on looms to form the stretchy, rubbery, modern friendship bracelet (or belt, or jump-rope). From a retail perspective, both Silly Bandz and Rainbow Loom are perfect fads: They are eminently collectable, appeal to a wide range of ages of kids and are inexpensive to produce. Perhaps the ban could further add to their appeal.
James Howard, the president of Zanybandz, a competitor of Silly Bandz, told the New York Times in 2010: "Pretty soon we were banned in six school districts there, and after we were banned in the first one, there was no looking back. Getting banned fuels the craze like a five-gallon can of gasoline on a campfire."
Where did this trend come from, anyway? Turns out that the entrepreneur behind Rainbow Loom is Choon Ng, a Malaysian immigrant to Detroit who was a crash-safety engineer at Nissan when he began testing out version after version of the small loom that could be used to weave rubber bands together. He spent the family's entire savings--$11,000--to create the first bands and looms and to submit a pre-patent "invention record."
Ng started selling the loom-and-band kits in July 2011--but sales were non-existent. That's until a franchisee of Learning Express, named Cindy O'Hara, called Ng, and placed an order for 24 loom kits. She sold out in two days and shared the story with other Learning Express owners.
Today, the Rainbow Loom sells for $14.99 to $16.99 and is sold at educational and hobby stores around the U.S., including more than 1,000 Michaels craft stores, and widely online.
Let's just hope Ng's supply chain is nimble enough for the upcoming holiday rush.