Origin Of Shaped Bands

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The story of shaped silicone bands, which led to Silly Bandz, which, in turn, led to the nationwide band bracelet craze, begins in Japan in 2002.

Birth

Ohashi and Haneda
In 2002, Yumiko Ohashi and Masanori Haneda, partners in Passkey Design, were attempting to realize a concept for office supplies that didn't have to be replaced often, and would thus be more environmentally-friendly.[1]

Their invention was a colored animal-shaped band made out of silicone—a more durable, longer lasting material than that of a standard rubber band. The logic behind making the bands visually appealing was to make them less disposable—people wouldn't be as likely to throw away a colorful band shaped like an animal than a band made of plain brown rubber. Or, as the rough English on their website put it: "Isn't it cute, and isn't it thrown away easily if it is such a rubber band? Don't you want to keep it in your drawer?"[2]

In 2006, Ohashi and Haneda received the Japanese Good Design Award for their creation.[3]

Soon after the bands began production, they went into limited distribution in the US through Eastern Accent International [4].

The first known mention in popular media of the shaped bands came in the October 21st, 2002 issue of New York Magazine, where they were singled out as "hip". The magazine also noted that the bands could be worn as bracelets on "very small wrists."[5] (Comments on the bands dating back to June 2007 in an online toy catalog also mention wearing the bands as bracelets.[6])

By 2005, Ohashi and Haneda's bands had become extremely popular at the Purple Bear, a store in Guilford, Connecticut, where a manager claimed that demand "rivaled Beanie Babies at their peak."[7]

A company named Top Trenz began distributing animal rubber bands during this period, but met with little success and dropped the product.[7]

Silly Bandz

Robert Croak
Robert Croak, owner of BCP Imports, first encountered Ohashi and Haneda's bands around 2007 at a trade show in China that he attended with the manager of the factory that produced some of BCP's goods.[8] [9]

"I liked the way they looked, and I thought if they were done correctly—larger and thicker—they would make a great fashion accessory," Croak says. Like New York Magazine, Croak also had the idea that the bands had potential as bracelets and decided to brand and market them with that specific emphasis, under the name "Silly Bandz."[9]

In late 2008 [10], BCP Imports manufactured the initial packs of Silly Bandz, which were adaptations of the Japanese Pet and Zoo packs—identical in shape, but only in shape. [11] The Sillybandz.com domain was registered on November 28th, 2008,[12] and the brand was off and running.

Beginnings of The Craze

The Learning Express store in Birmingham, Alabama, having stocked the Ohashi/Haneda bands since 2005, was the first retailer in the US to stock Croak's Silly Bandz.[13] Sales were sluggish at first. Then, in February 2009, and for reasons unknown, they began to move rapidly. By Spring, additional stores in the South and Southeastern United States began to stock Silly Bandz. Interest tapered over the summer of 2009, but when the new school year began, demand suddenly exploded.[14]

Silly Bandz City, the first mall kiosk devoted entirely to band bracelets, was opened by April Mraz in early October 2009 at the Riverchase Galleria in Birmingham, Alabama.[15]

By the time the 2009 holiday season had arrived, stores stocking Silly Bandz were selling out entire shipments within minutes, with waiting lists dozens of names long.

The fad had arrived.

Competition

The success of Silly Bandz in Alabama during the fall of 2009 did not go unnoticed.

The aforementioned Top Trenz, who years before had abandoned their own line of shaped bands, noticed that the bands had become hot sellers, and picked up the line again through a new distributor, Panaria International, Inc.

Meanwhile, the Crazy Bands domain was registered on October 15th, with Stretchy Shapes, Zanybandz, and Bama Bandz following in November.[12] All Alabama-based companies, and all going into production on their own lines of bands. Very soon Silly Bandz would be competing with a whole gallery of similar products.

Not all of the new competing brands were merely attempting to "cash in" on the craze. Some were genuinely motivated to create products equal or superior in quality and craftsmanship to those being released by Silly Bandz.

April Mraz, design expert and founder of Stretchy Shapes, described her situation as manager at The Band Wagon: "My inability to get the product quality and innovation I saw missing in the market, along with poor customer service from the manufacturers then in the game, prompted me to create and launch Stretchy Shapes."[15]

Controversy

Accusations have been made [10] that Robert Croak "stole the idea" for Silly Bandz from the original Japanese designers.

Carol Shapanka, spokesperson for Eastern Accent, stated that "ours are the original animal rubber bands," pointing out that the Silly Bandz Pet and Zoo packs are identical to Ohashi and Haneda's bands.[7]

There is a level of truth in Shapanka's statement. However, while the designs upon which the original Silly Bandz were based did indeed come from Japan, the Japanese designers conceived of them as an office product, not a toy. The Silly Bandz versions of the original packs also differ in several respects from the Japanese bands, including size, thickness, strength, and color.

The ultimate truth of the matter is that shaped silicone bands did not, and probably never would have, achieved widespread popularity until Robert Croak and BCP Imports became involved. It was the specific ways in which BCP branded, marketed, and packaged the product as Silly Bandz that made bands a craze. After all, they were unsuccessful when first marketed as a toy by Top Trenz. BCP was the company that "made it work."

The End of the Beginning

Silly Bandz began receiving major national media coverage during the first half of 2010. Bandz-related search engine activity and web traffic increased greatly during late spring. For comparison, see the access statistics for the Silly Bandz Wikipedia article (Wikipedia being a good barometer of popularity) between March and May. The fad finally began to spread to all the corners of the country that it hadn't yet touched.

The beginning had come to an end. Regardless of who deserved the credit or criticism, Silly Bandz and their fellow band brands were now poised atop the toy world.


(Addendum: Since this article was first published, information and sources mirroring ours have been edited into the Silly Bandz Wikipedia article. Links to Bandz Wiki were added as attribution, but were subsequently removed by a Wikipedia administrator—leaving only our information and sources. Please note that Bandz Wiki is the originator of this content, which can be verified through article revision dates.)

References

  1. http://www.plus-d.com/arb/subwin/frame_plfle.html
  2. http://www.plus-d.com/arb/
  3. http://www.gooddesigngroup.com/Good_Friends.html
  4. http://www.toydirectory.com/monthly/new_product.asp?id=26052
  5. http://nymag.com/nymetro/shopping/columns/bestbets/n_7827/
  6. http://www.uncommongoods.com/item/item.jsp?itemId=14088#ReviewHeader
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 http://www.toydirectory.com/monthly/article.asp?id=3982
  8. http://news.yahoo.com/s/time/20100527/us_time/08599199179700
  9. 9.0 9.1 http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_25/b4183064453633.htm
  10. 10.0 10.1 http://www.sillybandzonsale.net/meet-robert-croak-creator-of-silly-bandz/
  11. http://www.animalbraceletsblog.com/animal-bracelets-blog/2009/10/baby-animal-bracelets.html
  12. 12.0 12.1 http://www.domaintoolscentral.com/index.php?page=domain&module&age
  13. http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/life/main/7002401.html
  14. http://www.wbhm.org/News/2009/sillybandz.html
  15. 15.0 15.1 April Mraz, in personal correspondence with Bandz Wiki

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Comments

Commenting on this article has been disabled due to SPAM

April Mraz said ...
20:12, 6 August 2010 (EDT)
This is the best history of bands on the web. There have been so many "who was first" questions out there, and so many claiming the title, this factual timeline sets it all straight. Thanks for the great article! -April Mraz, Stretchy Shapes
Bandzwiki said ...
02:18, 7 August 2010 (EDT)
We did a lot of homework on this one! *blows a kiss*
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