Silly Bandz: Kids collect bracelets with open arms

By LaReeca Rucker

If someone had told you two years ago rubber bands shaped like animals would be the biggest fad since Beanie Babies, you might have said, "That's just silly."

And you'd have been right. Kids are nuts about Silly Bandz.

"Everyone has them," said Alex O'Reilly, 8, of Madison. "They are so awesome. For Christmas, I'm asking for every single one of them."

With today's release of the Princess pack, the Silly Bandz total reaches 68.

The Madison Station Elementary second-grader has 46 Silly Bandz and prefers dinosaur and sea animal shapes.

"It doesn't really matter how many you have; it just matters how good they are and which ones are neat and cool," he said. "My friends said they have some that are baby animals, and I was like, 'I'm going to have to get me some of those.' If I could make some, I would make like a planet or moon or Saturn."

Monkey Charms, a Flowood boutique, is one of the stores that sells the bracelets locally.

"If we get 1,500 a day, we sell out in six hours," said co-owner Heather May. "This is the biggest fad we've seen since we opened. We could have hired another full-time person just to handle Silly Bandz. It's crazy."

A friend who witnessed their popularity at a Tennessee summer camp was the first to tell May about them.

"We said, 'You are crazy. We're not selling rubber bands,' " she said. "But we started getting phone calls at the end of September and didn't have any choice but to get them."

Monkey Charms began selling themed packs of Silly Bandz in October. May said most stores sell packs for $4.99 to $8.99. The dog bone, dollar sign, sun, snowman and Christmas tree shapes have been the most popular.

"Some children have said no one will play with them because they don't have Silly Bandz," May said. "We've had moms fighting over the last pink pig."

Monkey Charms co-owner Renita Peevy said many parents are surprised to learn what Silly Bandz are.

"When they find out it's just a rubber band, the look on their face is, 'You've got to be kidding,' " she said.

The upside is that Silly Bandz foster sharing.

Maggie Ingram of Brandon watched her daughter put 50 Silly Bandz on her arms to share with friends at school.

"What a sweet perspective when we have plenty," Ingram said. "I've even been known to wear one or two on occasion."

Robert J. Croak, president of BCP Imports in Toledo, Ohio, hopes the sharing will continue. As manufacturer and distributor of Silly Bandz, Croak now runs a multimillion-dollar business.

"Our first big splash in the U.S. market was custom silicon bracelets," he said.

The company supplied those for the Lance Armstrong Foundation and now customizes them for other businesses and groups.

"We've had the Silly Bandz product line out over a year, and it has slowly gained popularity," he said. "In the last few months, they've exploded in many different markets throughout the country."

Croak said he has a few ideas why they're a hit.

"Parents can challenge their kids and ask them what the shapes are," he said. "They are a learning device and a fashion accessory."

They're also cheap.

"In a tough economy, everyone can spend $5 to make their child happy," he said.

Holiday shapes are currently the most popular, but alphabet shapes went on sale Dec. 4.

Croak said the company will launch a Silly Bandz blog, but one youngster beat them to it.

Allie Blackmon, 8, of Nashville started in October to publish the latest Silly Bandz news.

"No one else had a blog about animal bracelets, and I thought they were cool," said the Edmondson Elementary School student.

Site statistics show Alabama residents read her blog more than anyone else, followed by those in Tennessee, New Jersey, Mississippi, Georgia and Florida.

Some schools have banned the Banz. Students can't wear them at Clinton's Eastside Elementary School.

"There are other colored bands that are similar but simply round, and the kids call these 'sex bracelets,' " said Principal Cindy Hamil. "Students were wearing them and talking about what they meant, so we banned them altogether."

Sandy Rawlings, Madison Ridgeland Academy's kindergarten principal, said Silly Bandz weren't banned, but students were asked not to wear them.

"They were such a distraction," she said. "They would break, and the kids would start crying."

Despite the restriction, MRA Elementary Principal Brian Smith wishes he had foreseen the trend.

"I'm with these young people every day, and if I could have guessed that they would be so popular, I certainly would have invented them," he said, laughing.