By KORKY VANN, email@example.com
The Hartford Courant
10:57 AM EDT, September 24, 2013
Forget Silly Bandz and slap bracelets. Kids are creating their own trendy accessories with a hot new craft kit called the Rainbow Loom.
The sets, invented by Choon Ng, a former crash safety engineer at Nissan, come with an easy-to-use loom and rubber bands in a variety of colors. Using the loom, kids weave the bands into bracelets, rings, key chains, hair accessories. (Remember those woven pot holders you used to make at summer camp?)
Ng developed the toy in the basement of his Detroit home. After several years of marketing the toy on his own, he hit the pot of gold at the end of the, well, rainbow.
Earlier this year, Rainbow Loom won the Craft and Hobby Association's Innovation Award. In the spring, Learning Express stores picked up the item, put it into its 130 stores across the country, including Toy Chest in West Hartford, and named it one of its top toys for summer of 2013.
Toy Chest spokesman Ed Dunn says as soon as the toy was introduced, sales exploded.
"It's been unbelievable. Just off the scale. One of those rare things that takes off and doesn't stop," says Dunn. "Both boys and girls love it, which is unusual in itself, because crafts tend to skew toward girls. Plus the learning curve is quick, it appeals to a wide range of ages and it's not expensive, so parents like it too."
It's also low-tech — no batteries, no electronics, no sounds or graphics. A basic kit, which sells for about $15, comes with a loom, mini loom, crochet hook, clips and 600 latex-free rubber bands in a variety of colors, (enough to make about 24 bracelets). Additional packages of rubber bands and clips are available for $3.99. The toy is recommended for ages 8 years to adult.
At a recent intermediate techniques class at the Toy Chest, 10 kids, ages 7to 12, were intently focused on mastering the fish tail, zippy chain, honeycomb, triple tower, starburst and other intricate weaves used to create rubber band jewelry. Most, like 8-year-old Alex Vassilious, sported armfuls of Rainbow Loom bracelets in a variety of colors.
"I have 25 more at home," says Vassilious, a third grader at Braeburn Elementary School in West Hartford, who was working on a blue and white starburst chain. "They're fun to make. A lot of guys like them."
Alex's mom, Angela Caravello, says that since her son discovered the craft, he's been hooked.
"When he gets going on it, he forgets about television and his iPod," she says.
Along with the basic kit, Toy Chest stocks 300-count refill bags of rubber bands in glow-in-the-dark, neon, tie die and glitter colors and accent charms — when they can keep them in stock. They've also got organizer boxes for supplies.
Erin O'Neill, a 9-year-old fourth grader at Thalberg Elementary School in Southington, says since she discovered the kit, she's made dozens of bracelets for herself and her friends.
"It's really fun picking colors and patterns and making it exactly the way you want it," says O'Neill.
Catherine O'Neill, Erin's mother, appreciates the simplicity and durability of the toy.
"What's great about this thing is that it actually works," says Catherine O'Neill. "Sometime you buy a craft kit and it breaks as soon as you try to use it or the stuff inside is nothing like the picture on the box."
Caroline Sechrist, a 12-year-old seventh grader from Plainville, says figuring out the technique was challenging, but once she mastered the basics, she was able to advance to more difficult designs quickly.
"Now I teach all my friends," says Sechrist. "As soon as they see my stuff, they want to know how to do it."
Toy Chest gets calls every day from parents and kids looking for supplies and classes. Ed Dunn says the trend shows no sign of slowing down.
If anything, it's picking up. "The Today Show'' featured the kit in August. Around the same time, Michaels stores across the country stocked the toys — and sold out almost immediately.
Close to 10,000 photos are tagged #RainbowLoom on Instagram and Pinterest has thousands of Rainbow Loom "pins", showing bracelets, necklaces, key chains, sandal straps, rings, headbands, mini handbags, tablet covers and other rubber band accessories. "Rainbow Loom" videos on YouTube have received close to 5 million views.
Etsy.com has more than 1,000 Rainbow Loom products for sale.
Other companies are getting on board. CoolZips (www.CoolZips.com) recently secured a licensing agreement with Rainbow Loom to produce an accessory line of silicone rubber charms that easily attach to Rainbow Loom creations.
Toy Chest offers beginner and intermediate Rainbow Loom classes. (Classes are free, but each participant must have his or her own kit.) To register, call 860-233-5559 or sign up online at http://www.ToyChestWH.com.
Michaels is offering free demonstrations during its Kid's Club sessions every Saturday at 10 a.m. through September, and has online video tutorials at Michaels.com.
Copyright © 2013, The Hartford Courant