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 .

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.