Loom boom: the fad that refuses to fade
This summer, children will be trailing elastic circles everywhere they go – just look down at the ground. What’s going on?
They come in waves: collectible doohickeys that fixate schoolchildren, vex teachers and keep corner shops in business. From figurines to trading cards, a play craze operates in rough biannual cycles, and the best you can hope for is not to invest too late and wind up with a dozen souped-up spinning tops that nobody wants any more.
I knew we were peaking in April when my daughter Lucille’s teacher announced that Rainbow Looms were banned from the classroom.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, look down. See any tiny, broken rubber bands in Day-Glo pink or glitter green? If not, you must be in an adult venue, because this summer’s children leave trails of elastic circles everywhere they go. They lodge in floorboards, fill vacuum-cleaner bags and colonise washing machines.
The bands – which look like the ones children used to wear in their mouths before orthodontics got classy – are used to weave bracelets in a variety of patterns using a small plastic loom or, more often, nimble little fingers.
Made in Detroit
They were invented in 2010 in a Detroit basement by a Malaysian immigrant, Cheong-Choon Ng (see panel below), who convinced his wife to gamble their daughters’ college fund on a prototype. In the intervening years he has sold millions of looms and billions of bands.
So what’s the attraction? In my house, it started with my seven-year-old fiddling about with rubber bands she had brought home from school. She was grimly determined to make something of them, and I couldn’t help. Pressure to buy a loom kit mounted. Several emptyings of the dishwasher later, I finally agreed to buy her a starter kit, by which time they were all sold out. Cue tiny rage.
It took a couple of weeks for the shops to catch up with demand. In that time Lucille had learned to produce quite sophisticated bracelets using only her fingers. She was absorbed.
My girl is no slacker but I have never seen her apply this level of concentration to anything before. She can spend hours watching looming tutorials online and trying to copy them. One particular pattern evaded her many times, but she kept going back and trying again. At one point I tried to help, but this is fidgety fingerwork of the sort that fills the swear jar. I left her at it.
Boys join the fray
It turns out that this fad is gender-neutral, however; after months of mock-indifference, my son grudgingly asked for a demo. Now he’s looming away, in colours to reflect World Cup teams mostly. He says some of his friends have managed to loom animal shapes and pencil grips. One lad is reportedly attempting a quilt.
I thought that when school finished the looming would peter out, but now I’m not so sure. A week into the holidays and she is still going through bands like a whale through plankton. Just this week I took her on yet another trip to the bargain shop to spend more of her birthday money on bags of bands. I couldn’t believe my eyes. What was once a small rack of loom bands had grown to a whole section. I did a rough tot: in this one Dublin shop they must have had 250,000 individual bands in stock.
They come in neon, in camouflage, in metallics and sparkles. They are themed for TV shows such as Twilight and football teams such as Manchester United. Hurry on, Ryanair, you’re missing a trick.