Friday, December 3, 2010

Full Text of the Handmade Toy Alliance Testimony for The U.S. Senate Commerce Committee

Watch the entire hearing on C-SPAN.
Jill's testimony begins at the 1:27:45 mark.


In our verbal testimony, we were limited to five minutes of speaking. Here is our full testimony, which was entered into the official record.


December 2, 2010

Hello. My name is Jill Chuckas and I own a small hand crafted children’s accessories business called Crafty Baby. For the last 12 years, I have been crafting children’s products from my home based studio in Stamford, CT. When Congress first spoke of toy safety legislation, I applauded your efforts. In December of 2008, though, I began to read the fine print. I became acutely aware that this law, meant to regulate large, multi billion dollar companies that had betrayed the countries trust, could effectively put me out of business. Not because my products are unsafe, but because I simply could not afford the mandatory third party testing and labeling requirements, which disproportionately affect small batch manufacturers and specialty retailers. I quickly joined a rising grass roots effort to amend the CPSIA and took on a leadership role within the newly formed Handmade Toy Alliance.

So today I come before you to speak, not just for myself, but as a Board member of the Handmade Toy Alliance, an organization that owes it very existence to the CPSIA. The HTA now represents 592 member businesses, including specialty retail stores, toymakers and children's product manufacturers from across the United States. I am here today with fellow Board members Kate Glynn of A Child’s Garden and Impish in Massachusetts and Randall Hertzler of euroSource in Pennsylvania.

The deadline for third party testing is February 10 of next year – just ten weeks from now. After that point, our member businesses face extinction. Although many of us have already paid for XRF testing of our products, we simply cannot afford to pay for the services of a CPSC-certified lab. Throughout the last two years, we have slowly witnessed many of our members who manufacture products close their businesses, or change their business models as to not include children’s products. These equate to lost jobs, not because the company couldn’t make safe product, but because the companies couldn’t navigate the costly and burdensome regulations the CPSIA puts forth to prove that their products are safe. I have brought with me today a few examples of these businesses.

First, you see before you a wooden toy airplane. This toy, made by our member John Greco in New Jersey, sold for $110 and is made from Cedar, Oak, Poplar, Birch, and Maple. It is unfinished, so it doesn't need to be tested for lead, but quotes from labs to perform ASTM F963 Use & Abuse testing makes it too costly to continue making. Just one round of testing requires 12 toys to be sent to the lab for destructive testing, resulting in $1,320 in lost gross sales –and this does not include shipping and lab fees. Rather than continue to make children’s products, Mr. Greco decided to close that aspect of his business this past September. As he shared with me, “I was never looking to get rich making wooden toys- I did it because I enjoyed making toys that made kids happy.”

Second, you see before you an award winning custom designed fabric toy monster created by Stephanie and Michael Estrin, owners of Curly Q Cuties in Texas. Children and their parents can go on line and design their own personal monster. After much research, Curly Q Cuties found that they could never afford to test each unique design to ASTM standards and decided to close their business at the end of this year. Mrs. Estrin cites the reason for the company’s closing due to “a law that does not address our particular manufacturing scenario.” Put simply, the fact that this is a one of a kind item, makes it impossible to adhere to all the stipulations within the CPSIA.

Third, my fellow board member Randall Hertzler’s family business focuses on often hard to find toys, primarily imported from the European Union. These toys, that represented 44% of his sales in 2006-2007, have disappeared from the US market because of the CPSIA’s lack of alignment with European standards. Many quality European toy companies will no longer sell to American retailers like Randall. He fears that he will have to liquidate and close in 2011.

While the HTA has worked closely with the CPSC – submitting comments on pending rules, attending CPSC sponsored workshops, regular email and phone contact with CPSC staff – we feel strongly that the current legislation does not grant the CPSC the flexibility to address our members’ specific needs. This was most recently shown by the CPSC definition of a children’s product. The final rule was issued in 63 pages of text that we now understand to mean “if it can be construed as a children’s product, it is.” Our view was that the CPSC could have offered relief to countless small businesses, but the ambiguity of their definition, rather than exempting product categories and providing guidance, has only served to create additional market confusion.

We have offered a number of suggestions that we feel will ensure the safety of children's products, yet amend the CPSIA to be more workable for the businesses we represent. The majority of these ideas were outlined in our January 2010 letter to the CPSC. We are more than happy to further discuss these suggestions throughout this hearing.

Most importantly, Congress should grant the CPSC the authority to use risk analysis to allow flexibility of third party testing requirements and hazardous content limits. High risk items like paint or metal jewelry should be held to higher verification standards than low-risk products like bicycle valve stems and brass zippers on children's garments.

Second, the definition of what is a children’s product should be changed to items intended for children 6 years or younger, except where the CPSC identifies a product requiring a higher age limit based on risk analysis.

Third, educational products intended for use in a classroom environment should be excluded from the definition of a children's product.

Fourth, harmonize CPSIA standards with the European Union's EN-71 standards to remove the regulatory trade barrier which the CPSIA created between the US and the EU. This would include changing the lead content standard from an untenable total lead standard to an absorbable lead standard.

Fifth, exempt manufacturers who make less than 10,000 units per year from all third party testing requirements and allow them to comply instead with the 'reasonable testing program' requirements which apply to manufacturers of non-children's products under the CPSA. This would protect small batch manufacturers and specialty product manufacturers, including companies that make adaptive products for children with disabilities. These manufacturers would not be exempted from the standards themselves, only from the third party verification requirements.

Sixth, tracking labels should be voluntary except for durable nursery items and products which are most likely to be passed down to younger siblings or resold where the CPSC's risk analysis determines that tracking labels would be most likely to prevent harm. Manufacturers who choose to implement tracking labels would benefit from a lesser burden in the event of a recall.

Seventh, instruct the CPSC to not lower the lead content limit from 300 parts per million to 100 parts per million, a standard so low that it multiplies the difficulties of compliance.

Over the last two years, we have been told countless times that the CPSIA was never meant to adversely affect my business or the member businesses the HTA represents. We have worked tirelessly, along with many others, to enact common sense change within this legislation, always holding on to the fact that the products we create are safe. On behalf of our members, I thank this committee for addressing this important issue and urge you to quickly pass meaningful reform of the CPSIA, correcting these unintended consequences. Thank you.

