How Silly Bandz Work


Silly Bandz hit it big in 2010.
Silly Bandz hit it big in 2010.
Screenshot by HowStuffWorks.com

Certainly we've all looked at a popular invention -- maybe a paper clip, or a series of teen vampire novels -- and thought with a sneer, "I could've thought up that stupid thing, made a billion dollars and finally have shown everyone how very important I could be." When you find yourself filled with this kind of jealous rage and want to make yourself even more insane with anger, consider the case of Silly Bandz.

Silly Bandz are rubber bands. Technically -- as we'll see later on -- Silly Bandz are made of a silicone rubber that can be molded into a shape (say, a dinosaur or a princess). But here's the thing that makes boring old bands into Silly Bandz: You can stretch them out to wear as bracelets, only to have them pop right back into their shape when you take them off.

What, not amazed? Then maybe you'll be impressed to learn that Robert Croak, who is the CEO of BCP Imports, the company that makes Silly Bandz, raked in $200 million dollars' worth of sales in 2010 [source: Sealover]. Cue the jealous rage and add in some bewilderment.

But like all good trends, was this one just another flash in the pan, flaring quickly and sputtering out just as fast? (For reference, you might want to check out How Jelly Shoes Worked for a dramatic fizzle of a fad.)

We'll find out -- and get our silly on-- in the next few pages.

The Popularity of Silly Bandz

Like all trends as hot as wildfire, this fashion trend started where almost all of them begin -- Alabama?

All right, so the Heart of Dixie isn't generally considered the authority of the chic and fashion-forward. But reports seem to indicate that it was in Birmingham, Ala., around late 2009 that Silly Bandz suddenly picked up sales speed [source: George]. By November 2010, the East Coast (including New Jersey, Long Island and Staten Island) started spotting Silly Bandz on the wrists and in the backpacks of youngsters.

Robert Croak, CEO of Silly Bandz, claims to have started the Silly Bandz craze after seeing a shapeable rubber band at a Chinese trade show. Croak, who also created the customized silicone bracelets made popular by Lance Armstrong and his Live Strong campaign, saw the opportunity to branch out. Making the bands slightly thicker, he envisioned them as a fashion accessory [source: Berfield].

Made of what the Silly Bandz Web site calls "100 percent medical-grade silicone," the bands are manufactured quite cheaply in China [source: Silly Bandz]. In fact, a toy analyst estimates that each Silly Bandz package costs "nickels" to produce, and eyes the profit margin at close to 75 percent [source: Berfield].

The science behind the bands is predictably simple. Silicone is a very malleable material. With changes to its molecular structure, the substance can become quite rigid and hard (like the rubber in car tires) or it can take on the properties of a thin fluid (think silicone gel in breast implants). Landing somewhere in between both extremes, the silicone in Silly Bandz is able to have a "backbone" that can bend without breaking and mold toward specific forms [source: Dow Corning].

And while some might grumble that loads of rubber bands aren't helping the environment, the original use (from a Japanese designer who molded rubber into flexible shapes) was actually intended to prevent people from throwing away countless rubber bands by keeping them attached to their frog-shaped band [source: Marek].

Types of Silly Bandz

NASA gets silly.
NASA gets silly.
Image courtesy of NASA

So far, we know that Silly Bandz are made of silicone rubber and come in shapes. That's all fine and good, but what the heck are people actually doing with them besides oohing and aahing as their bracelet comes off to reveal a blobby bear-shape?

First of all, let's establish who exactly is wearing these bands. Silly Bandz were first targeted toward elementary school-age children (manufacturer-recommended for ages 5 to 12) [source: Amazon]. While that certainly makes up the bulk of their audience, it's not limited to children.

Celebrities like Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Anthony Bourdain and Shakira have all shown up on red carpets or in paparazzi snaps sporting their favorite kid's fad. Teenagers -- perhaps propelled by a sense of irony -- have begun embracing the trend in 2011, wearing the bracelets to high school [source: Stone].

Now that we know who's wearing them, the question quickly becomes why. Like a lot of trends -- especially those popular among elementary school kids -- Silly Bandz aren't exactly answering life's larger questions. In general, the bands are traded for interesting shapes and styles (there are many debates about "rarer" Silly Bandz). Unlike older trends like Pogs, popularized in the '90s, or Pokémon trading cards, there is no "game" that goes along with Silly Bandz -- although any teacher with Silly Bandz experience will point to the age-old "shooting rubber bands at each other" game that can break out at any moment.

Many companies, celebrities and any number of endorsements have formed partnerships with Silly Bandz. Some seem to hit the target audience just right (Justin Bieber Silly Bandz, in the shape of his trademark baseball cap), while others seem a little bizarre (Kardashian Silly Bandz in the shape of a purse). NASA even got in on the game with special Silly Bandz for their Physics of the Cosmos program [source: NASA Blueshift].

