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Published: Friday December 13, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Friday December 13, 2013 MYT 6:55:23 AM

Even boys are into weaving Rainbow Loom bracelets

Gender-neutral craft: Garrett Fill, 10 (left), and Conor Flanagan, 11, during a Rainbow Loom class at Learning Express Toys. – MCT

Gender-neutral craft: Garrett Fill, 10 (left), and Conor Flanagan, 11, during a Rainbow Loom class at Learning Express Toys. – MCT

TONI Notarangeli thought she’d misheard when her eight-year-old son Angelo begged her for a toy he just had to have: a plastic loom that helps kids weave colourful rubber band bracelets.

Angelo likes to skateboard and play basketball. He’d never shown much interest in crafts. But when it came to the Rainbow Loom, he was insistent.

“There are like 10 people at school that don’t have them. Everyone else is into it,” said Angelo.

It’s not unusual for kids and parents to obsess over a particularly hot toy. What has surprised toy store owners and parents about the Rainbow Loom is that boys are addicted too.

The Rainbow Loom was invented by Ng Cheong Choon, a former Nissan crash-test engineer from Michigan. His two daughters enjoyed making rubber band bracelets, but Ng struggled to join in until he created a loom that made weaving the bands together easier and allowed him to create geometric patterns.

Each kit, which costs about US$15 to US$17 (RM48 to RM54), contains a small rectangular loom studded with pegs, enough mini rubber bands and plastic clips to make 24 bracelets, and a hook to weave the bands into stretchy, brightly coloured jewellery. So far, Ng said he has sold about three million kits.

At Learning Express Toys of Naperville, Illinois, the area around the checkout counter is surrounded by loom kits, sample bracelets and a screen running Rainbow Loom tutorials on repeat.

There are buckets of shiny Rainbow Loom charms, personalised Rainbow Loom supply organisers and boxes upon boxes of rubber bands – a kaleidoscopic array of neon, tie-dye, glitter and glow-in-the-dark rings stacked above the tops of most of the kids’ heads.

The looms are in such hot demand that Chicago toy stores struggle to keep them on the shelves.

“The last time parents were this hot and heavy over a toy, it was Beanie Babies,” said Katherine McHenry, owner of Chicago’s Building Blocks Toy Store.

Complicating parents’ efforts to buy the loom and refill bands is that many chain stores don’t carry them. Ng said that before the product became a hit, most retailers turned him down. Some Learning Express Toys franchises began carrying Rainbow Loom products last year, and they’ve been available at national crafts chain Michaels Stores Inc. since August.

When Angelo first heard about the loom, he thought it sounded “really stupid”, but he kept seeing the bracelets on his friends’ wrists. “The more complicated ones looked really cool,” he said.

At Learning Express Toys of Naperville last week, his mum bought him a second loom so he could hook them together and create more intricate designs. As she paid, owner Steve Zdunek reassured her that boys come in all the time. About 40% of the looms he sells now go to boys, he estimated.

“It’s perceived (by adults) as a more of a girl thing, but the kids just ignore it,” said John Flanagan, owner of Learning Express Toys of Geneva Commons. His son Conor, 11, regularly sports an armful of bracelets, and at his soccer tournaments, almost every player wears a Rainbow Loom necklace in team colours, Flanagan said.

Most parents weren’t sure why Rainbow Loom is such a hit with their kids, but they said they hope the fad sticks around. It requires creativity and fine motor skills and it’s screen-free - except for the YouTube videos kids watch to learn new techniques. Others said their kids were suddenly generous, making bracelets for friends and younger siblings.

McHenry suspects the secret to Rainbow Loom’s success is social.

“Kids have a lot of fun trading bracelets with friends,” McHenry said. “There’s a group mentality to it.”

Diana Fill, of Geneva, Illinois, said the toy was a lifesaver when her family travelled to the Wisconsin Dells. At the hotel, her son Garrett, 10, and his friends perched on their bunk beds and pulled out their looms, diligently hooking rubber bands around the pegs.

“When he told me about it, I said, ‘Honey, isn’t that a girl’s thing?’” Fill said. “But it was nice for us because they were so quiet.”

At one of Learning Express Toys of Geneva Commons’ Rainbow Loom classes on Saturday, Garrett, his friend Sydney Parquette, 9, and her sister Sarah, 7, of Geneva, worked on learning a new bracelet design: the triple single.

When asked if she was surprised that boys like Rainbow Loom, Sydney nodded, wide-eyed and emphatic. Garrett, who likes making bracelets with his favourite sports teams’ colours, doesn’t see it that way at all.

“I like that you can be really creative and make your own designs,” Garrett said after putting the finishing touches on an orange, white, lime and teal bracelet. He held out his wrist, proudly inspecting his handiwork. “They make me look swag.” — Chicago Tribune/McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Related story:

Malaysian-born father strikes gold in Rainbow Loom in US

Tags / Keywords: Family & Community, Rainbow Loom, pastime, hobby, toys, kids, children

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