A full list of our 592 member businesses can be found at http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Press Release: HTA's Jill Chuckas to Tesify in Seante Commerce Committee

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The Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) will testify on Thursday December 2nd at a Senate Commerce Sub-Committee oversight hearing regarding the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). HTA board member Jill Chuckas (Crafty Baby – CT), Board Member Randall Hertzler (euroSource – PA) and Board member Kate Glynn (A Child’s Garden and Impish – MA) will travel to DC to participate in this very important process. The HTA was formally invited to testify and looks forward to this opportunity to continue the discussion of the need to amend the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). As a new Congress begins, the HTA is hopeful that this will be a large step towards meaningful reform.

This past April, the HTA testified in a House Energy and Commerce Sub-Committee hearing. HTA Vice-President Dan Marshall (Peapods –MN) stated “Our focus now is to help this process proceed quickly. It has been a very long road to common sense changes to the CPSIA. The time for waiting is over. Congress needs to move swiftly to fix the issues with the CPSIA.”

”We now have an opportunity to address issues with the CPSIA in front of the Senate Commerce Sub-Committee. This is an important move to continue our fight to keep specialty retail stores, toymakers and children's product manufacturers from having to close and go out of business due to the constraints of the CPSIA,” stated Board member, Jill Chuckas (Crafty Baby – CT).
Board member Mary Newell (Terrapin Toys –OR) shared “The CPSIA has caused me to step backwards in how I run my company. To comply with the CPSIA is confusing, changing and very costly. I am just trying to focus on tried and true products and feel very uncertain about trying anything new. I have tested to safety standards for the past 15 years at a reasonable cost to my business but with the new testing protocol, my testing costs have dramatically increased. Without some reform it will be a struggle to stay in business.”

Chuckas continues, “Over the last two years, we have been told countless times that the CPSIA was never meant to adversely affect small toy companies and the member businesses the HTA represents. Yet time and time again we have hit brick walls when trying to get meaningful reform passed to fix the CPSIA.” The HTA reports that this lack of reform has left their member’s business’ and countless other companies confused and unable to move forward, struggling to navigate the costly labeling and third party testing protocols, without adding to overall product safety.

Newell adds “We have worked tirelessly, along with many others, to enact common sense change within this legislation, always holding on to the fact that the products we create are and have been safe. We have also seen numerous member’s companies go out of business, change product lines or get out of the children’s market altogether. Not because they were unsafe or harmful products but because the CPSIA has made it impossible to continue what they love and enjoy doing - making and selling creative handmade toys.” The HTA remains hopeful about this opportunity to address the committee and looks forward to having meaningful reform of the CPSIA, thereby correcting these unintended consequences.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Press Release: The HTA Reaffirms Commitment to Buy Handmade and Local

In celebration of American Craft Week 2010, the Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) outreached, in conjunction with bloggers across the country, an open call to all to pledge to buy handmade and local products this upcoming quarter. Throughout the ten day period, HTA promoted their members, and artists in all mediums, by utilizing social media outlets such as facebook and twitter to create a community of energy around the current thrust to buy hand crafted and local goods.


Gnome Family by The Original Tree Swing as
Featured on Sara's Toy Box blog (both HTA Members)


“We are always overwhelmed by the outpouring of support – not just from the artist community – but from individuals and families throughout the country,” stated Jill Chuckas (CT), owner of Crafty Baby and Board member of the HTA. “Once again, we were affirmed that people really do value the products our members create - the love, time, energy and story behind each creation is so very important.”

Over 40 blogs cross posted with the HTA during American Craft Week. All posts were shared on the HTA facebook and twitter pages. In addition, a twitter newspaper was created to highlight the event.

Participating Blogs included:

Thanks to everyone who blogged and everyone who pledged to buy handmade!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why Pledge to Buy Handmade?

This week we’ve been celebrating American Craft Week by sharing the reasons why we do and why we should buy handmade and locally produced goods, and pledging to do so whenever we can. It’s been inspiring to read everyone’s stories and one can really feel the love and care that people are expressing. Sort of one big warm hug for all things hand crafted. That’s a good thing – a very good thing.

This morning, though, a curious post was pointed out to me about why the buy handmade pledge doesn’t work. Needless to say, the title made me stop for a moment. Handmade not work? How can that be? It goes against most of what we, at HTA, have been saying and proclaiming for the last 2 years since the creation of our organization.

So, I read the post – albeit with a bit of trepidation. Turned out, it was a thoughtful expression of some pretty clear, concise points. It took the stance that to pledge buy handmade is a directive and that folks need more than a directive to connect with something and actually change behavior. They need to understand the whys and hows of the initiative. When a directive such as “Buy Handmade” is given, it often just preaches to the choir, so to speak. Those who already engage in this behavior, will say “Yeah, sure, I’ll sign your pledge”, but it doesn’t necessarily change behavior in those that don’t already subscribe to the directive.

The Gilbert Toymaker Kit, circa 1920's, by A.C. Gilbert.

The question then formed, how do we reach out to the unbelievers? Just because something is handmade or locally produced doesn’t necessarily make it a quality product. We need to recognize what makes these products better and why it is better to spend our money on them rather than mass produced items or at the big box stores. In many ways it comes back to American manufacturing. Many, many years ago (at least that’s how it feels), America was known for its manufacturing. Indeed, the US was the center of the industrial revolution and just about everything was made here. This is no longer the case. That is not to say that there are not reputable and incredible overseas manufacturers. There are. But things have certainly changed in our society regarding how and where things are produced.

The pledge to buy handmade could then be seen as an extension of a return to American manufacturing. Some would say that this is an impossible dream. But, every good dream started with an idea. Not every locally produced or hand crafted item will have value to you as a consumer. Not every locally produced or hand crafted item will be something you choose to purchase. But, taking the time to hear the story, to be thoughtful with your purchases and to think before you buy is something everyone can commit to do.

We continue to be faced with uncertain financial times as a nation. Many leaders have said “If you are not part of the solution, than you are part of the problem.” Here is one way to be part of the solution. Time to take a stance--sign the HTA Buy Handmade Pledge!

