Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Talk About Hazardous Waste! please, save us from CPSIA!



Dear friends,

I am writing you because you have, at some point or another, signed up for my mailing list, googled my name, purchased my work, received my pieces as a gift, visited my etsy shop, patronized any of my retailers, expressed an interest in what I do or been affected by my artwork. It is my hope that those previous connections will also be enough to convince you to read further--- my future, the future of my business, the nature of my art making and YOUR freedom to purchase whatever you deem appropriate for YOUR children is very much at stake.

There is a law, set to go into affect on February 10th, that if not amended will make EVERY SINGLE thing that might come in contact with a child subject to expensive third party testing, or pulled from the shelves, the makers or resellers subject to felony prison time & $100,000 fines. This law could mean the end, not only of tens of thousands (and probably more) of independent children's businesses, but would also threaten libraries, consignment shops, boy scouts, homeschoolers and more. It will affect your ability to purchase the hand made, the one of a kind, the independent, the local & the organic.

This post is quite long, but very important. Please make time to read it through, and to do whatever you can to help vocalize our growing concerns. If the law is not amended, then many small businesses will be forced to close. If MY small business is forced to close, it will also mean the end of many of my other enterprises which are financially supported by my business. If greenstarstudio ceases to be, it will make it so that I won't be able to afford to teach (yes, you read that right), won't have availability to work at the local art museum, compete for opportunities to paint public murals or volunteer my time. Whether you have children or not, this law DOES affect you. Thank you for your attention & your time.

*****
In case you haven't heard, in August 2008, in reaction to the complete lack of safety standards in the production of children's toys and clothing from large over-seas manufacturers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) created, and President Bush passed the Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) which mandates testing for all products intended for children under 12 years old. It requires all manufacturers of children’s goods to submit their products for cost prohibitive, third party testing. Among other things, the CPSIA bans lead and phthalates in toys  and mandates certification for all toys and requires toy makers to permanently label each toy with a date and batch number. The language of the law lumps together ALL manufacturers of children's goods, no matter how small the business may be--- it doesn't provide any specific, separate rules for small businesses who make one-of-a-kind items, but it certainly doesn't exempt them either. 

At the very least, this will put a strain on small, independent businesses who now need to jump through hoops that larger corporations are more equipped to do. This says nothing of the cost of testing which can reportedly range from $400 to $4000 PER ITEM (yes, if you make one of a kind things, like i do, you will need to get each and every one tested). Added to that is the foot work of retroactively testing and labeling any goods that might already be in a retailer's shop... at your expense, of course.

The independent childrens' business community is understandably up in arms about this law. Of COURSE we want there to be some kind of legislation to protect our children from lead laden toys & goods. OF COURSE we want that... that's the reason why many of us started our businesses to begin with! Meanwhile, we're finding it hard to get straight answers to our questions or legitimate responses to our concerns. Proponents of the bill have been quoted as saying that the uproar is due to our "confusion" and a lack of understanding... really?

due to MY lack of understanding?

I UNDERSTAND that I've spent the last ten years cautiously and steadily building a business centered around my heartfelt belief that our children deserve better. I understand that the most important memories and treasures of my own childhood were the things my mom made me... not the crap I got from KMart. I understand that every time I paint a mural or sew a Knitimal or teach a drawing class, a child goes home with a little more hope and a little more respect for art and an appreciation for things made by hand, made by a real person. I understand that I am the American dream.

I also understand that our children should be protected... but not from me. And not from my fellow plush designers, clothing makers & people who painstakingly carve elaborate wood puzzles.

It seems to me, that perhaps it's YOU that doesn't understand:

“This law passed because our product safety net was broken,” said Rachel Weintraub, senior counsel for the Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit organization based in Washington. “The answer is not to reopen the bill.”

No, apparently the answer is to drive countless families deeper into an economic depression. Yes, from what I've seen in the last few months, this country is DEFINITELY prepared to handle another massive percentage of the population to be given pink slips... from their own government.

