Cheong Choon Ng’s LinkedIn profile describes his current occupation as being a senior crash safety engineer at Nissan’s North American technical centre. By way of additional information, he lists his chief interest as “craft”.
Clearly, it’s time for an update, says the Daily Mail. As the inventor of Rainbow Loom Bands – the playground craze taking over the world – Ng now presides over a company thought to be worth around £80m. Not bad for a concept that’s less than three years old.
“Six months ago, you’d have been forgiven for not knowing what on earth a loom band was.” But these brightly-coloured elastic bands, which can be crocheted together to form bracelets and much more “have become one of the top-ten bestselling toys of all time”.
Loom band-related goods currently occupy 41 out of the top 50 positions in the Amazon toy chart. In Britain alone, sales in the first week of July topped £1m. The craze has been given additional legs by its popularity, with adults as well as children.
When the Duchess of Cambridge was photographed, in April, wearing a red and pink bracelet given to her by a young girl during the royal tour of Australia, sales soared by 300%.
Shortly afterwards her parents Carole and Michael Middleton – never slouches when it comes to a commercial opportunity – starting selling glittery versions on their Party Pieces website.
The kits, which cost between £3-£12, are now so ubiquitous, notes The Daily Telegraph, that there are worries about their environmental impact: they could “threaten marine life”.
“The story is a lottery-like American dream fantasy”, which began life in a Michigan living room, says Forbes. Ng, a Malaysian-born immigrant, was watching his two young daughters weave bracelets by hand from small rubber bands and decided to have a crack at it himself. But “his fingers were too fat” to be dexterous enough, so he made a small loom with pins stuck in a piece of wood. The kids liked it and so did their friends at school.
His daughter Theresa, then 12, suggested he market his creation. So Ng made a plastic version and patented it – investing the family’s entire $10,000 savings to get it made cheaply in China.
Initial attempts to sell the loom were unsuccessful, says The Independent. But things turned around when Ng and his daughter posted YouTube videos showing how it worked. In 2012, the Learning Express toy store chain placed an order for 24 kits and sold out within days. From there, the craze snowballed.
Ng has now given up his job at Nissan to focus on the enterprise full time, says The Observer. “But with every business success comes challenges”: he is currently embroiled in at least two complicated court cases against copycat companies. With plans for more merchandise in the pipeline, he has no plans to stop, says the Daily Mail. “And when it all gets too stressful? He relaxes by playing with the creations that made him rich.”
When will loom band mania peak?
“Once the mark of a beach holiday in a vaguely hippyish destination, the reinvention of the woven friendship bracelet has taken the ‘tween’ market by storm,” says Isabel Finch in The Observer.
But the craze has gone mainstream, with every celebrity you can shake a loom at embracing it too – not to mention the armies of parents now sporting wrist-gear lovingly designed by their offspring.
Unsurprisingly, manufacturers are bringing out all manner of spin-offs, says Antonia Hoyle in the Daily Mail: there are charms, glow-in-the-dark and even scented bands, and “enterprising fans compete to make the most unusual creations”. Official instruction videos posted online have been joined by thousands made by fans.
Alongside the dog collars and miniature superheroes are countless fashion items. When a Welsh housewife put a children’s dress she’d made out of 24,000 bands (costing a total £47) on eBay, “it sparked a
seven-day bidding war” and sold to an anonymous bidder for £170,100. “Predictably the winner pulled out.” This is classic silly season stuff and it may have already peaked. A “loomkini” (a unisex loom-band thong) recently auctioned on eBay made a big splash in the press, but failed to pull in the big cash.
The London-based Method Design Lab has analysed what makes a great playground craze, says Edie Lush on TheWeek.co.uk. Size (small is good), price, variation and availability of accessories are all important – as is whether it updates an older craze, carries a positive message and has an online component. “Rainbow Loom ticks all these boxes.”
Like any fad, the craze is likely to be short-lived, says Alice-Azania Jarvis in The Independent. “But for the moment, looms are here to stay.” John Baulch of Toy World magazine has dubbed it “a trend with longevity”. “This is a great, good value toy – I can’t see it disappearing this year.” Let’s hope Ng makes hay while he can.