--By HTA board member Jill Chuckas, owner of Crafty Baby in Connecticut.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Open Letter on Pending CPSC Actions Against Baby Slings

October 6, 2010

Office of the Secretary
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Room 502
4330 East-West Highway
Bethesda, Maryland, 20814


Re:
An Open Letter on Pending CPSC Actions Against Baby Slings

Dear Mr. Stevenson:

As you know, the Handmade Toy Alliance represents more than just toymakers, but small batch clothing and children's product manufacturers of all kinds. In particular, several of our members make or sell baby slings and work to promote the benefits of babywearing.

We understand that the Commission has been applying increased scrutiny to baby slings in the past few months. We also understand that several manufacturers of baby slings have been investigated and that one well-respected company may be facing a forced recall.

Before the Commission takes any further actions in these investigations, we urge it to consult closely with the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA), which has been working tirelessly to develop ASTM standards for baby slings.

Babywearing is a time-honored practice all around the world. We agree with the BCIA that babywearing is safe and promotes the health and well-being of babies while strengthening the bonds betweens parents and babies. We urge the Commission to carefully consider the BCIA's white paper on the safety and benefits of babywearing, which can be found at http://tinyurl.com/35o67t7, before taking any further actions.

We join the BCIA to ask that: 1) all baby sling recall actions be stopped immediately; 2) the ASTM sling carrier standard should be voted on so that sling carriers may be tested for this safety standard; 3) the CPSC should provide baby sling manufacturers with scientific evidence of a product defect before forcing a recall.

There is a strong network of babywearing safety advocates and volunteer groups, including many HTA members, throughout the nation whose mission is to teach caregivers how to use their baby carriers safely and effectively. Baby carriers are absolutely safe; perhaps even safer than many other baby care devices such as swings, playpens, and car seats. Additionally, ASTM International just sent the baby sling voluntary standard to ballot this very week. This standard is the result of 3 years of hard work by consumer advocates, manufacturers, and members of the CPSC's own staff.

Please, do not rush to judgement on baby slings.

Thank you again for taking the time to read and consider our comments.

Respectfully Submitted,


The Handmade Toy Alliance

A listing of all 548 business members of the Handmade Toy Alliance is available at . http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org/AllianceInfo/OurMembers.aspx

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Image: A 2000 US Dollar Coin, featuring Sacagawea carrying her son Jean in a Baby Sling.

More information on this issue, along with sample letters to Congress, can be found on the Babywearing Safety Facebook Page.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Join the Handmade Toy Alliance and Pledge to Buy Handmade!


Buying local, living within our means, supporting small business and the US economy – these are all things that many of us are doing more and more often these days. With money being so tight, we are all living with less, and putting more thought into the purchases we do make.

So, this lends the question, what are we doing to improve all of our situations, build up American businesses and put our money where our mouth is (literally)? What can each of us do to help charge up the economy and support each other? We certainly have less than we did this time last year, so how can we look ahead to the future and still buy, well, things?

Image courtesy of Little Allouette

Buy handmade – it’s as simple as that. We can’t afford to buy as much as we used to, but we can make conscious choices to support specific businesses. We can go to the local mom and pop toy shop, rather than the big box store. Sure, we might only get 2 items, rather than 4, but those products will generally be better made, more thoughtful items. And, a local company will benefit from your choice, rather than a large corporation. We can choose to frequent farmers markets and craft shows. These events allow us to meet the maker and hear the story behind the product. It instills the value of American craftsmanship in our families and our children. We can choose to look to Etsy and the Handmade Toy Alliance for gift items. Our product options and the sheer beauty of the items we find will be multiplied ten fold to what we find in large department stores.

If everyone made the pledge to buy just one hand crafted product for someone on their gift list this year, think of the thousands of businesses that will grow and nourish our communities. It may mean reframing how we go about our purchases, taking a little more time to choose what we need, or want, going back to a simpler way of life. But, it will be so worth it.

Join the business members of the Handmade Toy Alliance and pledge to buy handmade. It will be the easiest choice you made yet!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

HTA Comments on the Technological Feasibility of Lowering CPSIA Lead Limits to 100ppm

September 27, 2010

Office of the Secretary
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Room 502
4330 East-West Highway,
Bethesda, Maryland, 20814

Re: Comments Regarding the Technological Feasibility of 100ppm for Lead Content Under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) [Docket No. CPSC-2010-0080]

Dear Mr. Stevenson:

On behalf of the Handmade Toy Alliance, an alliance now numbering 548 toy stores, toymakers and children's product manufacturers from across the country who want to preserve unique handmade toys, clothes, and children's goods in the USA, we respectfully submit the following comments regarding the technological feasibility of a 100ppm lead content limit.

We wish to reiterate that the CPSC and the Congressional leadership from both parties have openly acknowledged that the broad sweep of the CPSIA has created unintended consequences for products and industries which had nothing to do with the toy and jewelry safety scare of 2007. In light of the fact that Congressional Democrats and Republicans have so far been unable to work together to craft a solution for the small businesses we represent, it remains up to the Commission to promulgate rules that serve to help businesses large and small to understand what is needed to comply with the CPSIA.

As with the rulemaking process regarding the definition of a children's product, we believe that Congress has given the Commission an important opportunity to avoid further unintended consequences by ruling that the 100ppm limit on lead in substrates is not a feasible standard.

First and foremost, we believe that total lead is not a reasonable standard for evaluating the risk of lead poisoning from a consumer product. Whether the limit is 300ppm or 100ppm, a total lead standard is a purely political, not a scientific, assessment of risk. Despite the fact that no scientific study directly correlates total lead content with the risk of lead poisoning, consumer groups insisted during the drafting of the CPSIA that a “bright line” total limit, which was easier to measure, enforce, and explain to the public, was preferable to a soluble standard which more accurately reflects risk.

This key difference has unnecessarily set the US market apart from other markets, in particular the European Union, and has cost millions of dollars worth of redundant testing.

We have been arguing for two years that the US should adopt the European Union's method of evaluating the risk of lead exposure by measuring the bioavalibility of soluble lead in substrates. By defining the limits based on total lead, the CPSIA has effectively outlawed materials such as brass, crystal, and rhinestones which are perfectly safe biologically yet violate the CPSIA's limits on total lead.

