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Welcome to Slimetown

How a homemade, popular plaything offers young girls an outlet for creativity, stress-relief and, sometimes, thousands of dollars in sales.

Wilke Riccio discovered slime about a year ago. “I liked how people made it colorful and pretty and what it looked like when it was poked and touched,” says 13-year-old New Yorker, who follows at least two dozen Instagram accounts devoted to it. She also like the way it sounded, all those pops and smacks and squeaks.

Riccio is one of tens of thousands—maybe hundreds of thousands, maybe millions—of slime aficionados around the world: Young people, mostly female, who make, sell, trade and play with the DIY novelty, a sticky and, yes, slimy combination of water, borax, glue and other ingredients that looks like a cross between chewing gum, bread dough and taffy.

Unlike, say, clay or Silly Putty, the appeal of slime is not that it can mimic a particular shape or be modeled into something lasting but that it’s fun to pull and prod and swirl and knead. (In other words, it’s about the journey, not the destination.)

Slime enthusiasts have come up with all sorts of ways to personalize their products, using food dyes and ingredients like shaving cream (makes it fluffy), cornstarch (makes it thick), plastic fishbowl beads (makes it sparkly); fake snow (makes it crunchy); baby powder (makes it matte); baby oil (makes it stretchy).

And arts and crafts retailers and manufacturers have caught on. Stores like Michael’s have entire sections devoted to slime-making materials and a representative for Elmer’s Glue reports that, because of increased demand, the company was producing 8 times more pounds of glue this June than it was in January.

Some girls are making money—a not inconsiderable amount of it—by selling their creations on sites like Etsy. Riccio trades and sells her slime at school with two friends—”the highest I’ll charge is eight dollars,” she says—where her butter and crunchy slimes are particularly popular. (Butter slime incorporates Daiso clay from Japan to make the slime thick and spreadable.)

Like many other girls she knows, Riccio loves slime in part because it provides an easy and creative way to work out her anxieties. She has dozens of containers of it, everything from “butter slime” to “glossy slime” to “jiggly slime.” (The trick here is to add a lot of water so that when you poke it, it jiggles a lot.)

“You can just sit there and play with it for awhile…I don’t know how to explain it,” she says. “I start maybe focusing on the slime instead of the thing that’s stressing me out. It makes me stop and think about [a problem] instead of feeling rushed or panicked.” Is Riccio ever tempted to taste it? “I wouldn’t,” she says. “It’s borax. If you eat it, can kill you.”

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