"The economy will be impacted on several levels: economically challenged families who rely on the children's resale market will suffer, families who lose their businesses will suffer, and families with members who lose their jobs due to businesses closing will suffer. Many related industries (those who produce support products like packaging, equipment, etc.) will suffer from the loss of companies who once bought their products. The companies who can afford the testing will surely pass their costs to all of us."
(source: handsandhearts.com)



You know, these businesses didn't just crop up over night. The organic, hand sewn doll makers (for example) have been providing a healthy and sound alternative to the poison that was coming from overseas for years. These businesses have been cultivated and maintained at a personal detriment to the business owners' families and friends; my own personal savings account was ravaged to start my business; i quit my day job, reorganized my entire life, sold possessions, asked my husband to carry the burden of my weight during the tough times, worked my fingers to the bone to build up an ample catalog of wares, mailed countless press kits, knocked on doors, spent thousands on promotion and maintaining my website. I befriended thousands of people all over the world and regularly rely on them, spending their hard earned money on me, and avoid the easy trappings of the big box store in favor of supporting the under dog. If i have to pack up now, I'll have over ten thousand dollars in "unsalable" merchandise and almost as much in unusable materials, to say nothing of the impact of my own personal loss. I've poured my guts into this business. And now what? I just have to stop believing in what i believe? Stop making the things i know need to be made?

Guess again.

I would be shocked to find out that many makers like myself won't still be giving their goods as the most precious (and suddenly rarer than a passenger pigeon) gifts, trading amongst themselves and selling under the table to people on their mailing lists. This is just reckless--- I dutifully record my sales tax and pay the state and federal government every penny they're entitled to; the message I'm reading out there is that many people, who will continuing doing what they believe needs to be done, will now just do it under the radar. Dear IRS... Are you ready for that?

If i can't sell or give away what I've made (and there are those who speculate that even GIVING something away, while hard to enforce, will be equally illegal if the products haven't been tested and certified), I'll have to throw it out. Now, I will not be doing this... heck, I might not be able to sell Knitimals or coloring books or onesies anymore, but the government can't stop me from giving them my own kids... which I would happily and confidently do, because as we know, the likelihood of lead and pthalates being in organic cotton or hand dyed wool or copy paper is pretty dang slim.

Let's just say I WAS going to dump all my goods... could you imagine the sheer volume of suddenly "hazardous waste" hitting the landfills. The environmental impact will be staggering as resale shops and other business are forced to dispose of their inventory, and as families who would have donated or sold their children's used items will be forced to discard them. You might be thinking "that's crazy and wasteful and naturally no one will throw stuff away, they'll just donate it to goodwill".

Ah HA!

Goodwill (and any other similar reseller or thrift store) would ALSO be subject to fines for selling goods that they can't prove have been tested. And for any stores that are thinking they'll squeak by with goods that have been in stock long before February 10th...

"the CPSIA interprets the February 10, 2009 600 ppm lead content limit to apply to all children's products, regardless of when they are manufactured. In other words, the CPSIA is retroactive."

To FULLY understand the scope of this issue, it's important to remember that we're not just talking about toys here. With very few exceptions, the law covers all products intended primarily for children under 12. That includes clothing, fabric and textile goods of all kinds: hats, shoes, diapers, hair bands, sports pennants, Scouting patches, local school-logo gear and so on. It also covers all paper goods: like books, flash cards, board games, baseball cards, kits for home schoolers, party supplies and the like. Oh, and don't forget about sporting equipment, outdoor gear, bikes, backpacks and telescopes. And yes, furnishings for kids' rooms (which I've recently learned includes things like art prints!), video game cartridges, audio books and specialized assistive and therapeutic gear used by disabled and autistic kids. The things that are exempt are things like electronics which have "necessary" levels of lead, but that are constructed to keep the lead "safely" inside. Oh good... so in other words, things we KNOW have lead in them and are made by machines in factories are exempt from testing, but things that a mother makes out of organic wool from a local farm are not. Got it.

As I read over the proposals for amendments to this law, I can't help but wonder what role the consumer plays. 