Now we are being asked to comment on whether a 100ppm standard would be “technologically feasible”. Most of the comments the commission will receive on this issue will likely focus on the word “feasible”. We, however, would like to argue that a 100ppm limit is not technological.

The simplest definition we found of the word “technology” is: The practical application of science to commerce or industry.

Because science shows that a total lead limit does not actually measure the risk of lead poisoning, such a limit, whether it is 300ppm or 100ppm, cannot be described as the application of science to commerce or industry. It may represent the application of political expediency or good intentions, but it is not an application of science. Therefore, reducing the limit from 300ppm to 100ppm would merely be compounding and increasing the side-effects of an unscientific principle. Whether or not 100ppm is feasible, it is not technological.

We agree that consumer products should be regulated by “bright line” standards, but these should be based on science and common sense. For example, we had hoped that the Commission would adopt clear and and easy to understand standards when it recently considered the definition of a children's product. Instead, our comments seeking clear standards were ignored, as were the comments of many other stakeholders. The Commission staff chose to issue a 63 page definition which provides no bright lines and no clear definition. HTA member Sarah Natividad, the owner Curious Workmanship, a home-based business in Utah, observed:
[The CPSC] could have saved hard drive space, several forests of trees, and a lot of time and effort by just making the rule say “It’s a children’s product if we say it is, so just ask us and if we feel like it, we’ll decide for you.” Because that’s what it boils down to. Now, besides the fuzzy line between kids and adults, we also have the fuzzy line between infants and kids and whether a child might reasonably be assumed to touch and use a lamp or a piece of furniture. Why on earth did they think TWO fuzzy lines constituted clarification?
Indeed, in the weeks since the final draft of the definition was published, the CPSC has illogically re-defined the intended age of at least two products so that it could initiate recall procedures. The first was a recall of Click Armband Bracelets by Fun Stuff, Inc., which were clearly marked as designed for ages 3 and over. Despite the fact that no responsible parent would give these throwaway plastic toys to a toddler, the Commission chose to initiate recall proceedings by redesignating them as toddler toys.

In the second recent case, a line of mood rings were reclassified by the Commission as a children's product despite the fact that they were clearly labelled with sexually suggestive language which was specifically designed to appeal to teenagers and adults, not children.


By issuing an obfuscating definition of a children's product and by creatively reclassifying products so that it can force recalls, the Commission is doing everything except promulgating bright line standards. These actions do not go unnoticed. They tell children's product manufacturers both large and small only one message: there are no bright line standards, only the will of Commission.

The end result of this uncertainty is a growing realization that any children's product business, no matter how responsible or how ethical, is just one incident report away from terrible penalties and overwhelming legal fees. Small businesses like our members lack the resources to defend themselves from the Commission's unilateral actions and are increasingly choosing to exit the children's' product marketplace altogether.

So, in this environment, is a 100ppm limit feasible? Consider the analysis by Sarah Natividad, who is also a former mathematics professor. She concludes that the more we test and the stricter we make our standards, the more impossible it is to comply with the law. She writes:
It is mathematically impossible to find all defective objects without going to the expense of testing them ALL. And that's assuming testing is 100% accurate, which it's not. And to add insult to injury, the more zealously you test by sampling, the more confused you will be about the safety of your product. CPSIA was supposed to reduce confusion about product safety, but now you have mathematical proof that it does exactly the opposite.
This mathematical paradox will be dramatically aggravated by lowering lead limits to 100ppm--a limit which makes sampling errors, random chance, and the accuracy of testing equipment much more likely to play a decisive role in the outcome of both pre- and post-market product safety evaluations. Testing costs will increase, uncertainty will increase, risk of destroying finished inventory will increase, and the number of CPSC recalls will increase. The result will be weakened businesses, undermined consumer confidence, and a public even more inured to the product recall process.

As small manufacturers, we lack the wherewithal to demand consistent compliance to such a low standard from our component suppliers, many of whom do not specifically manufacture for children's products. We lack the resources to test repeatedly to ensure that any given tests results are actually within a 100ppm limit given the tests' margins of error. And, in an environment where the Commission blurs bright lines, we lack the patience for such a low limit that has no impact on human health but could well jeopardize our family businesses.

Thank you again for taking the time to read and consider our comments.

Respectfully Submitted,

The Handmade Toy Alliance

A listing of all 548 business members of the Handmade Toy Alliance is available at . http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org/AllianceInfo/OurMembers.aspx

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Custom Plush – CPSIA Testing & Compliance

The following is a cross-post by HTA members CurlyQ Cuties, makers of custom plush toys. It is reposted here by permission.

If you’re manufacturing plush, you must make sure the product you’re making is safe.

While this has always been the case, the government has decided — after the lead scares in imported products a few years ago — to legislate a “solution.” If you make a child’s product — as defined by the government, not by you — you must comply with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008. This legislation is quite broad and far ranging. Its implementation was left to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Although 2010 is almost over, the rules resulting from this legislation are still evolving.

If the government decrees your product a children’s product, you better have your ducks in a row. This is not as easy as it sounds. A primary requirement is to understand the legalise (or have an attorney interpret it for you) in the Act and in the CPSC rulings. You must also become familiar with the Federal Register — this is where the official rulings from the CPSC is published.

While we believe we comply in principle with the various requirements of the Act, I’m sorry to say that I don’t personally believe we will ever be in full compliance. Don’t get me wrong — our products are safe. It’s just the Act was not written with small batch toy manufacturers in mind. The particular nature of our products — you select the design — means each product is relatively unique. While the CPSC has provided for some component testing, the guidance they’ve provided in this area is somewhat lacking for our manufacturing scenario.

To further complicate matters, the laboratories “accredited” by the CPSC for CPSIA-related testing each seem to have their own interpretation of CPSIA requirements. We’ve had different labs give us different scenarios (and widely different pricing). This testing stuff isn’t free or cheap and ultimately you, our customer, pays for it.

One lab told us woven textiles must be tested for lead — when the CPSC has published that textiles are exempt from lead testing.

