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In a Word, This Hip New Fashion Accessory Is a Bit of a Stretch

October 18, 2000|From Hartford Courant

Into making a fashion statement? It can be a snap with the hottest new accessory: rubber-band bracelets, which have been showing up on the wrists of Hollywood celebs, Olympic athletes and trendsetters.

The printed, candy-colored wristlets bring outfits attitude with such phrases as "Princess," "I got voted off the island," "Don't harsh my mellow" and "What would Scooby Do?"

Masterminded by Minnesota entrepreneur Ave Green (Green's middle name is Maria, as in Ave Maria), the product line, called Wordstretch, includes rings, kid-size bracelets and Big Bands. Prices range from $1.50 to $5.

"I loved the idea of reinventing an item that's in your house and office and making it new," said Green, a former actress who conceptualized the idea on a cross-country move from Hollywood to St. Paul, Minn. "I saw someone wearing a rubber band on their wrist, then I noticed the 'What Would Jesus Do' beaded bracelets in convenience stores. I realized I could print fun sayings on rubber bands and appeal to a very wide audience."

In 1998, she found a Minnesota rubber-band manufacturer and had seven prototype bracelets made. She started selling the bracelets through local stores, then expanded distribution to gift stores, card shops and boutiques across the U.S. Since then, the bands have shown up in some very hip circles.

Designer Giorgio Armani ordered 60,000 Wordstretches, and included them with his holiday greeting card. Internet rebel Napster gave thousands of customers Wordstretch bands inscribed, "Thanks for Sharing."

Music producer Jimmy Jam wears the bracelets for good luck. Michael Jordan sports one. Janet Jackson favors the bracelet printed with Chinese symbols representing "Joy."

Basketball player Kevin Garnett, a Dream Team 2000 member, commissioned three different Wordstretches for himself and his teammates. The Olympic band had "Dream Team" on the front and "nothin' less than gold" on the back, and was spotted on the court during the Sydney Games.

After Entertainment Weekly featured the stretchy accessories in its Scout section, the magazine then ordered thousands to promote the section to advertisers. Even President Clinton has been seen wearing one during a golf game.

"It's so simple, but people love them," Green said. "They're wearable greeting cards."

Green says sales continue to stretch. After a year and a half, the company has put 10 million bands with about 100 sayings into circulation.

In April, Target stores started carrying the rubber-band bracelets, priced at $3.99 for a package of six. The line is also available at the company's Web site, http://www.wordstretch.com.

Newest additions to the line include bracelets with reverse lettering that can be read in a mirror, glow-in-the-dark models and Book Bands, Wordstretch's variation on the old-fashioned bookmark.

The giant bands retail for $2 and are printed with observations from some of the world's greatest authors and thinkers. On one, Albert Einstein muses, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

On another, the Dalai Lama explains, "My religion is very simple--my religion is kindness."

"You can't call them 'just rubber bands' anymore," Green said. "I've got the leader of the free world and the greatest living athlete wearing them, along with millions of regular people. It doesn't get much better than that."

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