Art prints must be tested, at the expense of the independent artist, even though parents (who are the ones with the wallets, not the children) are going to go buy an uncertified, untested frame from some box store and hang it up in their kid's room. If only things "intended" for children are subject to testing, what happens to the things intended for use by adults that squeak through the cracks and are just RIDDLED with lead. If I buy a mug with lead paint on it and it isn't marked as containing lead, because it's not marketed for kids, it's "OK". If I pour myself a mug of tea and leave the room and my toddler pulls the hot tea down on himself, and gets burned, I am in the wrong. If my baby licks the lead paint on the mug, while he's sitting safely on my lap, swaddled in third party tested, certified lead free, cotton diapers, and gets sick... who's in the wrong then? Why should anyone be able to sell anything to anyone without disclosing what it's made out of. I don't want lead poisoning either. 

If I buy a loaf of bread and i have a terrible peanut allergy, I look for the label to tell me if that bread was processed anywhere near a peanut packing or processing plant. If it says it was and I buy it and eat it anyway, and i swell up and die--- that's MY fault. If my child has a peanut allergy and I buy that bread and leave on the counter and he eats it and dies--- THAT is MY FAULT. It's not the fault of the bread company, just because they happen to reside near a peanut plant. I made a consumer decision. I'm a big girl. I chose. We ARE all adults here, right?

Children aren't buying $100 art dolls for themselves. Babies aren't buying their own crocheted booties on Etsy. Toddlers aren't handing over their credit cards to pick up a few limited edition art prints for their rooms. Adults are doing it. And really, adults who WANT to buy handmade, who understand and support handmade, and who know that small business owners have always taken this kind of  thing this seriously, are STILL going to want to buy these things, even if they don't have a special, permanently affixed, certified, third party tested certificate on them. If i go to an art fair and I see a hand sewn bib i really like for my son, and I'm concerned about lead being in it, I can ask for that certificate and if the vendor doesn't have one, i can move on. But the more likely scenario is that I will know that this small vendor was a part of the solution, not the problem, and even if she covers her butt with a sticker plastered over all her goods, which reads: "this product has not be tested for lead. May not be safe for children under 12", I'm still going to buy it because I can make my own decisions and that bib is just SO cute.

I think it is ABSURD that a coloring book (8 pieces of 80% recycled content copy paper, copy machine ink and two staples) or a Knitimal (wool, cotton or acrylic blend yarn, fiber fil, poly fil or organic wool, and a fabric label) would be under SUCH scrutiny, meanwhile, I have a jar of peanut butter in my cabinet that i am terrified of. I just, only minutes ago, saw it presented that the distributers of the contaminated peanut butter KNEW it was contaminated, based on their own tests, and distributed it anyway.  I panic every time I open a can of dog food, obsessing about what it means if Mason seems "strange" after eating it. It wasn't that long ago that our pets' food was killing them.  Just a few months ago I had heated up a Lean Cuisine frozen entree, (which i love) and was eating it at the very moment that the news reported a recall on the very entree i was eating because it might have plastic in it. Mine did not... or it did, and I ate it without noticing. 

Well, the peanut butter I blend myself at Whole Foods has never contained Salmonella.
The boiled chicken and white rice meals I made my dog during that scare, never made him sick.
When my mom makes a chicken and pasta with vegetables dish for dinner, it has never had plastic in it.
And in ten years of being in business, I have yet (knock wool) to see a Knitimal, a coloring book, a bar of soap, a onesie or the like,  injure a child.



At the heart of the debate is the fact that each and every one of a kind item will need to be tested. It would still be incredibly expensive for a small business to do any amount of testing, but it's not even like I could just have one skein of yarn tested and only ever use that brand of yarn.

"Instead they must put a sample item from each lot of goods through testing after complete assembly, and the testing must be applied to each component. For a given hand-knitted sweater, for example, one might have to pay not just, say, $150 for the first test, but added-on charges for each component beyond the first: a button or snap, yarn of a second color, a care label, maybe a ribbon or stitching--with each color of stitching thread having to be tested separately.

