Claire Fang

Before our Bright College Years, there was something even brighter: Sillybandz. Whether blinding neon, rainbow barf or tie dye, I’ve always assumed walking around at some point with an arm full of office supplies and hoping for a trade was a sine qua non for The 2000s Kids Experience. But in a recent conversation with a Yalie — we’ll call them Sam to protect them from near-certain backlash — I learned that my peer had never worn Sillybandz.

I checked with other peers. Responses ranged from the defensive “gurl why r we talking about sillybandz in 2022?” to the weakly enthusiastic “My mom never allowed me to get too many but I def had a few.”

Through research, I found that Sam and the others may not be alone. A Cross Campus post in the News from a decade ago read, “Color confusion? Yale Athletics handed out complimentary packets of Silly Bands — the popular, shape-retaining rubber bands — at the home women’s soccer game against Princeton on Saturday. … But the free Yale-pride items had one major problem: white, gray and crimson, they were the colors of the Bulldogs’ archrival, Harvard. The Yale Athletics employee distributing the Silly Bands said they will have the bracelets in Yale colors available next week.”

Weird. My immediate thought: Have I been at the wrong school this whole time? I knew I needed to uncover what happened to Sillybandz in order to fling Yale forward in the Y2K Revival. So, I pleaded my case via a contact form and eventually got in touch with Robert Croak. If Instagram was around in fourth grade, my bio would’ve probably included “CEO of Sillybandz,” but Robert is the real one. Sillybandz are his brainchild and the most well-known product line of his company, Brainchild Products, which has been making silicone bracelets for years.

Robert is just as striking as the accessories he sells. He was quick to share his own TikTok fame — @robertcroakofficial — and to declare traditional classroom education irrelevant. Through trading Sillybandz, he said, kids learn lessons such as entrepreneurship and financial literacy that align more with daily life. However, the founder admitted that the line launched out of the limelight.

“With a worldwide phenomenon like Sillybandz, everyone thought it was something that just worked right out of the gate, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Robert said. “We created the brand and started with four styles, and they sat on our shelves for months.”

Obviously, things picked up, because Robert said that “by 2010, the company went from 12 employees to over 3,000 employees worldwide in a matter of four months.” He added that his core team slept on air mattresses in a single apartment-turned-office for 18 months “like it was a college dorm.”

Clearly, he and his team understood the college lifestyle. Why, then, couldn’t Sillybandz reach Yalies, and why did it disappear?

If having employees sleep on air mattresses isn’t enough, there are plenty of missteps to consider. Maybe it’s that Sillybandz were included in Quiznos’ kids meals for years. Mere association to a dying sandwich chain could probably damage a brand. Or maybe it’s that unlike its rubber products, the brand wasn’t particularly resilient. Robert said that after losing substantial business in 2012, Sillybandz lost its URL to a competitor and access to its Instagram account. Now, it goes by @sillybandzonline, which feels dated even for a 2000s brand.

But I suspect it’s a lack of preparedness for what was to come that led to the company’s decline and lack of presence on Yale’s campus both then and now. The company flew with the frenzy, breaking laundry machines and getting banned in schools.

To Robert, all press was good press. Amid a slew of Sillybandz-related injuries, he addressed concerns publicly and head-on. “I would have big, well-known doctors on big TV shows telling me that Sillybandz can cut off circulation,” he said. “I would say, ‘Let me ask you a question. You wear shoes, right? Well, wouldn’t it be true that if you tied your shoes too tight, it would cut off your circulation? … Well, yeah, I guess but you wouldn’t do that, [and] you wouldn’t really do that with Sillybandz either.”

Still, I loved Sillybandz. There’s nothing like listening to a Kidz Bop recording of “I Gotta Feeling” by The Black Eyed Peas with a Rock Bandz pack around your wrist. But while Robert claimed that the company is experiencing an “authentic, organic rebirth,” it seems that the company’s recent buzz is pretty limited. Last year, the now-disbanded Sway House invested in the company. The press release bore the headline “Blast from the past.” This April, Khloé Kardashian quote tweeted a fan’s picture of 24-pack Kardashian Glam Sillybandz and wrote “Omg stop lol.” 

But Robert insists Sillybandz was not just a fad. “The first time around, the Sillybandz craze lasted around two years, so it was definitely more of a trend than a fad,” he said. “Now we’re just now going back into retail. We have Addison Rae and Kourtney Kardashian and huge influencers and celebrities all Instagramming and TikToking it.”

Whatever you want to call it, I feel sorry for Yalies like Sam who might not have gotten to experience Sillybandz. I’m certain that poorly-circulating arms swathed in glow-in-the-dark Sillybandz would have made the Branford Crushes and Chaperones dance a night to remember. How cool would it be to bring Sillybandz there! But I guess missing them added to the nostalgia — they were banned in most middle schools, anyway.

Looking around campus this week, I’ve seen plenty of faces fresher than mine — 17-year-olds donning Yale Blue lanyards thinking “big vibe shift!” in their baby brains eating dining hall food with a smile. While I’d like to say I’m the freshest of them all because I wore Sillybandz, I’m probably not. I’m graduating and leaving this wonderful place where I’ve discovered myself and amazing professors and friends. 

I’m open to trades.

JACOB CRAMER
Jacob is a staff writer for WKND. He writes personal narratives that dive deep into pop culture or whatever's on his mind, often with the help of influencers and local experts. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he is a senior in Benjamin Franklin College studying psychology and Spanish.