This week I got an email addressed to me at Cool Mom Picks, the shopping blog that I co-founded, and it nearly broke my heart.
It was from a mom in Ohio who, for the first time, was able to make enough money selling handmade barettes at her etsy shop this year that she could afford to stay home with her small son. But thanks to the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act which passed this year and introduces such prohibitive testing and labeling regulations for kids products, she's likely to be out of business in two months.
In fact the act threatens to put so many crafters, toy artisans, retailers and small business owners out of work that the day it goes into effect, February 10, is being referred to as National Bankruptcy Day.
Like the economy isn't awesome enough already.
Think: The stay-at-home mom selling beautiful handmade rag dolls, the
artist in Wisconsin who's been hand-whittling natural wood trains for
thirty years, the ebay-ing grandma who knits baby booties and sells them for
extra income, the adorable kids superhero cape maker at your local craft bazaar.
All gone. Only to be replaced by plastic garbage from companies who can afford to comply with the new law.
Now to be fair, the act is well-intended. Congress created it as a reaction to last year's toy recalls, with the aim of getting lead (and presumably the date rape drug) out of toys - something we can all get behind I'd think.
Unfortunately it seems a little hastily assembled, and doesn't account for the fact that not every child's product in America is produced by the thousands in Taiwan by deep-pocketed manufacturers.
Jen, the jewelry designer and blogger behind Mama's Magic, explains why small artists can't reasonably comply:
It is the responsibility of the manufacturer to do this testing,
regardless of how small the business. These tests run into the hundreds
of dollars. And every piece of my jewelry is one of a kind, so would
require a separate set of tests. It isn't enough to test a single
prototype. Since each piece of my jewelry sells for $50 or less, the
math just doesn't add up.
It isn't enough to test the components, nor is it sufficient to rely on your suppliers'
certification of the safety of the materials. Apparently, according to
the CPSIA, simply knitting yarn into a baby blanket or putting beads on
a cord mysteriously changes the composition of said materials and
requires a whole 'nother set of tests, because they might have suddenly
turned toxic. There are no exemptions for small businesses and "micro"
manufacturers like myself and most handcraft artisans.
Small artists have already earned the public trust. They're in fact who parents all turned to last year when Thomas train sets and Dora action figures were being recalled every other day. They're willing to be accountable for the safety and quailty of their products, they just need different methods for accountability than the Mattels and Fisher Prices of the world.
Like maybe we can presume that natural woods and finishes don't require heavy metal testing. Or we can transfer some of the testing burden onto the manufacturers of the raw materials like fabric and paint.
Jen Taggart at The Smart Mama has a terrific, thorough post on the act--Jen is an attorney, mother, and advocate on environmental standards for childrens products. Even she concludes:
Think about it - does it make sense for an organic cotton t-shirt maker
without any decals or logos that might have lead test for lead? Or a
manufacturer of woods toy[s] finished with beeswax test for lead?
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say no. No, it doesn't make sense.
This is a very personal issue for me. As I wrote on Mom-101 this week, I grew up with a single, work-at-home mother who briefly ran a small children's wear company.
I remember the pride of seeing the most beautiful little things
emerge from the attic which served as a sewing room and design studio:
Creamy velour playsuits, satin-appliquéd buntings (hey, it was the
70's) lace Christening dresses so spectacular that they appeared in the
Smithsonian catalog. What was most incredible to me was that inside
each tiny collar lay a satin label with my very own mother's name. It
was like magic.
Eventually she went out of business, in part because of her refusal to ship her patterns overseas to low-wage workers. (Go mom!) I see that same pattern emerging here. Or as Katie White says:
Basically, everything will now
come from China, which is ironic seeing how it was their sub-par safety
regulations that was the catalyst for this piece of legislation in the
At Cool Mom Picks, we set up a Save Handmade! resource page to provide a list of actions you can take to help, including:
-Writing to your congressperson or senator. The Nature's Child blog has some outstanding tips on how to do this.
-Voting for changes to the act on Change.Org, digg-style, where the top thirty issues will be presented to the Obama administration on inauguration day
And then, there's what Anarchy in the OK recommends:
STOP BUYING CR*P for your kids. Letters are well and good, but the world will really hear us if we put
our money where our mouth is. While it's still legal, cast your
monetary vote for handmade this Christmas.
It's a thought.
Liz Gumbinner is a Contributing Editor to BlogHer and the co-founder and editor of Cool Mom Picks, a blog devoted to showcasing what's cool for parents, particularly from the handmade community.
More from entertainment