The Bandz are now contraband. Schools in several states, including New York, Texas, Florida and Massachusetts, have blacklisted Silly Bandz, those stretchy, colorful bracelets that are creeping up the forearms of school kids across the U.S. And starting this week, all 800-some kids at my son's elementary school in Raleigh, N.C., were commanded to leave at home their collections of rubber bandlike bracelets, which retail for about $5 per pack of 24. What could possibly be so insidious about a cheap silicone bracelet?
"It's a distraction," says Jill Wolborsky, a fourth-grade teacher at my son's school, who banned them from her classroom before the principal implemented a schoolwide ban. One student stole some confiscated Bandz from her desk, choosing them over the cash in her drawer.
Students fiddle with them during class and arrange swaps trading, say, a bracelet with a mermaid for one with a dragon when they should be concentrating on schoolwork, teachers say. Sometimes a trade goes bad kids get buyer's remorse too and hard feelings, maybe even scuffles, ensue.
That's what prompted Karen White, principal of Snow Rogers Elementary School in Gardendale, Ala., in October to become one of the first administrators to forbid students their Bandz. "We try not to limit their freedom of expression and what they wear, but when this became a problem, I knew we had to nip it in the bud pretty quickly," says White, who has since extended an olive branch in the form of monthly Silly Bandz days.
Silly Bandz are the latest in a long list of kid-centric fads in the tradition of Cabbage Patch Kids, Beanie Babies, Pokémon cards and Crocs. BCP Imports LLC, the small business in Toledo, Ohio, that's behind the bracelets, was not prepared for the frenzy. It's increased its workforce from 20 employees to 200 in the past year and just this week added 22 phone lines to keep up with inquiries. The company sells millions of packs a month, and Robert Croak, the president, can still hardly believe it. (He took my call after hanging up with Macy's, which is interested in creating a Silly Bandz float for its storied Thanksgiving Day parade.)
Croak got inspired about three years ago at a product show in China, where a Japanese artist had devised a rubber band cute enough to escape the trash bin. Though Silly Bandz have been out for two years, they began catching on a year ago Alabama was an early adopter, as were New Jersey and Tennessee. They're just now gaining traction in California and Texas.
"They're getting banned because kids play with them so much," says Croak, who maintains they're the right product at the right time, a cost-conscious trinket in tough economic times that can even be a learning tool for little ones, kind of like flexible flash cards.
His company receives about 500 fan letters a week. One, signed by a 10-year-old named Logan Librett in New Rochelle, N.Y., and a few of his friends suggested a way to circumvent all the bothersome Silly Bandz restrictions: "Some schools in New York have banned them, but we have ideas that might change that ... clear silly bands that teachers can't see and only glow in the dark."
Just in case the company bites, Librett offered his address. He's still waiting.