OREM — Livestrong.

Find Brooke and Find Garrett.

And now, from an Orem company — Freedom.

Colored rubber wristbands engraved with poignant messages are the hot new American trend, raising money one dollar at a time for causes like cancer awareness, the searches for missing persons and U.S. soldiers and their families.

Psychologists say the bands also provide wearers another way to define themselves or to identify with a famous person or cause. That's why companies are racing to capitalize on the fad and become the first to market for-profit products, like BYU Cougars in dark blue and Utah Utes in crimson red.

"Five months ago I couldn't find anyone offering to manufacture or sell wristbands," said Orem businessman Steve Cloward, who owns Freedombands Inc. and Fanbandz.com. "Now there are probably 250 brokers here in the United States. The first to market is going to win."

Lance Armstrong and Nike unwittingly launched the social phenomenon this summer, even before Armstrong won his record-breaking sixth Tour de France wearing a yellow "LIVESTRONG" band. More than 20 million of the flexible silicone bracelets are in circulation worldwide and money raised goes to the Lance Armstrong Foundation for cancer awareness.

People who go to the trouble of tracking down and purchasing a wristband want to identify with a person or cause, according to Orem family psychologist Geret Giles.

"This is a phenomenon that probably falls within the category of branding," Giles said. "I believe wristbands are another way to help people define themselves. People assign certain values and abilities to Lance Armstrong. For a dollar, they can associate with him and borrow his image with the wristband."

Wristbands are big at several Utah high schools and junior highs, where teenagers feel the need for identity stronger than most.

"Those are the ages that are most brand-conscious," Giles said. "They're very aware of groups, cliques, social pressure and fashion."

Armstrong's success inspired the families of missing Brigham Young University student Brooke Wilberger (pink www.FINDBROOKE.com bands) and Elk Ridge teenager Garrett Bardsley (blue "FINDGARRETT" bands) to use the idea to solicit donations for the searches for their children.

A donor provided the Wilbergers with 20,000 wristbands. Those are nearly gone and the family has ordered another 25,000. The Bardsleys ordered 4,000 and have sold 3,500.

"The Wilberger and Bardsley wristbands send a message that I'm a compassionate person, I'm a socially aware person," Giles said. "It's cool, it's current, it's socially aware."

Cloward's "Freedom" bands raise money for the Armed Forces Relief Trust.

"When a soldier needs to come home for a funeral or a family emergency, he or she can turn to the AFRT for assistance in getting the needed funds," he said. "We are grateful for what our troops are doing in defending freedom and fighting terror, and we feel this is one way for us to show our thanks."

He predicts that the red, white and blue patriotic displays will prove more popular than the Livestrong message.

"I honestly believe when it's all said and done with these Freedom bands we'll sell more than Lance Armstrong," Cloward said.

Manufacturing and administrative costs will eat up about 30 to 35 percent of donations for the Freedom bands. The other 65 to 70 percent goes to the AFRT, which distributes 100 percent of funds it raises among the five branches of the military.

On the sports side, Fanzbanz sold out 500 Ute wristbands Saturday at Rice-Eccles Stadium and delivered 500 Cougar bands to the BYU Bookstore Wednesday.

The company also delivered bands stamped with "Bruins" to Orem's Mountain View High School this week.

All these trendy wristbands already have a counterculture counterpart. A black "Livewrong" band is available on eBay, marketed as an anti-trend, anti-establishment fashion statement.

Whatever the cause, message or hero behind the different rubber bands, they have gotten the attention of millions of Americans.

For 11-year-old Orem sixth-grader Sophie Siebach, her yellow Livestrong wristband is all about the cyclist who wears it.

"It shows that I like Lance Armstrong," she said. "He survived cancer and then won a bunch of Tours de France. My uncle had cancer and I think it's cool Lance Armstrong did that."


E-mail: twalch@desnews.com