The only thing American cyclist Lance Armstrong wanted to do in May 2004 was to make people be aware of how cancer could be prevented and empower those who already have that condition. A survivor of testicular cancer, Armstrong launched a fundraiser called “Livestrong” where yellow colored silicone bracelets made by Nike were handed out to raise money to finance the Livestrong Foundation, a support group for cancer survivors. To date, 80 million Livestrong rubber bracelets have been sold. Armstrong has made an icon of the silicone gel bracelets that have since been associated as a tool for awareness of various causes such as child abuse, racism, deforestation, indigenous peoples, animal cruelty, gay rights, immigrants, diabetics and war veterans.
Silicone is the hands down choice of material for these wristbands which have become fashion accessories as well. Why are they such a hit? Because they are long lasting, water resistant, flexible, attractive and unique. They not only come in an ever-widening range of colors but in a rapidly increasing selection of designs and patterns. Debossed, silk screened, color debossed, printed or embossed, they can come in single colors, glow in the dark, multicolor, marbled, color changing (the wristband’s color changes in environments with temperatures over 30°C), UV reflective (the wristband will change its color when exposed to sunlight) and even mosquito repellant! And of late, some manufacturers have even added options such as applying glitter and perfume on for customers who want something more attention getting. Engraved wristbands using laser-engraving machinery is gaining ground as the next edition of these ubiquitous silicone bangles. Ironically, manufacturers of laser-engraved rubber bracelets have been reported to charge astronomical prices for their products even when they are actually cheaper to make since they are almost identical to the debossed type in their appearance and feel. Laser-engraved custom rubber wristbands don’t even require imprint molds to be made, saving both money and time for the manufacturer.
Armstrong’s fundraiser subsequently opened doors for other uses of the silicone rubber wristbands which he unwittingly catapulted into stardom. Nine years since they were sold as symbols of the fight against cancer, rubber wristbands have become full-fledged promotional merchandise which is now used by products, ideas and brands. From election campaigns to airline flights, silicone bracelets are an integral part of communications plans and strategies to get more of everything: votes, sales, subscribers, members and customers. No wonder the rubber bracelet industry has become a billion dollar business in less than ten years after its first appearance.
Non-profits continue to use them in creating awareness and sustaining interest while government institutions hand them out to empower communities, boost morale for overseas armed forces personnel and maintain goodwill among intra-governmental agencies. Other than the ubiquitous use of these bracelets by marketing departments of businesses, advertising agencies and public relations outfits, rubber wristbands now cater to sports teams, religious organizations, medical facilities, schools, places of entertainment and leisure (as a kind of security measure and accessibility pass to use private swimming pools and enter private communities). Armstrong’s silicone bracelets have indeed come a long way in connecting different people believing in and working for different ideals and purposes.