Friday, December 12, 2008

Warning!

Almost everyone is aware of the ever-growing list of recalled toys, baby products, and other tainted imported products, mainly from China. It can make you wonder if anything is safe these days.

Congress recently passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) this past August, which will require manufacturers to have third party testing and certification for each toy that they make, as well as permanent labeling for each individual product with a date and batch number.

So hopefully there will be fewer products on the shelves with lead, phthalates, and other chemicals.

What if you want an alternative to the mass-produced plastic toys that line the shelves of every superstore nationwide? Small toy stores, local craftsmen, and online sites like Etsy offer a wide variety of unique and creative toys that aren’t inspired by TV or movie characters.

But hurry - as of February 10, 2009, most of these crafters will be out of business. Despite the fact that most use natural materials or products made in the United States, they will be subject to the CPSIA requirements. The Handmade Toy Alliance put it this way: “If [the CPSIA] had been applied to the food industry, every farmer’s market in the country would be forced to close while Kraft and Dole prospered.”

Small businesses and crafters cannot afford the $100-4,000 per product to get the third party inspection and certification. While large manufacturers can absorb this cost over the thousands of each toy they make, hand crafters work in small batches and often don’t even make $100 per batch. A quality German toy and gam manufacturer has already pulled its products from the US market. But this law doesn’t apply just to toys, it applies to anything that is aimed towards or appeals to the 12 and under crowd, which includes clothing.

This isn’t just a law that may affect somebody you know; it is going to affect all of us more than most realize, and that's if they even know about this law.

This will affect my husband. Each Christmas he usually gets a few custom orders for children’s toys, often from parents wanting to avoid all the plastic and battery-powered toys crowding the shelves of department stores. For example, last year he made a farm set that included a wood fence and several animals cut out of wood. Despite the fact that wood is naturally lead and chemical free, he would have had to get third part inspections – one for the fence and one for each different animal he cut out. I can guarantee that the fees would far outweigh what he sold the product for.

But it’s not just him. There are local craft fairs in the area, and unless each vendor has had each product tested and labeled, they may as well be selling contraband. Goodwill and local consignment stores selling used baby products and kids clothing? They might as well line the shelves with Cuban cigars. I know there’s a local lady that sells baptismal gowns. Even if she had two patterns, she would still have to pay the testing fee for each size in each pattern. What about the $.50 clothes at garage sales? Illegal.

With the state the economy is in, as well as the already struggling mom ‘n pop stores in competition with big box stores, we don’t need to drive more small businesses out of town and raise the unemployment even more. I would like to urge you all to write to your Congress and Senate representatives, requesting that the CPSIA be modified with small crafters in mind. The Handmade Toy Alliance website has sample letters to send to your representatives, as well as a letter to send out to your clients to alert them of the situation if you are a crafter yourself. They have also suggested reasonable amendments that small toy makers could manage. And please spread the word – most people aren’t aware of this law, despite the fact that it will affect anyone who has kids or buys for kids 12 and under.

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