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Written by Michele Wheat
Silicone bracelets have been around for decades starting with the rubber and jelly bracelets of the 80s and 90s. Worn mostly by teenagers and young adults at music festivals and concerts, these brightly-colored bands were fun fashion accessories that morphed into functional items used for crowd control, attendance tracking, advertising and more. Eventually, these stylish pieces would make way for the 2000's livestrong bracelets trend that would take the world by storm and really put silicone wristbands on the map.
The Livestrong band quickly became a ubiquitous symbol for raising awareness and generating support for cancer survivors. Developed by Nike for professional cyclist Lance Armstrong’s nonprofit foundation, the now legendary bracelet was so prevalent that everyone from celebrities to politicians were wearing them. But why?
A few weeks after participating in the 1996 Olympic Games, Lance Armstrong was diagnosed with Stage III testicular cancer. After an incredible recovery, he went on to launch the Lance Armstrong Foundation in 1997. The organization’s biggest win came in 2004 when the Livestrong bracelet- a yellow silicone band debossed with the word ‘LIVESTRONG’- was introduced. The reason the color yellow was chosen was to coincide with the Tour de France's general classification for the overall leader (whom typically dons a yellow jersey). The simple yet powerful band design combined with the inexpensive price and charitable tie-in, all contributed to the overwhelming success of the Livestrong wristband.
Livestrong bracelets proved to be an extremely profitable fundraising item. With each sale of the $1 Livestrong band, 81¢ went back to the organization and its mission to fight cancer. With over 100 million Livestrong wristbands sold, the foundation was able to raise $500 million dollars just from the sale of their iconic yellow gel bands alone!
It was upsetting for many to discover in October 2012 that Lance Armstrong had engaged in the use of performance-enhancing drugs. He was subsequently banned from the sport of professional cycling and stripped of his multiple Tour de France titles. Following an Oprah interview where Armstrong publicly admitted to his use of steroids, the Livestrong brand suffered a big hit that would be felt almost immediately.
Armstrong attempted to prevent fallout by resigning as the head of the Livestrong Foundation, but the damage was already done. His confession resulted in many retailers dropping the multiple Livestrong branded products and merchandise, including the famed Livestrong wristband. Many that already owned the bracelet showed their dissatisfaction via the band design; some opponents struck out the "V" to spell "LIE STRONG,” while others opted to write a "W" over the "ST" so the message read "LIVEWRONG."
In either case, these ill-fated circumstances would lead to a the vast decline in the foundation’s income for years to follow. But, the Livestrong organization remains integral to this day in their mission of helping those affected by cancer. Most recently announced in 2020 is that the non-profit would change their focus to "impact funder" rather than a provider of direct services, with emphasis on backing startups involved in improving patient care.
Given that the Livestrong movement really started the whole trend of using silicone bracelets for cause awareness and support, many people still ask- are silicone wristbands obsolete? If not, do people still wear rubber band bracelets regularly? Luckily, while Armstrong’s doping scandal certainly had a negative impact on the Livestrong Foundation, silicone wristbands remain popular fundraising items. Many nonprofit organizations like the American Red Cross and Breast Cancer fund continue to use custom silicone wristband campaigns to raise money for their cause.
But outside of the nonprofit world, why do people wear silicone wristbands? Well, for any number of reasons! Silicone bracelets are durable, reusable, and completely customizable, so they work great for advertising and promotional purposes, gift giving, memorialization and more!