Immigrating for College Leads to More than a Degree
In 1991, Choon Ng immigrated to the United States from Malaysia in order to attend Wichita State University. He ultimately earned a graduate degree in mechanical engineering. While working as a crash-test engineer for Nissan, Ng designed the now-popular Rainbow Loom in the basement of his family home. His engineering experience gave him working knowledge of product design, quality control, and manufacturing, all of which contributed to the process of creating this best-selling toy.
Improving His Daughters’ Idea
Rainbow Looms began when Mr. Ng saw his daughters creating bracelets with small rubber bands. His first attempts at bracelet making were frustrating because his large fingers could not manipulate the small bands as easily as his daughters’ smaller hands. So he added push-pins to a wooden board and created a simple loom. This initial design did not impress his daughters. But when he added additional rows of pins, he could create more complex bracelet designs. Soon, even his daughters were using the board to make bracelets.
His oldest daughter was the first to encourage Ng to sell the loom, and his brother suggested online retail. However, Ng’s wife was reluctant. They had only $10,000 to invest, and she was not eager to pour all of their money into an unproven product. For months, Ng tried to impress his wife with different rubber band designs, and in late 2010, she finally relented. After creating 28 different prototypes, Ng finally submitted an invention record, the first step in a patent request. Rainbow Loom was officially born, although it was originally named Twistz Bandz.
A Rocky Beginning
When Ng began to search for a manufacturer, he found that American companies were out of his budget. He searched in China instead, where the looms are now made. He spent $5,000 on template molding and another $5,000 on the parts to create the kits. In the summer of 2011, a 2,000-pound shipment of rubber bands arrived at Ng’s home and the adventure began.
Not everything went as planned in those early days. All 2,000 pounds of rubber bands were coated in dust that Ng found unacceptable. He decided they all needed to be washed, and such attempts included a bathtub full of rubber bands and several loads run through the washing machine in special bags. Additionally, the first 10,000 hooks came in the wrong size, so Ng had to individually hammer each hook into the right shape. It took about 3 hours to correct 500 hooks. Having invested all of their savings, Ng had no choice but to solve each problem and try to sell his invention.
Ng pitched his new product in every local toy store, but without success. He designed a website to increase online sales, but sales were still slow. He concluded that people would not buy a product they didn’t know how to use, so he and family members made videos demonstrating how to make different Rainbow Loom bracelets. He also purchased Google ads to increase brand awareness.
From Family Basement to National Stores
In the summer of 2012, his efforts paid off. Owners of a specialty toy store franchise, Learning Express Toys, placed an initial order for 24 kits. Only two days later, they reordered 48 kits. And a week later, they ordered $10,000 worth of Ng’s kits. Ng was astounded. Since then, other Learning Express Toys stores have been stocking—and selling out of—the loom kits, and they are also now available in Michaels craft stores nationwide.
As popularity grew, production challenges continued to increase. Ng installed an elevator at their family home because he was unable to easily move all of the supplies down to the basement. He recruited his daughters and their friends to help assemble the kits and fill orders. He also quit his job at Nissan so that he and his wife could work full-time from their home. Eventually, however, they outgrew their space and family employees. Ng now employs 9 full-time staff members and they have moved operations to a 500-square-foot warehouse.
Popular for Everyone
Part of the loom’s popularity is the incredible variety of designs and projects that can be made with the small rubber bands. There are dozens of YouTube videos showing how to create different patterns for bracelets, rings, purses, charms, necklaces, and more. Full-color instructional books are also becoming available. They toy has broad appeal across age ranges and among both boys and girls. Educators and even therapists praise the toy for the way it challenges users to see patterns and improve dexterity. The accessories made on the loom can be found in schools everywhere, and kids are even enjoying teaching their parents how to make Rainbow Loom bracelets.
The kit includes a loom and a mini-loom, a hook, c-clips, and 600 latex-free rubber bands. This is enough to make 24 bracelets, but the number of projects you can complete with one kit will vary, depending on the size and complexity of your projects. Additional rubber bands can be purchased in packages of 600 and they come in dozens of colors (not all colors are available at all stores). And of course, accessories are available, including a compartmentalized case for storing all of your bands.
The designs that can be made using the loom and rubber bands are limited only by imagination and creativity. Some of the simplest designs are the basic loop, a fishtail braid, and a spiral weave. These are single-strand designs and are simple to learn. More complicated patterns include the double-X, a triple single, and the starburst. There are online instructional videos for dozens of bracelet styles, and instruction books include even more project patterns. As the loom continues to grow in popularity, there is no doubt that new patterns and designs will emerge. And that is the mark of a good toy–something that will grow with its users.