Another lab told us that we’d have to test all of the unique variations of our products. Our custom products are made from a finite number of components each applied in the same way. If you calculated the number of “unique” products we’re capable of making, the number currently runs in the sextillions (10 to the 21st power). If we had enough money to pay for the testing of each of these, we would be on our own tropical island enjoying the sun (and, regretfully, not busy making plush).

After much searching, we found a lab with a representative that we were able to communicate with and who provided sane advice on what testing was considered reasonable. We’ve undertaken lead testing in advance of the third-party lead testing requirements set to go into effect in early 2011 (and which have been twice-delayed by the CPSC). Our products pass third-party accredited lab lead testing (CPSIA Section 101). We comply with the CPSIA’s tracking label requirements (CPSIA Section 103). Our products don’t have plastic components — phthalate testing is not required. Our products comply with the ban on small parts.

In addition to the federal requirements imposed by the CPSIA (and other federal Acts), individual states have begun to impose their own testing requirements. We agree that all products — particularly those used by children — should be safe. The requirements to do so, however, have become quite onerous for our small business (and many others like it). In an era where manufacturing jobs have disappeared en masse overseas (and any job is hard to come by), it boggles my mind that our government is making it more difficult — not less — to manufacture products in the United States.

If you’re thinking about manufacturing plush (or any other children’s product), know in advance what you’re getting yourself into. As a small batch manufacturer, you’re not exempt from any of these regulations. There are a lot of requirements. And fulfilling those requirements costs money.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Letting Go of a Dream

The following was originally posted by HTA member John Greco of Greco Woodcrafting and is reposted here by permission.

Fall is almost here, and for the past 2 years that has meant time for me to begin preparing my inventory for the Holiday sales season. I started Greco Woodcrafting in April of 2008 to make children’s toys, something I had dreamed of doing since the early 1990′s. It was something I always thought would be for when I retired, with a little storefront for people to browse and shop with the workshop in the back. Little step stools for children to see over the half wall, watching the toys they were hoping would some day be theirs being made right before their eyes behind a pane of glass. Maybe even sparking the magic that was sparked in me long ago, to have a desire to work with their hands and ‘create’.

What spurred me to open up shop, so to speak, in my mid-30′s instead of my golden years? Toy recalls. Racing frantically, panicked, day after day with the latest toy recall list in my hand praying none of the items in my daughter’s toy box would match the list. After our son was born, I decided to move forward with my plans.

Unfortunately for me and so many others like me, the government also decided to take action, and the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was soon passed nearly unanimously in both Houses and signed into law by President Bush. The law is immense, cumbersome and seems to have gone through a constant stream of changing definitions under the CPSC. The Commission claims to be compassionate for the little guys like me. It’s just that they have to put the interests of children first. Which hurts, because it implies that I wasn’t doing exactly that. First and foremost, I’m a father- I have never made anything that I haven’t given to my own kids first.

The CPSIA is written in a way that creates a barrier for small toy makers like myself to enter the market. I have never used any finishes on my products, and wood was declared to be free from needing lead testing, so many people think I am in the clear (my own Representative among them- I don’t know what my Senators think, they never returned my calls or emails but did add me to their mailing list). But lead testing is just one aspect of this law. As of August 14th of 2009 I needed to add permanent tracking labels to every toy I produce. I already had a branding iron with my company name that was used for everything, but that was no longer enough. Now the toy must also include country, state and city of manufacture, as well as date of manufacture. Something that, for me, was a significant cost.

Although I only had to discontinue some of my less expensive (albeit bes selling) toys, I was able to continue making children’s toys. But lurking in the unseen distance is the final nail in the coffin of my dream: Use & Abuse testing.

I’ve taken courses on materials and processes, where we would test for weaknesses in materials using different methods. It was those courses that this post was derived from 2 years ago. Everything I design is designed with safety and strength in mind, using what I took away from these courses. But at some point, the CPSC will determine Use & Abuse testing guidelines as they are required to do under the CPSIA. For a lab to accurately perform these tests, they require 12 copies of the toy which will then be destroyed. Between lab fee’s, the cost of materials + labor and lost sales of those items, I figured my full children’s toy line would cost me approximately $15,000 to test. And this will need to be done for every new toy BEFORE I can sell it. In other words, I’d be taking a huge gamble just to see if a toy sells. And if it doesn’t do well, too bad.

I don’t know exactly when this will take effect. The CPSC hasn’t made their ruling on the guidelines yet, but once they do it will be 90 days after that. In the meantime I can’t continue with business as usual making children’s toys. It would be senseless for me to continue down a path that I know is only a matter of time before I reach a dead end. Time and money already spent on promoting my children’s toys are essentially down the drain, I need to cut my losses.

I’m fortunate that I can make other things from wood, and I’m enjoying the woodworking I still get to do. But it doesn’t make letting go of my dream hurt any less.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What is the CPSC's definition of a Children's Product under the CPSIA? Two years and 63 pages later, we're still not sure.

Last week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission published its final rule on the definition of a children's product, three months after soliciting and receiving input from dozens of stakeholders, including the Handmade Toy Alliance.

This was an opportunity for the CPSC to listen to voices of hundreds of businesses affected by the CPSIA. It was a chance to reduce the law's sweeping impact on thousands of children's products which have never posed any safety risk, including school learning materials, music CDs, riding saddles, and craft tools. This definition is incredibly important because any product which is defined as a children's product is subject to expensive third party lab testing for lead and other elements which does not apply to general use consumer products. All the CPSC had to do was to state clearly that certain classes of products are, by definition, not children's products.

Instead, the CPSC chose to ignore, disregard, or refute virtually every commentator's perspective and issued a 63 page document that does little to define a children's product and creates surging gulfs of ambiguity that threaten to drown entire businesses, especially small businesses who don't have access to teams of lawyers to explain the CPSC's reasoning.

In short, instead of taking the opportunity to create bright lines and clear definitions, the CPSC has created a world in which virtually any product may be considered a children's product depending on how it is decorated, where it is sold, and what consumers' perceptions are.

