THEY may look like little more than tiny, colourful rubber bands, but anyone caught up in the current craze sweeping the country will know that they are far more than that.
Loom bands – as they are known – have become must-have items for toddlers through to teenagers and are flying off the shelves.
Shopkeepers are struggling to keep up with demand, as children and parents alike flock to snap up sets of this summer’s essential toy.
For anyone who hasn’t yet had the pleasure of being gifted a loom band bracelet by a younger family member or friend, the craze centres around the act of designing jewellery such as friendship bracelets and rings, which youngsters swap with each other and hand out as presents.
So just what is it about these little bands that has created such an unexpected fad?
“This is the biggest craze we have ever seen,” admits Nathan Scambler, manager of loom band stockist Hobbycraft, at Fort Kinnaird. “I’ve never seen anything like it. Every child is wanting to do it. It’s both boys and girls taking part, and from toddlers to teenagers.”
Hobbycraft stores have reported sales of the bands increasing by 300 per cent.
In the Edinburgh store, what started off as a slow-burner has led to the loom band sets being sold out within days of a new delivery.
Nathan explains: “At first we sold a few boxes of them, but since then the craze has gone through the roof.
“Last Tuesday we got 120 sets in and they were gone by the Friday. We can’t get enough stock to keep up with the demand.
“When the very first sets came out we sold four sets a week. Now we could easily sell 200 sets a week, if not more.
“We also sell top-up bags which cost £1 and have 100 bands in them and we can sell 100-150 of these a day.”
He adds: “We have had one or two kids who have started crying when they came in to get a set and we didn’t have any left.”
Swapping the bands has become such a popular pastime that the store has started running weekly Saturday swapping sessions where kids can go and show off their creations and come away with new ones.
“With schools being off, they can come in here instead to do their swaps,” explains Nathan. “Children are making 20 or 30 a week and want to swap them for different styles, so this is giving them a chance to do that. It’s the same idea as swapping the World Cup stickers. It’s so much better for children than them sitting watching TV or playing computer games.”
Loom bands are currently eighth place in the best-selling toys of all time on Amazon, after classics such as a Rubik’s Cube, Monopoly and Scrabble.
One of the reasons why they have had such a surge in popularity is being attributed to the fact a host of celebrities – including the Duchess of Cambridge and One Direction’s Harry Styles – have been photographed wearing them.
The creations have become so popular that a bidding war broke out on eBay for a dress made entirely from the rubber bands, with it eventually selling for a staggering £170,100.
They have, however, hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, too.
Parents and GPs have warned of safety issues after children injured themselves with the toys.
A seven-year-old boy was blinded after his brother accidentally fired one of the rubber bands into his eye. And a doctor warned parents through Facebook about the dangers of the bands by posting a picture of a boy who had wound bands so tightly around two of his fingers before falling asleep that they had turned blue from lack of blood circulation.
But despite this bad press, Nathan firmly believes the rubber bands are here to stay, with manufacturers already bringing out new varieties, with glitter, luminous, tie-dye and even fruity smelling bands now on sale in shops.
“I think it will last right the way up until at least Christmas,” he adds. “After the summer holidays it will really take off again as they will all be wanting to show their bands off that they’ve made over the holidays.”