Hot trend among kids: Rainbow looms
Children tap on Rainbow Loom bands craze for charity
It is a phenomenon that has people going nuts for rubber bands all over the world - and Singapore has not been spared.
Welcome to the world of the Rainbow Loom. Children as young as five are deftly turning these bands into bracelets, charms and anklets.
And some enterprising youngsters have cottoned on to the trend for a good cause.
Four girls from Raffles Girls' School came up with the idea to sell the rubber bracelets for charity.
"Now you can see loom bands everywhere you turn. We were at Sentosa the other day and almost everyone was wearing them," says Cara Chua, 16, the leader of the group of four.
"Boyfriends and girlfriends make them by hand. Teens and children also make them for their parents."
Cara and her friends gathered about 100 volunteers from the Outward Bound Singapore alumni network and various secondary schools to churn out loom bands as part of the Citi-YMCA Youth For Causes programme.
The programme is a catalyst to promote social entrepreneurship and community leadership development among Singapore youth.
"We expected mostly girls to show up (for the mass loom-making) sessions, but surprisingly, a lot of guys showed up too," says Cara.
The students designed bracelet patterns for children, teenagers and adults. The team has been selling its Rainbow Loom bands as well as badges for $2 each through street sales and online orders.
To date, the team has raised almost $20,000 in cash. Its goal is to raise $30,000.
All the proceeds go to Club Rainbow, a charity that helps children who suffer from a range of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Team member Megan Gwee, 16, says: "Some people have put $100 notes into our donation cans and told us to keep the change."
You can find the girls' Facebook page at Operation Spectrum: Colouring Lives.
A pair of siblings have also sold their bands for charity.
Sisters Alyson Lim, seven, and Rebecca Lim, five, made Rainbow Loom charms and bracelets and sold them on their Facebook page The Flying Loomer.
They have raised $850 so far, ahead of their initial target of $500.
The money will be split between two local charities - Sanctuary House and the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore.
Alyson and Rebecca's mother, Madam Sofie Hon, who helped to set up their Facebook page, said that it was her elder daughter's idea to sell her loom creations.
"I didn't take her seriously at first, but then she had this entire business plan. I suggested that she could sell her bands for charity," says Madam Hon, who is in her 30s.
Using their loom boards and colourful rubber bands, the girls can weave awe-inspiring designs like Hello Kitty and Elsa from the movie Frozen with hardly any help from their mother.
"I only helped them out with the more detailed parts that needed sewing, like making the whiskers for the Hello Kitty design," says Madam Hon.
Their Facebook page has about 50 likes so far, as they have shared it only with family and friends.
It is chock-full of cute creations, including a Superman figurine, and food-shaped and Angry Birds charms.
These products were sold at $5, $10 and $15, depending on their complexity.
Madam Hon says that she is very proud of her daughters.
"(Weaving) builds up their confidence, that they can actually achieve something.
"It improves their sense of perception and motor skills, and also helps them in terms of following instructions," she says, explaining that her daughters learn how to weave rubber bands by watching YouTube tutorials.
For instance, when her daughters made the Angry Birds charms, they had to plan the placement of different coloured bands so that they resembled the actual Angry Birds.
"I think I spent a lot of money on it, but it's a good activity," says Madam Hon with a laugh.
Boys, adults into weaving too
SKILFUL SIBLINGS: (Above) Drexel and Rie Loh with their handmade bracelets, charms and figurines. They made Spider-man and Thor too (below). PICTURES COURTESY OF DREXEL AND RIE LOH
Who says that Rainbow Loom is only for girls?
While over a million looms have been sold worldwide, Singapore distributor Sophie & Friends says only 60 per cent of its customers are girls aged between 6 and 14.
"Rainbow Loom is being enjoyed by kids of both genders. Increasingly, we see adults getting into the action," owner Lin Daoyang tells The New Paper on Sunday.
"A friend of mine bought a loom and a lot of bands for her mother to weave to keep her occupied and maintain her dexterity. I guess this is the new form of knitting." And the trend does not seem to be waning any time soon.
Children are watching YouTube tutorials and there is an entire vocabulary out there like Fishtail, Dragon Scale and Inverted Hexafish, for instance.
I caught up with loom enthusiast Drexel Loh, 10.
He can make a triple row bracelet in just five minutes, while I spent a pathetic two hours making just a single one.
Drexel has even made a superhero Thor figurine, among other complex Rainbow Loom designs.
"The Thor (figurine) I made is my favourite. I watched a video tutorial and made it in about an hour," he says.
His sister, Rie Loh, 11,can also cheerfully list the different kinds of advanced-level bracelets she knows how to make such as the Starburst, Delta Wing, Feather and Hibiscus.
Besides bracelets, Rie has made a 3D figurine of Cinderella and a 2D figurine of Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
The siblings have done all this with no help from their parents.
They are so good that they have even taught other children how to weave the bands.
Rie and Drexel taught 10 small classes, comprising five or six kids, at Playhao, located in Forum The Shopping Mall, over two days in the June holidays.
In addition, they taught an advanced three-hour class, at Twelve by Elly, located at Cluny Court.
Their mother said that teaching the classes was a really good experience for the siblings.
"It's a good opportunity for my kids to teach other kids," Mrs Loh says.
From playtime to big time
CREATIVE: Rainbow Loom creator Ng Cheong Choon with his daughters, Michelle (with hat) and Teresa. PICTURE COURTESY OF NG CHEONG CHOON
The man behind the multi-coloured craze is Mr Ng Cheong Choon, 43, a Malaysian who resides in the US state of Michigan.
In an e-mail interview with The New Paper on Sunday, he says the idea for Rainbow Loom came to him in July 2010 when he wanted to join in with his daughters, Teresa and Michelle, as they made rubber bands into bracelets.
When he was young, Mr Ng says he would make jump ropes out of rubber bands with his friends. So it was a chance to impart his knowledge.
"I wanted to join them, but my fingers were too big to weave the bands together. So I decided to make a tool for myself - and to impress my two girls," he says.
His first loom, he admits, was primitive. Created from a wooden board, it had drawing pins lined up in rows.
Then he created a loom that allowed him to weave smaller and more intricate designs, even if he did not have the dexterity to do so with his bare hands.
At the time he created the loom, Mr Ng was working as a crash test engineer for Nissan.
But he believed the rubber band weaving idea to have legs. So he and his wife invested their savings into making the product, initially called Twistz Bandz.
He says: "I knew there was always a risk in business ventures, but I had confidence in my idea.
"It let me and my daughters express our creativity. I felt that (others) would enjoy the experience as much as we did."
The Ngs' budget was too small to work with US manufacturers. So the parts and rubber bands were shipped from China to their home, where they assembled the kits in their basement.
But selling the product was not easy. Mr Ng had many rejections before US company Learning Express Toys of Alpharetta, Georgia, agreed to give it a chance.
Sales took off. Other stores wanted the loom. Then large chain stores came calling. Rainbow Loom now sells across the globe.
Mr Ng estimates 1.5 million Rainbow Loom kits have been sold.He says that online tutorial videos help them reach a larger audience.
But he acknowledges that it is not a simple hobby to take up.
"It requires patience, concentration and hand-eye coordination, which makes it deeply satisfying when you produce something that you like and can be proud of," he says.