Under these rules, there is nothing that a manufacturer of a general use product can do to ensure that a product does not fall under the definition of a children's product, including stamping "Not for use by children," all over it or packaging it with a portable flame thrower. This means assuming coverage or facing ex post facto liability. A manufacturer of tools, for example, might have no idea that their product was repackaged by a retailer as part of a kid's tool kit, yet under these rules the manufacturer would still be liable for for third party testing.

That leaves every manufacturer at the mercy of where and how the product is sold (which they often have no control over), whether it appeals to a certain age group (which they often have no control over), how it is perceived by the public (which they have no control over), how it is used or misused by the consumer or their children (which they have no control over), entertainment industry ratings (which they have no control over) and the subjective judgment of the CPSC (which we obviously have no control over). All of the CPSC's "examples" of non-covered items are padded with counter-statements making them ambiguous.

None of this makes a single child more safe.

To highlight the absurdity of this document, consider how the CPSC will determine whether a music CD or DVD is a children's item:

“The...rule states that the CDs and DVDs with content intended for children younger than 4 years old were not determined to be children’s products because children younger than 4 are usually not allowed to use household digital media players. However, having defined use to mean physical interaction with the product, because DVDs and CDs and other digital media may be handled by older children to load and unload DVDs in their appropriate media devices, CDs and DVDs could be considered children’s products if such movies, video games, or music were specifically aimed at and marketed to children 12 years of age or younger and have no appeal to older audiences.”

In order words, a Baby Loves Mozart CD is not a children's product because it is marketed to children under 4 who are unable to operate a CD player, but a Dan Zanes CD is a children's product because it is marketed to children older than 4 but younger than 12.

Music labels will be forced to test each batch of CDs they make, which will be the death knell for independent children's music. Why would any label pay for such testing when they can stop publishing CDs altogether and sell exclusively via iTunes? How will the CPSC explain this to Pete Seeger, who was blacklisted by McCarthy in the 1950's only to have his right to publish children's music curtailed by the government in 2010?

In its wisdom, though, the CPSC had defined iPods, DVD players, CD Players, video game consoles etc., as general use items as long as they aren't decorated with children's themes or marketed to children, even though a child will be “interacting” with these devices much more than with a CD or DVD itself. This is reasoning reminiscent of Lewis Carroll.

We keep hoping that, at some point, the CPSIA will become more understandable and easier for small businesses to manage. Instead, the CPSC continues to add layers of ambiguity and confusion on top of an already overwhelming law. This latest document makes it abundantly clear that businesses who make children's products and the CPSC itself are not ready for enforcement of the third party testing requirement, which is scheduled to begin in five short months. It also makes it clear that Congress needs to correct its mistakes and reign in a safety law that's running amok. Congress has stalled on passing any type of real relief and that in and of itself has limited the CPSC’s ability to make better rulings on the CPSIA.

We keep expecting answers about the CPSIA, but between Congress and the CPSC, all we're getting is more questions.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Press Release: The Handmade Toy Alliance launches new website


This past month, the Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) launched a new web site with improved member and navigation features. The updated site will allow the HTA to more easily support small batch manufacturers and specialty retailers as well as share information with the public.

“Since our inception in November of 2008, and later incorporation in April of 2009, the HTA has grown by leaps and bounds – now supporting over 400 small businesses nationwide,” stated Randall Hertzler, Board Member and owner of euroSource LLC (Branding, Compliance, Logistics) and BigWindow LLC (www.bigwindow.net), a web design and programming company. “The new site will allow us to connect with members quicker and easier with new forums, interactive features and an eventual marketplace.”

“This has been a massive undertaking,” Hertzler shared. “Since we began as a grassroots organization, our information was stored in 3 or 4 different locations and formats. Installing the new web site allows us to organize our data in one central location and helps to move our alliance forward as it develops into a professional trade organization.”

"We were lucky that Randy was able to combine his experiences as a toy store owner and programmer for our cause," said HTA vice president Dan Marshall of Peapods Natural Toys (MN). Layout and navigation design for the new site was also donated by graphic designer and branding consultant, Lizzie Sorensen (www.lizziesorensen.com). "Many hours of work went in to this effort which will benefit our members for years to come," Marshall added.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

HTA Blog Week Recap

The week of June 21 was a big one for the Handmade Toy Alliance. Not only did we get our new website (http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org) up and running, our first annual blog week took place!

Over 50 bloggers wrote about HTA members of their choosing. This resulted in some fantastic publicity for the wonderful handmade children’s items they produce. It was a lot of fun to see what the various reviewers chose to focus on. This eclectic selection would serve as a neat ‘around the blogosphere’ gift guide to anyone looking for a unique handmade kid gift. Here is a complete list of the participants for your reading pleasure.

Monday

Tuesday
Wednesday
Thursday
Friday
Saturday and Sunday


Sunday, June 20, 2010

HTA Comments on the Definition of a Children's Product under the CPSIA

The following is our letter to the CPSC regarding their definition of a Children's Product. This definition is important because products which are defined as general use products will not be subject to the same standards and 3rd party testing requirements as a children's product.

July 20, 2010
Office of the Secretary
Consumer Product Safety Commission
Room 502
4330 East-West Highway,
Bethesda, Maryland, 20814
http://www.regulations.gov


Re: Comments Regarding The Definition of a Children's Product Under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) [Docket No. CPSC-2010-0029]

Dear Mr. Stevenson:

On behalf of the Handmade Toy Alliance, an alliance now numbering 442 toy stores, toymakers and children's product manufacturers from across the country who want to preserve unique handmade toys, clothes, and children's goods in the USA, we respectfully submit the following comments regarding the CPSC's definition of a children's product under the CPSIA.

The CPSC and Congressional leadership from both parties have openly acknowledged that the broad sweep of the CPSIA has created unintended consequences for products and industries which had nothing to do with the toy and jewelry safety scare of 2007. We believe that the Commission's task in defining what constitutes a children's product is an important opportunity for the Commission to address and repair some of these unintended consequences and provide relief for several industries whose products have been placed under a cloud of uncertainty and potentially overwhelming costs by the CPSIA.

Although the Commission's draft definition provides helpful and needed relief for several categories of goods, particularly d├ęcor, we feel that the Commission should be much more specific in the types of products which will not be considered children's products. We would like to suggest a number of areas where more specificity is needed.

