The Guardian 15/16/2014
Once the mark of a beach holiday in a vaguely hippyish destination, the reinvention of the woven friendship bracelet has taken much of the tween toy market of three continents by storm.
This summer’s playground craze can be seen on the arms of boys, girls and quite a few adults including One Direction’s Harry Styles, and its components occupy all of the top 20 slots of Amazon’s best-selling toys. The concept is pretty basic – two plastic boards, a crochet hook, and as many coloured rubber bands as you can get hold of. You can make bracelets, necklaces and earrings in a myriad of colours.
They are popular, apparently, among celebrities and their children in Manila, and huge in Australia, where they have been regularly selling out over the past few months and schoolchildren guard their collections fiercely. The Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cornwall have been wearing them, while in America, where they exploded on to the children’s toy market in 2013, dozens of schools ended up banning the craze, fearful that it was too distracting.
The simple woven multicoloured bracelet has made Cheong Choon Ng, a Malaysian immigrant to the US, a dollar millionaire. He invented the “Rainbow Loom” after watching his daughters making bracelets with rubber bands. Unable to copy their deft movements because his fingers were too fat, he made a wooden board with push pins and soon all the family were trying their handiwork on his makeshift loom.
Ng invested his entire savings of $10,000 to manufacture the looms in China and made several YouTube videos showing what you could make with the kit before it suddenly took off. Millions of the kits have been sold over the past 18 months, but with every business success comes challenges and Ng is now embroiled in at least two complicated court cases against companies which he claims have jumped on the loom-making bandwagon.
Like many crazes before them, the bracelets may have a limited shelf life and sadly, as summer holidays approach, they won’t fully keep your children away from computer screens as most of the tutorials on how to make the triple, single and even fishtail strands are online, with many hitting 5m-plus views. But at least stepping on an elastic band is not as painful as stepping on a piece of Lego.
This article was originally published in The Observer on June 15, 2014 and can be viewed here.