To the naked eye, the colorful bracelets stacked on the arms of many youngsters today appear to be simple rubber bands.
Rubber bands, yes. Simple, no.
The colorful bracelets are called Silly Bandz, and they are shaped like animals, musical instruments, sea creatures and flowers.
It's a fad that hit stores about a year-and-a-half ago, retailers say. The brainchild of Toledo, Ohio, businessman Robert Croak, the inexpensive bracelets (about $6 for 24) have "exploded in popularity," according to Web sources.
WHERE TO BUY
A sampling of places where Silly Bandz are available:
* Learning Express Toys, Gunbarrel Road and Manufacturers Road.
* Toys R Us at Hamilton Place and Highway 153.
* A Child's Garden on Frazier Avenue.
* Balloon Factory on Brainerd Road.
* Walmart stores.
The bracelets are made of colored silicone molded in different shapes. The bracelets return to their original shape when taken off the arm.
Since late 2009, Mr. Croak says sales have increased by a factor of 10. He reports orders of about 1,500 boxes per week, putting millions of Silly Bandz on store shelves, according to the website sillybandzonsale.net.
Among the bracelet fans are 9-year-old Oskar Sodergren and his 5-year-old sister, Scarlet.
Oskar, a rising fourth-grader at Wallace A. Smith Elementary School, said he began his collection last Christmas.
"I thought about the other kids who already had them and thought it was pretty cool," he said, noting that he has about 40 bracelets. "My favorite is the apple that is an iPod symbol. I broke my dragon yesterday, so now I want another one."
Getting the dragon bracelet is easier said than done, said Oskar's mom, Tracy Sodergren, a seventh-grade teacher.
Staff Photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press Scarlet Sodergrem, 5, left, and her brother, Oskar Sodergrem, center, trade rubber band bracelets with their friend Andrew Burns, 10. The Sodergram's have been collecting rubber band bracelets in random shapes since Christmas. Their father has one in the shape of the University of Alamama's "A."
Explaining that half the fun of collecting the bracelets is trading them with friends, Oskar is already on the hunt for a replacement, she said.
"It won't be easy to find unless he has a friend willing to trade it for one of his bands," Mrs. Sodergren said. "It's an affordable and fun hobby for the children. We've purchased about $25 worth, but my children used their money to pay for half."
"In a tough economy, any parent can afford to spend $5 to get their kid something they really want," Mr. Croak said on the website.
Lauren Selcer, an employee at Books A Million on Gunbarrel Road, said they've had trouble keeping the bracelets in stock.
"They've gone so fast, we can't keep them on the shelves," she said. "We just got a shipment in, but we were sold out for two weeks."
Ms. Selcer said people of all ages are buying the bracelets.
"Some of my friends have asked me to get them the bracelets," she said. "I bought some for me because they were shaped like dinosaurs, and I like dinosaurs. They're just cute, fun bracelets."
Oskar said most of his friends collect the bracelets and it wasn't uncommon to trade them at school.
"I traded at school, usually at lunch or recess," he said. "The teachers would ask us to put them up if we got them out in class."
Oskar said he rarely wears the bracelets on his wrist like many other kids. Instead, he said, he has them strung on a clip that hangs from his belt loop.
Sillybandz.com recently began selling the Silly Necklace, which offers an alternative to wearing the bracelets. Available in three sizes, the bracelets can be worn on the necklace. The necklaces, which sell for $5.95 for a package of three, are available online at sillybandz.com.
And, parents, get ready. Silly Bandz T-shirts soon will be available.
Feature writer Karen Nazor Hill covers fashion, design, home and gardening, pets, entertainment, human interest features and more. She also is an occasional news reporter and the Town Talk columnist. She previously worked for the Catholic newspaper Tennessee Register and was a reporter at the Chattanooga Free Press from 1985 to 1999, when the newspaper merged with the Chattanooga Times. She won a Society of Professional Journalists Golden Press third-place award in feature writing for ...