Under the category of Art Materials, the draft definition states: “Crafting kits and supplies that are not specifically marketed to children 12 years of age or younger would likely be considered products intended for general use.” while simultaneously stating that “Materials sized, decorated, and marketed to children 12 years of age or younger...would be considered children's products.” We feel that this emphasis on marketing will lead to contradictions, misunderstandings, and needless compliance costs. The Commission should instead focus on the intended function of a product and the context in which it will be used.

Under the proposed marketing-based framework, for example, the same pair of small knitting needles would be considered a general use product or a children's product depending only upon how they are packaged. It goes against reason to argue that the same product either does or does not require extensive testing based on the type of label it uses, especially when craft stores often sell these products side by side and consumers can easily substitute one for the other.

The importance of this issue was illustrated by one of members, Eric Vought of The Misty Manor, Mercers in Missouri, who manufactures fiber art tools:

We still have questions on the status of many of our products. We operate a fiber farm...But the real trouble spot is that we produce craft tools and educational materials for many of our crafts. For instance, we sell Learn-to-Spin kits consisting of a drop spindle, fiber, and instructions. We also produce Learn-to-Knit kits, tools for weaving and so forth. These products are not targeted at children, but certainly (older) children, parents, and teachers are among those who purchase them. We have no way of knowing the use for which the kits are intended and we make the products, often from recycled materials, specifically to encourage people to try learning a craft before spending a lot of money on expensive tools...Certainly, these are not intended as 'toys' but we would like a clear statement that they are not covered and that we do not need to send reusable materials to the landfill out of fear that someone will chew on them. As written, the CPSIA's broad age range potentially covers an enormous variety of non-toy products.

A more compelling and logical framework is to consider the circumstances under which a child will be using a product. There are hundreds of art and craft supplies which are designed for children, but are intended for instructional purposes under the supervision of an adult. We believe that such instructional products should be regulated as general use products and not as children's products.

Under this framework, we believe the following products should be specifically defined by the Commission as general use products:
  • Child-sized craft tools such as knitting needles, child-sized looms, drop spindles, corking tools, leatherworking tools, sewing needles, woodworking tools, etc. Tools that could also be used by an adult and which are meant to be used under adult instruction for the purpose of learning a craft should be considered general use products. Toy versions of these products which are meant for a child to use by themselves should be considered children's products.
  • Child-sized musical instruments such as guitars, violins, flutes, clarinets, drums, etc., which are substantially similar to adult-sized instruments in everything except scale. These instruments are meant to be used by a child under the instruction of an adult at school or at home, are fully capable of holding a tune, and should be considered general use products. Toy versions of these instruments which are not designed for instructional use should be considered children's products.
  • Child-sized saddles and equestrian equipment. Specially-made saddles for children are also used by adults with small stature and, when used by children, are only used under the direct supervision of an adult. They are almost always installed by an adult and should be considered a general use product.
  • Classroom science kits which include general use items such as paper clips; rubber bands; electronic components such as resistors, capacitors, transistors, batteries, motors and wires; geological specimens; lenses, etc., which are sold for educational purposes and intended for use in schools or homeschools under the direct supervision of an adult should be considered general use products.
We are arguing that the context in which are product is meant to be used is more important than the packaging in determining whether it is a children's product or a general use product. We feel that an instructional product intended to be used by a child with the help of an adult poses far less risk than a product which is meant to be used by a child on his or her own. Furthermore, these products represent the core of our nation's hands-on learning structures. Learning crafts, music, and science will be made considerably more difficult and expensive if these instructional tools must be subject to the same rules as toys.

Music CDs

We would also like to change the Commission's approach to children's musical CDs, which are sold or distributed by several of our members. The Commission's proposal that “certain CDs and DVDs that contain content for very young children would not be handled or otherwise touched by children because they do not have the motor skills to operate media players and because such products, by themselves, do not have any appeal to children.” The Commision has proposed that such CDs would therefore not be considered children's products while a nearly identical CD encoded with music designed to appeal to an older child would be considered a children's product. Under this logic, a “Baby Loves Mozart” CD is not a children's product, but Dan Zanes album is.

This distinction is entirely false for two reasons. First, as any parent knows, an older child will only be allowed to handle a CD once he or she has learned to hold it by its edges so that it won't be scratched. In short, the child must learn how to touch a CD without actually interacting with it. Since they are not interacting with it, a CD should not be a children's product. Indeed, a child will interact much more with the CD player or computer which plays the CD (which the Commission has ruled to be a general use product) than he or she will with the CD itself.

Second, the Commission's proposed guidelines regarding CDs provide no clear mechanism for manufacturers and distributers to interpret or implement the definition. Children's music is not marketed like toys as “age 3+” or “suitable for under 3”. Any such distinctions in children's music would be entirely arbitrary and meaningless.

We strongly recommend that the commission define all CDs as general use items. Otherwise, the children's music industry, especially small independent labels, will face years of uncertainty and needless costs. Unless this is changed, independent children's music will no longer be published in CD form and will only be available through digital downloads. This would be no win for safety, but would certainly be a win for Microsoft and Apple.

Thank you again for taking the time to read and consider our comments.

Respectfully Submitted,

The Handmade Toy Alliance

A listing of all 442 business members of the Handmade Toy Alliance is available at . http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org/AllianceInfo/OurMembers.aspx

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Press Release: Announcing HTA Blog Week 2010

Stamford, CT – June 20, 2010 – The week of June 21st will be the first annual Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) Blog week. Journalists and bloggers from across the country will come together during the third week in June to celebrate hand crafted children’s goods. Throughout the week, writers will share news about the HTA and their mission to amend the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), while showcasing some of the unique products offered by the diverse and creative members of the Alliance.

This is an opportunity to not only promote the amazing products our members make and sell, but also a chance to again highlight the need to amend the CPSIA before these businesses are forced to close their doors due to an inability to prove compliance under the law,” stated Jolie Fay (Skipping Hippos, OR).

We’ve developed some great relationships with well followed bloggers over the last eighteen months, who have worked with us to help save handmade,” Cecilia Leibovitz, HTA President added (Craftsbury Kids, VT). “The outpouring of support for our cause was shown again by the number of bloggers that wanted to participate in our first blog week.”

