Material gains: The return of the scrunchie

Material gains: The return of the scrunchie

Yes, scrunchies. Those fabric-covered elastic hair accessories that keep ponytails in place. They ruled campus fashion in the 1980s and 1990s. We thought we’d seen the last of them as the millennium turned. We figured, at most, they’d show up in a period drama such as Stranger Things.

Yet here they are, in Reels, on Pinterest and TikTok, on shows such as Emily in Paris (2020-) and the heads of Alia Bhatt and Gigi Hadid. On Instagram, small businesses are thriving; you’re one click away from a rabbit hole of boxing, unboxing, bulk-order-gifting and new-collections videos. They’re more sumptuous than ever. Scrunchies are now bigger, incorporating up to a metre of silk, velvet, denim, corduroy or lace, all in dense pleats.

Should historians study the scrunchie, they’ll trace its origins to, of all places, a New York City nightclub. Singer and pianist Rommy Revson was looking for something to hold up her blonde locks, something that wouldn’t damage the hair as rubber bands did. She looked to pajama waistbands for inspiration and patented her design in 1987. She named her brand Scünci, a made-up word she used as a name for her poodle.

Women loved it. Madonna wore Scüncis on tour. They popped up in Janet Jackson music videos. The Scünci became so popular that the market was flooded with cheap imitations. Revson, who died earlier this month, aged 78, still ended up a multimillionaire. Meanwhile, because it used scrunched-up fabric, manufacturers quickly adopted the generic term scrunchie.

Then, a twist. The scrunchie fell out of fashion. By the 2000s, Carrie Bradshaw was dismissing them as a hick-town trend, in an episode of Sex and the City: “No woman who works at W-magazine and lives on Perry Street would be caught dead at a hip downtown restaurant wearing a scrunchie!”

Two decades of scrunchie silence. Then the pandemic hit. Scrunchies are easy to make. All it takes is a strip of elastic, a strip of fabric and a sewing machine. With practice, it can take about two minutes to make one. Profit margins are wide. As at-home wardrobes expanded, the trend was revived.

In Belleville, Canada, 27-year-old muralist Tina Nguyen had been hand-sewing scrunchies to match her outfits. When she made an oversized one for her long-haired cousin Anh Lan at Christmas, in 2020, videos of it went viral. Nguyen turned her bespoke gift into a brand. XXL Scrunchie is family-run. It’s a good story for social media: a bootstrap business with mum and dad chipping in; small-batch products, stylish and high-quality. The company has 108,000 followers on Instagram, and now employs 15 people in a 2,700-sq-ft warehouse.

In India, where it costs about 10 to make a scrunchie that can sell for up to 200, home businesses mushroomed too.

Mumbai college student Batul Rangooni, 20, started sewing scrunchies for herself while stuck at home during the early lockdowns. She shared images on social media and was besieged by requests.

“I bought 10 metres each of 10 fabrics with my pocket money,” Rangooni recalls. The soft florals fit with Instagram’s trending aesthetic. One of her Reels got more than 40,000 views. “I had 80 orders in a single weekend,” she says.

On Instagram, Blush – By Batul now has more than 35,000 followers. Rangooni’s business employs four people who sew and supply out of their homes. She and her homemaker mother, Rabia Rangooni, manage orders that come from as far away as Australia, Dubai and the US. “One woman in Poland placed a big order for her six daughters,” Rangooni says.

Riya Choudhary, 24, and her mother Sharmila Choudhary, 49, a tailor, set up Scrunchies by Risha in the pandemic too. They hoped that selling the easy-to-make accessory would help out-of-work tailors and homemakers generate income. “Many are not skilled enough to make full-fledged clothing,” Riya says.

It took six months to get the business off the ground. “We used to get one order in two or three weeks,” she recalls. But the comfy silk accessories in jewel tones, neutral hues and delicate pastels have since caught on. “Most of our customers come back for more. The fact that we’ve delivered across India makes me optimistic about the path I have chosen. One teenage girl, headed to London to study, bought 9,000 worth of scrunchies. It’s our biggest order so far,” Riya says.

In Bengaluru, Sheetal Thandale, 22, established her hair accessories venture, Sheeth, in 2021. She recalls seeing a satin scrunchie priced at 400 while window-shopping. Aghast, her mother Vijayalakshmi TN swooped in and offered to sew the young woman one herself.

“It looked so good,” Thandale says, that a business idea was born. Thandale’s father, Ventakesh TN, pitched in 10,000 to help get them started. Thandale did the research on high-quality elastic. The women now sew scrunchies in 40 colours. Customers pre-book styles ahead of collection releases; some have even suggested new products, such as bonnets to guard against bedhead and static. Bulk orders come from Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. “I’ve made many new friends with golden hearts,” Thandale says.

“It’s one of the few things you can wear to bed and to a party too,” says Sofia Mohammad, 25, a businesswoman in Mumbai who bought a set of five satin scrunchies via Instagram in March.

The scrunchie revival has untangled more than hair. In July, when Mumbai project manager Sudip Lahiri was planning a birthday party for his 15-year-old daughter Aashi, he knew it had to be special. “There had been no parties for two years because of Covid,” he says. “Aashi and her friends had all grown up, so we couldn’t give them toys as party favours.” He ordered 120 scrunchies from various dealers on Amazon, and put five in each guest’s goodie bag of accessories and snacks. “The girls began swapping colours and patterns right away.”

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