By Elizabeth Wellington
The Philadelphia Inquirer
It’s a simple idea we all wish we’d had.
But alas, we didn’t.
And now these bracelets – tiny rubber bands called “bandz” shaped like food, princesses, Phillies paraphernalia, and lions, tigers, and bears, oh my – are the latest fashion must-haves for teens, tweens, and toddlers, boys and girls alike.
Toy stores and children’s clothing boutiques are selling through dozens of boxes a day. Some teachers in northern New Jersey have banned them from their classroom – too distracting.
What’s so cool about the Technicolor bandz? On, they look like bracelets or ponytail holders, but off, they pop right back to their original shapes. Poof. Not only do the bandz come in funky tie-dyed patterns – some have glitter, others glow in the dark, and some are even, OMG!, scented.
Back in the day, I would have wanted them. And at $2.50 for a pack of 20, I understand why they are hot for collecting and trading. (I’d wear a couple now, but with grown-woman wrists, these little bandz would surely cut off my circulation.)
“I love them because they are fun to play with,” said Ani Greenspan, 13, a seventh grader at Colonial Middle School. “They are really adorable and they have the cutest shapes: dog bones, fairies … I especially like the tie-dyed ones and the ones that glow in the dark.”
They are more interactive than the popular neon Madonna jelly bracelets of the 1980s, cheaper than cuddly Beanie Babies, and not as high-minded as those yellow Lance Armstrong Livestrong bands, the most recent trend in bracelets. Plus, they are low-tech – no charger needed here.
The most well-known brand of bandz is Silly Bandz, made by Ohio-based Brainchild Products, which claims to be the inventor of the bandz. Other makers: Rubba-Bandz, Crazy Bandz, Zanybandz, and Logo Bandz.
How it began
It all started a few years ago when the Learning Express store in Birmingham, Ala., started stocking them as a way to introduce younger children to shapes.
Then in February, sales mysteriously quickened – and not in a fashionable city like New York, but more so in states like North Carolina, Ohio, and Georgia.
“We just can’t keep them in,” said Lisa Lipson of Down 2 Earth Kids in Lafayette Hill, Pa. In its display window is a sign in fluorescent bubblegum print announcing “Silly Bandz are here!!!”
“We sell hundreds a day,” Lipson said as she freshened up her stock. Just then, as if on cue, a tall, handsome man wearing gym shorts walked in in search of – What else? – some bandz for his 9-year-old son, Steven.
“I’m looking for a turtle,” said Peter Ross, 48, as he and Lipson pored through the contents of three bags of sea-life and farm-animal bandz. They eventually found one. “My son just loves turtles.”
The same day, Holly Kaplan of Lafayette Hill bought 60 packages of assorted bandz – her genres of choice being farm animals, sea creatures, and rock-and-roll accessories – as favors for her daughter Lindsay’s ninth birthday party.
“The kids love them,” she said. “They carry them in plastic bags in their backpacks and they trade them on the bus and at recess. They even know when the shipments come at different stores – like on Thursdays, they all go to Five Below.”
The bandz aren’t treated like contraband in school districts in Philadelphia – yet. Local school officials are still trying to figure out the difference between Silly Bandz and Zanybandz (but it doesn’t matter which brand of bandz, man). One local principal, Denise Marks of Conshohocken Elementary School, hasn’t had a problem. In fact, she uses them to reward students for good behavior.
Steve Martin designs Rubba-Bandz through his company Confetti amp& Friends in Farmingdale, N.Y. Martin said he’s been selling his version of the bandz for five or six years, but sales really took off around Christmastime. He works with a graphic designer to make the shapes – currently they’re creating fast-food-shaped bandz – which are then manufactured in China.
Sales within the last three weeks have increased tenfold. Martin said he sent out more than 17,000 packs Monday afternoon to hundreds of stores across the country. Some stores, he said, sell 900 packs a day.
What’s the secret to the bandz’ popularity?
“I wish I knew myself,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m just happy about it.”