The rubber-band bracelet craze: ‘somehow digital feels better when it produces something real’

I was delighted to see the Duchess of Cornwall wearing a Rainbow Loom bracelet on her Canadian tour (pictured below). Since Camilla is the grandmother of a seven-year-old girl, my suspicions are that this was a present from her.

As the owner of approximately 40 of these bracelets, I am very familiar with the particular weave Camilla is sporting – it can be done on a loom, a fork, and if neither of these are to hand, your fingers.

The Rainbow Loom concept is pretty basic – two plastic boards, a crochet hook, and as many coloured rubber bands as you can get hold of.  With it you can make bracelets, necklaces, earrings, backpack charms, even a suit.

The inventor’s story alone is inspiring.

Cheong Choon Ng, a Malaysian immigrant to the US with a degree in mechanical engineering, wanted to impress his daughters.  After watching them making bracelets with small rubber bands he realised his fingers were too fat to copy them so he created a wooden board with push pins to make more complex versions.  After a few iterations, his daughters traded their fingers for their dad’s board.

The bracelets they created become so popular amongst their friends that one of his daughters encouraged him to try to manufacture and sell the loom to others. Ng invested his entire savings of $10,000 to manufacture the looms in China (after finding his budget was too small for US manufacturers). After a year of making YouTube videos showing what you could make with the Loom, buying Google ads and trying to sell the product online, he finally sold 24 looms to Learning Express, a US toy store chain.