They’re brightly multicolored and scented. Coveted ones glow in the dark. They look like ordinary rubber bands when you see them stacked by the dozens on the wrists of a child, but then they transform into polar bears, letters of the alphabet, mythical creatures, princesses and rock band paraphernalia almost as if by magic.

If you have a child in your life, chances are you know about Silly Bandz or one of its competitors.

Silly Bandz, essentially rubber bands that retain specific shapes, are the products of BCP Imports of Ohio. The bands have been on the market for a couple of years, but their populariey with kids has exploded in the last few months — so much so that Disney and other companies have launched their own lines.

Schools in some states — including Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Florida, but not Maine, reports — have banned them because they are too distracting to students.

Silly Bandz and their ilk are “one of the biggest trends coming out of the recession,” said Marshal Cohen, a chief industry analyst of international market research company NPD Group and author of “Buy Me! How to Get Customers to Choose Your Products and Ignore the Rest.”

What makes these simple bands so hot?

They are inexpensive: Most run around $5 for a package of 24.

They are accessible: They can be bought from online outlets, convenience stores and retailers like Walgreens and Newbury Comics.

They are collectible: Kids trade them like baseball cards.

At Portland’s Riverton Community Center day camp, about 45 fourth-graders (all of whom will be in fifth grade in the fall, as is repeatedly pointed out), hang around in groups discussing which ones they have and which they would like to have. Some trade them right off their wrists, while others carry them in plastic storage bags or looped on a key chain.

Keegan Morris, 10, stores his 30 mostly aquatic animal-shaped bands at home in a box he reserves for items he doesn’t want others to get into. He doesn’t like to wear the bands often because he thinks they’re uncomfortable, but he does like trading them. (He’s currently interested in wild animal bands.)

“I’m not really sure why I like them,” he said. “I just like the way they look.”

With bands representing all the letters of the alphabet on her left wrist, Carlee Michaud, 10, lays claim to owning 278 bands. “Silly Bandz are so much fun,” she said. “They are so comfortable, and have so many designs, and you can trade them and share them with friends.”

The trading aspect of the Silly Bandz fad is one of its driving forces, making an inert object interactive — which, in turn, bumps up the bands’ popularity and BCP Imports’ sales.

The company claims its Silly Bandz packages have blasted to youth obsession without any advertising done on its end. In an interview earlier this month with USA Today, Robert Croak, founder of BCP Imports, said annual sales of the bands were $10,000 two years ago but are now more than $100 million.

Boys and girls alike are obsessed and, as inexplicable as it may seem, adults — and not just ones with children — are wearing the child’s fashion accessory. Big names in the celebrity world, including actresses Sarah Jessica Parker and Mary-Kate Olsen, rock musician Charlie Mars and model Agyness Deyn, have been seen wearing them.

Brittney French, a 21-year-old from Auburn who will be a senior at Bates College in Lewiston this fall, was introduced to Silly Bandz by her 15-year-old sister Taylor.

French wears them, she said, to “get the trendy feeling.” While she thinks they are not visually appealing when seen bunched on a wrist, she finds their ability to transform mind-boggling. “I always ask her (Taylor) to take them on and off because they transform into these shapes,” she said. “It’s kind of weird.”

Meredith Alex, an eco-fashion designer and installation artist whose business MadGirl World, is based in Portland, appreciates the bands’ appeal.

“One of the things that amazes me the most is this technology that holds them in their shape, time after time after time,” she said. “It’s kind of magical. How does that happen?”

Alex, who was given two bands by a 3-year-old, also thinks their appeal is a matter of community building.

“They’re connecting people,” she said. “They’re connecting adults and children with no words being exchanged. That’s cool.”

Staff Writer Stephanie Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6455 or at:

[email protected]


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