Suddenly the bill is more like $1,000--and that's just to test the one style and size. The same sweater in a larger size, or with a different button or clasp, would need a new round of tests--not just on the button or clasp, but on the whole garment. The maker of a kids' telescope (with no suspected problems) was quoted a $24,000 testing estimate, on a product with only $32,000 in annual sales." (source Forbes.com)

To date, there is STILL not a compiled and reliable list of third party testing sites, an accurate accounting of how much the tests will cost or an answer to what the turn around time on a test will be. The absolute lowest estimate on a test that I have heard is $150 (the range is usually quoted as being $400- $4000)--- even at $150 that is still more than I could ever sell a single Knitimal for, raising the price of a medium sized doll from $80 to $230.

Consignment shops, which used to benefit families looking to recoup some money from outgrown children's clothes, and thrift stores which help lessen the burden for families with less money, will also be required to only carry certified objects (they don't have to do the testing themselves, but they must require resellers to provide them with certificates). "The reality is that all this stuff will be dumped in the landfill," predicted Adele Meyer, executive director of the National Association of Resale and Thrift Shops. Among the biggest losers if that happens: poorer parents who might start having to buy kids' winter coats new at $30 rather than used at $5 or $10.

Who won't be burdened by the exorbitant testing amounts? Why big business of course! Ahhh, yes, the very manufacturers whose products regularly greet me on the evening news, with announcements of their recall. A $400 test for one sample item from a lot of thousands of the exact same thing is nothing for a company with international distribution and (presumably) a disgusting profit margin to begin with. For the little guy, we're lucky if we can sell our goods at a price that covers our time, let alone our expenses & materials. I can't remember the last time I actually made any profit to speak of. It's an ironic & pretty disturbing turn of events, really... manufacturers who cut corners and sold hazardous goods to begin with, still have plenty of money (our money) to afford to comply with the law they caused us to create... meanwhile, the grassroots efforts that manifested in small enterprises, in an effort to say "we'll just take care of ourselves!" is being swept out of business, for our own safety.

Hey Mattel! Hey Hasboro! You're the two biggest toy manufacturers on the planet... can i borrow some of your money so i can test my natural wool & cotton dolls, my recycled paper coloring books and my archival print playing cards? No?
ok... well, can i interest you in the patterns and copyright on all my goods, because it seems i wont be able to sell them anymore.

I jest, but this is the future, I fear.
My husband and I are both very smart people, and we brainstormed and workshopped ideas for hours last night (to the point that I was unable to sleep) and in the end we both came up with the same conclusion--- if things don't change, the only way a Knitimal can continue to exist as "child friendly" and legal, would be to spit in the face of everything I've always promised my collectors--- i will absolutely NEVER sell the rights to anyone to mass produce them.

And don't worry. I still won't. But, I also might not be able to make them anymore... not legally, at least. Not FOR KIDS.  So if you have one now, enjoy it. Soon it will be "Hazardous Waste".

Let's put aside toys and dolls... one could argue "we don't need them". What about books? How do you feel about libraries and literacy? That's right!

It's actually a big issue for schools & public libraries, because lending a book is, believe it or not, considered "commerce" and under this law, they would have to have all books lead and pthlalate tested.

The American Library Association is trying to get answers on what this means for them. We’ve been told by the ALA to wait for now, but should this law go into effect without adjustments, libraries may have to pull all their children’s books or ban children under 12. If you’re interested, check ala.org for more information. And even worse: Since the law does not exempt books, childrens' sections in bookstores will, at minimum, face price hikes on newly acquired titles and, at worse, may have to rethink older holdings (source Bloomberg.com)

The used children's book market will cease to exist.
No one is going to voluntarily test a bunch of old books that they can probably only sell for 50 cents anyway.

