Monday, January 26, 2009

"A Government That Is Big Enough to Give You All You Want Is Big Enough to Take It All Away"

Once again, the federal government, in all their infinite wisdom, has had a knee-jerk reaction to something. Have you heard of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA)? The CPSIA was passed in 2008 in reaction to the thousands of unsafe toys from China and other countries making their way to shelves in American stores. In a nutshell (a small nutshell), the CPSIA requires any product for children under 12 be tested and certified by an independent 3rd party laboratory that it meets the new levels for lead and phthalates. That’s any product: toys, clothes, books, school supplies, sports equipment, etc. etc.

We all remember the many toy recalls over the past few years…I spent lots of time inspecting all the lot numbers on my son’s numerous Thomas the Tank Engine toys and my daughter’s Dora the Explorer toys when they were recalled for possible lead-based paint contamination. So the CPSIA is a good thing, right? It will help keep our children safe right? Well, it’s not exactly that black & white.

You see, all the toys, clothes and other great handmade products made by myself and other artisans on ebay, Etsy, and other websites would also fall under CPSIA.

So I should just make sure that I purchase all my supplies from companies that test everything for lead, right? No. As it stands now, the law requires each component of every end product to be tested. So if I make a dress out of cotton fabric with a zipper and two buttons, I have to test the fabric, the thread, the buttons, and the zipper. And if I buy enough of those supplies to make 5 dresses, I can’t just test them once. I have to test them 5 different times because I have 5 separate end products. And the testing cost could be upwards of hundreds of dollars per item. My $35 sundress just got REALLY pricey! Not to mention that the wet chemistry tests performed by labs destroys the product. So much for my one-of-kind item handmade with love.

Starting February 10, 2009, the Consumer Products Safety Commission will start enforcing the CPSIA. Does that mean that they are going to throw Granny in jail for selling those little baby booties that she so carefully knitted? Not likely. But remember when they started to really crack down on people who were pirating music? You would see newscasts of normal everyday people who “shared” their music with three friends and got busted by the feds….they were “made an example.” Do I want to risk it? Not really. For me, this is something I love to do that lets me make some extra money to pay for my kids’ extra curricular activities and my hobbies. But for others, this is their livelihood.

And the other thing that I find tragic is that if left as is, this law is another nail in the coffin for handmade. In a world where everything is so cookie-cutter and manufactured, handmade items are a breath of fresh air. Not to mention that some skills, like sewing, are becoming lost art forms.

And let’s face it: you and I (and the people in Congress) know that handmade toys, clothing and other items are not what are posing a threat to our children. It’s the tons of plastic crap that comes in from countries where testing requirements for dangerous chemicals are minimal, if not non-existent. In fact, many people like to buy handmade because they know that it is almost always safer than buying something that was imported from overseas. So although I think the intent behind this law was good, I believe minimal thought was put into how this law would be implemented and what a wide-reaching negative effect it could have on some small businesses. Right now, there are a lot of letters being written and petitions being signed, and with any luck, our voices will be heard.

As for me, right now I’m going to lay low and try to come up with product ideas that are not necessarily marketed towards kids. (If you buy them and give them to your kids, that’s your prerogative.) And my friends know that they can contact me for custom requests. I am very optimistic that this will get sorted out, and then I will be back to making the children’s items that I love. I cannot believe that they will let the handmade community die on the vine.

More info on the CPSIA:

The actual public law (this will make your eyes cross)

An excellent Forbes commentary on CPSIA:

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