Monday, September 29, 2014

Fatherly love behind the loom band craze

The Rainbow Loom, a kit for making the now hugely popular loom bands, might not have been invented if not for a Malaysian-born engineer’s desire to spend more time with his family.

Cheong Choon Ng went to study in the United States in 1991 and later, having received his master’s degree in mechanical engineering, landed a job in Detroit’s motor industry.

He loved his job but missed being with his two daughters, he says in a recent article he wrote for the British newspaper The Guardian.

“They were nine and 12, and distant towards me,” he writes. “One night after work, I saw them making bracelets from rubber bands and I thought, ‘Hey, I know how to do this. Maybe I can impress you girls.’

“I sat down and showed them how to link the rubber bands together, using the same technique we had used to make jumping ropes back in Malaysia. But the bracelets kept falling apart. I went down to my basement, grabbed a scrapboard and stuck multiple rows of pushpins into it. Then I started linking the bands in a zigzag, like a diamond shape, and it worked really well.

“The next day, my daughters took a bunch of colourful bracelets to school. I became a neighbourhood hero overnight. Children would come up to me and ask me to make them bracelets.

“It was my older daughter, Teresa, who first suggested selling them. I spent six months developing the product and designed 28 different versions. I was still working full-time at Nissan, so I would stay up until three or four o’clock every morning.

“The biggest challenge was to convince my wife. I am the one in the family with all the crazy ideas, and she is my reality check. She always has the final say. One day, I made a ring out of rubber bands and put it on her finger. After that, she was on board.”

The Rainbow Loom became a popular pastime in summer camps and summer clubs in 2013. Children make and swap their rubber-band bracelets in the same way as friendship bracelets, and have posted thousands of their own instructional videos online.

YouTube features scores of how-to videos, receiving millions of hits. Last year it was named one of the three most popular toys by Cyber Monday Awards and was the most-searched toy on Google.

Even Pope Francis and members of the British royal family have been seen wearing loom bands.

“We invested our entire family savings of US$10,000 to order tooling and 91kg of rubber bands from China, and assembled the kits ourselves in our garage,” Choong writes.

“I spent months going round toy stores in Michigan with my daughters, trying to sell the loom band. Nobody was interested. The problem was that people didn’t understand how they worked. So I asked my niece and my daughters to create YouTube videos, explaining how to make rubber-band bracelets. These created a trend.

“In July 2012, I received an order from a toy store in Alpharetta, Georgia, for 12 loom-band kits. Less than two weeks later, the same store placed an order for $10,000.

“After that, our sales climbed every month until, in December 2012, we reached US$200,000 wholesale sales a month. I took a three-month sabbatical from Nissan, but never returned to my old job.”

He says he sold more than US$40m worth of rubber-band bracelets last year. “I expect to double that this year,” he adds. - Free Malaysia Today

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