Participating blogs include:

We'll be updating our twitter feed and facebook page as posts from each blog appear. Keep in touch and learn more about the human costs of the CPSIA.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

HTA Member Phebe Phillips' Commencement Address to the Texas Women's University on how the CPSIA has affected her business and her outlook on life

HTA member Phebe Phillips was asked to present her life story to the TWU class of 2010. Her theme was adaptation and change, with an emphasis on how the CPSIA forced her to put her successful business on hold. We can only hope that every politician who created the CPSIA will take a few minutes to listen to Phebe's story.


"Then in 2008 and 2009 the U.S. economy tanked...retail dwindled and a new toy regulation was enacted in response to the poor quality and mass quantity oversights by some really big toy companies. This new law raises the testing price for each product and in some cases, doubles or triples the costs. For some small companies, it can cost one year of total revenue just to meet the requirements of this law. The law is for any product marketed to a child age twelve and under and for any product made anywhere...even here. It has frozen many small and midsize companies leaving the companies that caused the problems in the first place as some of the only companies that can afford to stay in business. Financially, it caused me to temporarily halt my business...I changed!"
We wish Phebe the best as she adapts to the consequences of the CPSIA. Hopefully, it can be changed, too, so that she can resume her remarkable business.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Our letter to the House Commerce Committee on CPSIA reform and the CPSEA bill

Yesterday, we sent the following letter to the leadership of the House Commerce Committee. Our primary purpose was to help the minority and majority as they move forward in finding common ground and common sense change to the CPSIA. We only hope that everyone can now come together and do the hardest work of all – putting together an amendment that can be embraced by both sides of the aisle, ensures safety, and meets the needs of the many stakeholders who are acting in good faith.

May 12, 2010

To:

The Honorable Bobby Rush
Chairman, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection

The Honorable Ed Whitfield
Ranking Member, Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection

The Honorable Henry Waxman
Chairman, Committee on Energy & Commerce

The Honorable Joe Barton
Ranking Member, Committee on Energy & Commerce

Re: The Consumer Product Safety Enhancement Act (CPSEA)


To the Leadership of the House Commerce Committee:

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify before your committee and for your continued attention to the needs of our small businesses. We would like to reiterate our position on the CPSEA and the relief we are seeking for our members.

We have previously endorsed the CPSEA because it is the only opportunity currently available to save small batch manufacturers from extinction after February 10, 2011, when the CPSC's stay of enforcement of third party testing requirements expires. Under the CPSIA as it currently stands, many of our members are substantially limiting the products that they offer--some foregoing children’s products altogether--while others are laying off employees or limiting their business growth.

We have stated clearly that the CPSEA can and should be improved to reduce unnecessary regulatory burdens on small businesses without compromising safety. The CPSEA as currently written will likely save some of our member businesses. With improvements, however, you can save almost all of them. For the record, we would like to review the improvements we would like you to consider.

First and foremost, we would like the CPSEA to clearly state that small batch manufacturers are exempt from third party testing requirements. While report language to that affect would be helpful, a more explicit exemption within the language of the bill itself would provide more immediate and substantial relief. You can accomplish this by allowing:
  • the use of XRF testing as an alternative testing method for lead in paint and lead in substrate
  • alternative testing methods for products intended for use in classrooms or for children ages 7-12
  • EN-71 testing as an alternative testing method
  • CPSC rulemaking to allow for alternative testing methods based on risk analysis
  • exemptions for small batch toymakers from ASTM F-963 testing
This language should be in the bill itself, not just in the report language. In the intervening days since our initial endorsement of the CPSEA, we have heard conflicting answers from several different CPSC commissioners as to the commission's willingness or ability to provide affordable alternative testing methods for small batch manufacturers. If this bill is truly meant to benefit small batch manufacturers, it must be more clear and explicit in the exemptions it provides.

Second, we wish to reiterate our belief that alternative testing methods should be available to all companies. The Small Business Administration defines toy and clothing manufacturers with less than 500 employees as small businesses, which is far in excess of the CPSEA's $1 million limit. If a revenue limit is used, it should be based only on income generated by the manufacture or importation of children's products without including other unrelated business income. A manufacturer's ability to pay for testing any given product is a function of the revenue it generates from that particular product, not the overall size of the company.

Third, we stated publicly during the April 29 hearing that the functional purpose exemption for products exceeding 300ppm/100ppm lead will not benefit our members because of the narrow scope of the exemption and the cost required to obtain it. The CPSC should instead be given authority to make exemptions to specific materials or product categories based on risk analysis. For example, the commission should have the power to exempt brass as a material and children's saddles or microscopes as a product category. This is the only way in which small businesses would be able to take advantage of the functional purpose exemption.

Fourth, we believe that small batch manufacturers should be entirely exempted from mandatory labeling requirements.

Finally, we hope to settle any confusion regarding our intent in endorsing the CPSEA. We endorsed it as our only available alternative. We truly believe that many of our members will be forced out of business after February 10, 2011 without meaningful, clear reform provided by your committee. We believe that the CPSEA can and should be improved to better target risk and provide more comprehensive relief for our members, who were never the source of unsafe products in the first place.

We remain hopeful that the democratic process can prevail and that a meaningful and bipartisan reform of the CPSIA can be enacted. We urge members of the committee to mark up the CPSEA and allow open discussion within the product safety subcommittee. The CPSIA was a bipartisan bill—its reform should be, too.

You hold the livelihoods of hundreds of small businesses in your hands. Please, make this work.

On behalf of the 435 small business members of the Handmade Toy Alliance, we thank you again for your attention to this important issue.

Respectfully,


The Handmade Toy Alliance

savehandmadetoys@gmail.com
http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org/

Board members:

Cecilia Leibovitz, Craftsbury Kids, VT
Dan Marshall, Peapods Natural Toys, MN
Jill Chuckas, Crafty Baby, CT
Mary Newell, Terrapin Toys, OR
Jolie Fay, Skipping Hippos, OR
Marianne Mullen, Polkadotpatch, VT
Rob Wilson, Challenge & Fun, MA
Randall Hertzler, euroSource, PA
Kate Glynn, A Child's Garden, MA