Article by Tara George, NY Times.
At Michael Casaren’s toy store in South Orange, children from elementary to high school are coming in every day with their wrists and forearms wrapped in a jumble of silicon bracelets, desperate to buy more.
The bracelets are called silly bandz, and they are today’s kid fad. Sold in packs of 12, for about $2.50, or 24 for about $5, they are organized according to theme: animals, princesses, alphabet, Western, for example. Kids stack them on their wrists and trade them. The coveted ones glow in the dark. On a child’s wrist, they look like brightly colored rubber bands, but laid on a lunchroom table for inspection, they revert to their original shape.
“It’s definitely an obsession,” said Mr. Casaren, whose store, Sparkhouse Kids, has sold out and is awaiting a new shipment of 16 cases.
If Sparkhouse Kids is like other stores throughout the region, those cases will also sell out soon after they land on shelves. Kids call stores wanting to know if new bands are in. Parents ask to be put on waiting lists, or even offer to pay more for first dibs on new arrivals.
Teachers have “sillybanned” them from their classrooms for being a distraction. At the After School Program at Tuscan Elementary School in Maplewood, for instance, students were told they couldn’t trade them any longer because the bands were causing arguments and a few children without them were sneaking them away from those with an abundance of them. But like any good craze, interest among the kids only surged when the toy became contraband, or in this case, “contrabandz.”
“It’s totally viral,” said Wendy Bellermann, a mother of three elementary-school children in Maplewood. “It’s the perfect fad from a retail point of view. They are eminently losable. They break.” She added, “If your friend has the princess kind, then you have to have the princess kind, too.”
The Silly bandz craze was first noticed in Birmingham, Ala., late last year, according to one manufacturer, and has steadily spread up the East Coast. Parts of New Jersey, Long Island and Staten Island first started seeing them in November, and those areas are now gripped by the craze. So far the fad has not erupted in the rest of New York City, but one distributor estimates it will in a few weeks when the large toy stores start selling them.
Though they are referred to generically as “silly bandz” by their young collectors, the same product is made by a handful of competing manufacturers and marketed under the names Silly bandz, Zanybandz, and Crazy bandz.
They are popular with boys and girls alike. Students from kindergarten all the way up to high school collect them. There’s a Facebook page with over 83,000 fans and a whole genre of silly bandz videos on You Tube in which kids show off their collections. eBay hosts a lively online auction of the bands where sets can be snapped up at a discount.
The appeal of Silly bandz lies in their perfect combination of being affordable, collectible and tradeable, says Jackie Breyer, editor in chief of The Toy Book, a magazine based in Manhattan. She said they are reminiscent of the Kooky Klicker pens that were popular last year, as well as the Beanie Babies and Webkinz crazes of yore.
“They’re cool to trade, to collect and fun to play with and everyone is, like, going crazy about them,” said Kaitlin Thomas, 8, of Maplewood, who owns between 70 or 80, some of which were bought with money from her piggy bank. “The penguin and golden retriever are my favorites because everyone says the penguin is rare and I think the golden retriever is cute.”
James Howard, president of Oklahoma-based Zanybandz, said he came up with the idea for the bands in the summer of 2009 when he was visiting China, where he manufactures silicone kitchen products. While there, he noticed some shaped silicone bands that were made as office supplies. He said he figured if he made the shapes “cuter,” his nieces and nephews would love them. They did, so he started manufacturing them.
He says the craze took off in Birmingham, where the Learning Express stores started to sell them. Sales quickly went from 25 packs a month to 7,000 a month.
“Pretty soon we were banned in six school districts there, and after we were banned in the first one there was no looking back,” he said. “Getting banned fuels the craze like a five-gallon can of gasoline on a campfire.”
Mr. Howard saw demand hopskotch from Alabama to Florida, then New Jersey and parts of New York. He now sees it heading West. He said his main rival, Silly bandz, was developing the product simultaneously. Their manufacturer, Brainchild Products, based in Toledo, Ohio, could not be reached for comment.
“We’re in about 10,000 stores now,” Mr. Howard said. “We’re hiring eight people a week (to take orders.) The phones are ringing all the time. We have to remind ourselves that we’re selling rubber bands, not body parts for surgery. So if that person doesn’t get their shipment immediately it’s not the end of the world.”
Joel Schreck, whose company, On The Road Reps, is the East Coast distributor for Zanybandz, says the craze is “every bit as big as Webkinz.” He says in 28 years in the business, he’s seen crazes come and go, but what’s unusual about this one is how intense interest suddenly erupts in pockets in one state, rather than spreading uniformly throughout.
Mr. Schreck noted that enthusiasm for a hot product like this can burn out as quickly, so to keep the kids interested, Zanybandz will be bringing out a new set of themes: Circus, Hollywood and A Day At The Beach, which should be available after April 26.
Sean McGowan, an analyst who tracks the toy industry for Needham and Company, said in a high-tech era when children want iPods and iPads and Wii games, it’s refreshing to see something as simple as this get their attention.
“This is the lowest of technologies,” he said.