For Canadian parents, there was only one problem with Rainbow Loom, the new craft craze that features an easy-to-use-loom and rubber bands in a variety of colours that can be woven into bracelets and more: You couldn’t get it. While the fad—invented by Cheong Choon Ng, a former Nissan engineer and father of two, in the basement of his Detroit home—spread across the U.S. over the past year, Canadian retailers waited. Jon Levy, co-founder of Mastermind Toys, with 28 stores across the country, was the first to get the kits. He put in a call to Ng in February. “He told me he couldn’t fit me in,” Levy recalls. “I had to convince him we were a notable retailer. I said, ‘Well, when can you fit me in?’ He told me possibly in May and my heart just started to flutter.”
Levy put in a huge order. “Choon was frazzled because he couldn’t keep up with the demand,” he says. “I wired him the money up front. I sent a truck. I told him he didn’t have to think about a thing.” Levy picked up his first shipment and put them on the shelves on a Monday at the start of the summer. By Wednesday he was nearly sold out.
The genius of Rainbow Loom ($20 for the kits, $4 per pack of refill elastics), says Grant Chapman, vice-president of IndigoKids, is it’s customizable, tried and tested—who doesn’t remember friendship bracelets?—and has “ongoing and evolving playability.” Both boys and girls love it. More than 10,000 photos are tagged #RainbowLoom on Instagram and an instructional video on YouTube has received almost five million views. IndigoKids has chosen Rainbow Loom as a top-10 toy for the holidays. Sales have been “explosive” since they brought it in recently, Chapman says.
Liisa Siskland went to Toytown in Toronto on a delivery day to pick up refills for her 11-year-old. “They had mountains of them. I went back the next day and there were only two packages left,” she says. She sees it as a great babysitter. “I actually took my daughter to my gym. She just sat in the waiting area doing Rainbow Loom, and didn’t even know the time had passed when I came out.”
“I just thought they were hair elastics,” says Katie Dolgin, who runs a recruitment firm. “I bought two sets before my son went away to camp. I didn’t know what I had started.” She now has bracelets, rings and key chains in cobra, butterfly and fishtail stitches.
Whether they are just elastics is now the subject of legal proceedings. In August, Ng ﬁled suit against several parties including Zenacon, the Miami-based company that makes FunLoom, claiming Rainbow Loom’s trademark for its C-shaped fastener is being infringed. He’s also suing Toys “R” Us, which carries a kit made by another competitor. “I made this famous,” he told the Wall Street Journal. He may be right; elastic weaving kits have been around for years but most don’t command the cultish devotion that Rainbow Loom does. Ng says he’s sold more than a million.
Customers and retailers keep clamouring for more. At Type Books in Toronto, co-president Joanne Saul received a frantic call a few weeks ago from the store’s co-owner, Samara Walbolm. “She was like, ‘You have to call this number right now!’ I was actually worried. I thought there was some sort of emergency. But the number was for a distributor, because finally there is a distributor for Canada,” she says. Saul says customers started asking for Rainbow Loom a couple of months ago. “I’d never heard of them. I immediately tried to get them in but the company told me they couldn’t consider new retailers.” Now she sells dozens of kits and many packs of elastics a day. Some people buy eight kits at a time, for gifts.
Carolyn Kates of Zibbers Inc., the Canadian distributor, says the item is keeping some specialty toy stores afloat—it’s not offered at big stores like Wal-Mart and Target. “We just started distributing them in Newfoundland and Winnipeg,” says Kates. “I tell store owners who have never heard of them, ‘Trust me. Just put up a sign in your window that they are coming in. It’s not a fad, like Silly Bandz. This has legs.’ ”
As for Levy, he’s not just a retailer; he’s also a fan. He recently gave his niece a Rainbow Loom set. “She started at 11 a.m. and we saw her next at 4 p.m.”