Thursday August 2, 2012

Not every crafting project can save a life.

The paracord bracelet is 10 to 14 feet of tightly woven, military-quality nylon parachute cord that can be unraveled to assist the wearer out of a jam. It's popular now as a craft, especially among men and boys.

Kurt Walchle, who says he invented the bracelets, can click off a dozen stories about how they have helped their wearers, from repairing a broken shoe to providing a life-saving tourniquet.

They began more than seven years ago with a broken watchband, which Walchle fixed using paracord. The woven band got him some attention in his hometown of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., so he started making watchbands, then bracelets, and selling them on eBay.

What began as a two-person operation using the only two available paracord colors -- black and olive drab -- has grown into Survival Straps, a company selling the bracelets in hundreds of color combinations online and in stores such as Bass Pro Shops. "We were able to get a company to start dying it in different colors for us," Walchle explains.

There also are a lot of knock-off bracelets, and instructions for making them -- and necklaces and key chains -- on sites such as YouTube.com. Some come in sports-team and college colors. Pink bracelets promote breast cancer awareness.

"I originally envisioned this whole thing as a great outdoor product that's stylish and can help you out in an emergency," says Walchle, adding that most customers now seem to be buying the bracelets because they're fashionable.

Yet the stories that customers post to the Survival Straps website provide testimony to their utility. Walchle's favorite story is that of a U.S. soldier in Iraq named "James" who says he staunched a bleeding leg wound with his bracelet.

"He credited us -- our product -- for bringing him home from war," says Walchle. "That blew me away. Now (this business is) serious. It helped save a soldier's life."

Walchle, 42, donates 10 percent of proceeds to the Wounded Warrior Project, which helps injured service members transition to civilian life.

Under a licensing agreement, he also provided Survival Straps and gear tags to the U.S. Olympic athletes in the Summer Games in London.

For outdoorsman Greg Ticknor, 22, of Helena, Mont., the bracelets provide a convenience. Ticknor used to carry a wad of parachute cord in his pocket "just to have in case I needed it" while hunting or fishing. He saw the bracelets and learned how to make them. Now Ticknor and his brother, Eli, can carry 12 feet of paracord -- around their wrists.

"Whenever we're out in the woods we always have them," says Eli Ticknor, 18. "We're tying stuff to backpacks, making shelters. A friend used his to pull dead trees he'd cut down."