Internationally, Silly Bandz have also made a big splash. By August 2010, Silly Bandz were getting buzz in Britain as the "next big thing." Even India reported children down with the Silly fad [source: YouTube].

But Silly Bandz aren't all fun and (no) games. Embracing the madness, shoot over to the next page to see how teachers are using the accessories for educational tools -- and how Silliness extends to far more than just Bandz.

Silly Bandz Create Serious Brains

It may not be entirely accurate that Silly Bandz are going to spark a lot of intellectual curiosity, but it's also true that there are redeemable educational moments to be found in the stretchy shapes.

Targeting the elementary set, how about asking children to present a report on their favorite Silly Bandz animal [source: Kreusch]? Because of the plethora of shapes, it's also a convenient way to get kids to remember lessons in a tactile way. For instance, little ones can play with letter-shaped Bandz as they learn their alphabet.

Math lessons such as grouping or even simple arithmetic may also become clearer when children can see a tangible product. And although Silly Bandz can be choking hazards for little ones, a parent who's supervising might be able to give a lesson or two about colors or sorting to a toddler.

Some even argue that Silly Bandz are teaching an even more realistic life lesson: Trading and scrupulously keeping track of Silly Bandz shows youngsters the joys of budgeting and saving, not to mention pooling, sharing and bargaining their resources. Even more realistic than teaching kids the joys of socialism, many teachers are finding a much more traditional way to use Silly Bandz in the classroom: good, old-fashioned bribery for excellent grades or exemplary behavior.

Say you're trying to teach your kids the importance of religion or their cultural history? Don't you fret with heavy books or tedious stories -- instead, consider buying your child Silly Bandz of the Aleph Bet, or Hebrew alphabet [source: Biblical Bandz] (Don't worry, they're kosher).

Let's not stop there. Silly Bandz have expanded and reached into many sectors of children's lives. There are now Silly Earringz to match your Bandz (just don't try stretching them to your wrist), Silly Slapz slap watch (which, it must be said, is more "slap" than "silly") and even wall calendars (admittedly, this is just a calendar with Silly Bandz included). Of course, Silly Bandz can also be scented, glow-in-the-dark and tie-dyed.

But that's not the only thing Silly Bandz have done to snag publicity. Read on for some Silly Bandz rumors and lore that will make you clutch your pearls or silicone bracelets -- whichever is most handy.

Banning, Burning and Banishing Bandz

Everything in moderation -- including Silly Bandz.
Everything in moderation -- including Silly Bandz.
Courtesy of BCP Imports

While Silly Bandz were certainly marketed as a fun, playful accessory for kids, others saw far more insidious reasons that children were interested in the accessory. One of the ideas floating around was actually quite disturbing: that school kids were using Silly Bandz to denote and engage in sexual acts.

Naturally, this was much more media maelstrom than it was credible. It seems like every few years, there's an alarmist story about how kids are using some benign object to signal their sexual experience or desire. Remember the idea that if you pulled the tab of a soda can, it somehow meant you could redeem it for a kiss? Or that removing a label from a beer bottle without tearing it meant something sexual? In 2003, the bracelets-signaling-sex-acts angle first popped up, with the idea that different colored bracelets meant a different activity could be asked for if a boy "snapped" one off a girl's wrist [source: Haberlin]. This was never confirmed by any actual kids. It reappeared briefly when Silly Bandz became popular and was just as baseless.

Another rumor circulating around elementary schools claimed that Silly Bandz were made from recycled -- and used -- condoms. Never mind the practicality of throwing used condoms in the recycling bin; clearly, this one is unfounded [source: Silly Bandz].

Some of the Silly Bandz rumors aren't so innocuous. In August 2010, there were alarming reports that Silly Bandz were causing injury to kids by cutting off circulation to their hands and arms, while also causing skin irritation or even wounds. This story also came out virally after an image was disseminated through e-mail about a preschooler who had suffered such an injury.

Unfortunately, this one checks out. Although Silly Bandz themselves present no harm, it's certainly true that everything should be done in moderation. Wearing stacks and stacks of bracelets for days at a time can, in fact, affect circulation by causing a tourniquet-like constriction of blood vessels. The easy solution to this? Just wear a few bracelets for a short period of time. And remember: They're Silly Bandz, not Seriously Scarring Bandz, so take them off if your wrist starts hurting [source: Fox News].

Speaking of taking bands off, where exactly are we now in the craze? As of this writing, February 2012, it would appear that Silly Bandz have exited the collective mind of schoolchildren as quickly as they entered it. No longer are there breathless stories about them in the news, but they do still pop up on celebrities like the Kardashians and others. Attempting to really branch out, Silly Bandz even created a video game based on the popular bracelets [source: Neumeier]. Kind of a stretch, even for rubber bands.

So while the tail end of the fad appears to be upon us, don't you worry: Like most trends, there's always hope for a nostalgic (or ironic) comeback.

To learn lots more about trends and the strange things we do for fashion, snap on over to the next page.

Related Articles

Sources

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