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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, July 31, 2014

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In Milwaukee Buzz

Milwaukeeans hop on and off the LiveStrong wristband bandwagon


Yellow is the color of hope, courage, inspiration and perseverance. And it's the driving force behind LiveStrong wristbands, envisioned by the Lance Armstrong Foundation and brought to life by Nike.

"It's one of those feel-good stories," Jim Faber says, manager of the cycling shop Wheel & Sprocket on Milwaukee's northeast side. "Every little kid has one or wants one."

LiveStrong bands have led to an explosion on the wristband market. No arm could possibly have enough storage for all the rubbery bracelets available in every color and for every cause. A simple search on eBay provides more results than joining a Milwaukee heath club for a year.

But, is Milwaukee supporting a worthy cause or just jumping on the wristband bandwagon?

"It's a cultural phenomenon that has struck a nerve with everyone," Brent Emery says, co-owner of Emery's Bicycle and Super Fitness in Milwaukee. "We received 1,000 to 1,500 wristbands at one point, and in about two days, we were out."

Emery had the pleasure of joining Lance Armstrong in Austin, Texas on a 20-person ride and was an Olympic cyclist as well.

He's noticed the wristband popularity. "To date, we've sold around 16,000 to 17,000 LiveStrong wristbands. And at one point, the demand was so high, we were backlogged 9,600 wristbands. It was wristband mania!"

The yellow bands were first available May 17, 2004 and have raised $32 million for Lance Armstrong Foundation programs, according to their Web site. The foundation sells around 150,000 wristbands a day in all 50 states and in 60 other countries.

Other popular wristbands are pink, to support the fight against breast cancer with words such as "hope, faith, love" and "share beauty, spread hope," and black and white interlocking wristbands stating "stand up, speak up" aiming toward anti-racism.

"My daughter collects wristbands and is currently competing with her friends over who can collect the most," Becky Crowder says, an advertising and public relations professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. "She definitely doesn't understand the cause. It's sad that some don't understand the true meaning behind it, but it's a great marketing technique."

It's now possible to support the troops overseas by sporting a camouflage wristband. Best friends for life? There's a buddy band for it. Want to be more religious? Try the Live Jesus wristband on for size.

"I remember when we had wristbands during the '60s that everyone wore," Joette Rockow says, also a professor of advertising and public relations at UWM. "That turned out to be a fad, and I think the same goes for the LiveStrong wristbands."

The recent election in 2004 had LiveStrong promotion written all over it.

"You have John Kerry, the road biker and George W. Bush, the mountain biker," Faber says. "That really helped get the LiveStrong idea going."

Even the University of Texas has come out with its own wristband to promote the mascot, the Longhorn. It reads, "Go Horns."

Our focus seems a bit blurry. We may be shifting from wanting to support a cause bigger than ourselves to whether or not the wristband looks good with our wardrobe.

Avid Milwaukee cyclist Eric Boticki remembers them as a conversation piece among fellow cyclists.

"I can remember when cyclists just had the yellow wristbands and would ask each other what bike they were riding and whatnot. But, since it's gotten more popular, some cyclists have taken the wristband off. To them, it's about the cause, not the wristband itself."

"It's possible that half the people don't even know what the yellow represents," Faber says. "They seem to be treated almost like trading cards."

Many of the fashion-conscious out there even stopped wearing the LiveStrong because it's no longer in style to them.

And now they're ending up in junk drawers next to the snap bracelets and What Would Jesus Do bracelets of old.

Olympic cyclist Emery agrees. "I think it's going to fade away in time."

Bruce Springsteen was close with "Blinded by the Light." With the rainbow of wristbands on the market today, it's possible that Milwaukee is blinded by the bright.

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