Want to put a face on this facet of the issue? well, lets not forget... i'm also a children's illustrator working primarily with a small publishing house (whose jobs are also on the line now) and i do have books in print, which are now subject to testing. Not only is pulling books off the shelves ridiculous and wasteful, (and reminiscent of a Ray Bradbury novel), what about the royalities i was "guaranteed" by my publisher, who, in a matter of a few weeks, might not be able to stay afloat at all, let alone sell the books which would provide me with a 5% paycheck everytime a book sells. Children's Illustrators don't make their money up front (any illustrator will tell you that); you get a small retainer in the form of an advance; you work for years to complete all the artwork and watch the pieces go out of your hands for printing and publishing; you hope enough copies sell to pay the publisher back the advance you got (5% of the book price, until it adds up to the advance) and then you sit back and enjoy the small checks for the rest of your of the life of the book. The un-amended law is also dipping into our bank accounts retroactively, in a manner of speaking.



When I first heard the news of this law I was annoyed; I didn't want to go back through all my press kits and re-print things to talk about CPSIA compliance. At most, I thought it would be a nuisance, a hurdle that I could jump, provided I jumped them in a timely manner. Then, as I read more about it, I found myself facing countless questions and getting few answers. The rumors are thick out there, and now I'm downright pissed. 

According to a number of sources, the problem is, it isn't JUST toys that are under attack; it's ANYTHING "intended for children under 12 years of age"... and what's more, it applies to anything that might look like it's intended for children under 12. In other words, even if I were to reprint all my Knitimal hang tags, sewn tags and signs, update the text on any of my places of online presence and alert my retailers that they need to actively present Knitimals as ADULT collectibles... the mere fact that they are stuffed and look like toys is enough to make them targets. They *might* be able to squeak past law enforcement, in some places, but what about the local toy stores that have carried and sold Knitimals for years? Can they maintain that the dolls on their shelves which USED to be available for sale to anyone, are now only for kids over 12? Will consumers understand that? Will all of their employees be able to corroborate that? 

And is that even the message I WANT to spread?

I am more than willing to fight for Knitimals. Sure, I can back up the assertion that they aren't meant for children--- they're pieces of art; they're expensive; they take days to make; they're one of a kind; they are purchased and collected primarily by adults... but the fact is, they ARE for kids. Why not? The whole point of the original Knitimal was to bring us back to childhood; to give me something to hug and make me feel better and connect me to a time when it was ok to pacify myself with a stuffed animal. They're meant to be pieces of art a child could appreciate. I believe in that. I believe that child are entitled to the opportunity to have NICE things--- one of a kind things; things that their parents and loved ones find and know they MUST be a part of that child's life. And now the government is going to unilaterally take that right away?  I could avoid SOME level of personal burden at the hands of this law, by stating publicly that the Knitimals are made for adults... but aside from the fact that I don't really believe that, it doesn't change the fact that there are still a half a dozen items I make that are undeniably FOR KIDS, and another dozen or so that might be argued are walking a thin line.





Say goodbye to hand drawn or screenprinted children's clothing--- even if the small business owner buys plain white tshirts made for kids (and presumably pre-tested for toxins), the sheer application of fabric paint now makes THEM the manufacturer and responsible for testing. The odds are very good that most, if not all small and cottage industries related to children's products will have to close their doors. This includes natural, organic, and/or handmade products. So much for going green and buying local.

Having a hard time wrapping your brain around the enormity of this issue? Think of anything you've ever purchased for a child (or were given as a child) and imagine that item, that interaction, that business, GONE.

This just can't happen.

There are those who brush this issue aside as being overblown, citing that since it will be up to individual States to regulate and that item-by-item enforcement at thrift shops, for example, is unlikely to be an enforcement priority any time soon for the CPSC's small crew of field investigators, thus small business shouldn't worry; that the law was written, predominantly, to address big business.
If that's so, then why not amend the language to exempt us?
Why not give us the option to adjust our language to reflect that we have knowingly NOT tested our goods, and let the consumer decide if they want to buy them anyway?
Why not offer free testing or at the very least, facilitate cheaper, more reasonable or a sliding scale for cost?
Why not provide, in clear language, a black and white list of what we can and can't do; what you will and will not enforce and how we can protect ourselves?
Why not start the law under a trial period--- applying first to overseas manufacturers & all manufacturers of plastic or painted items and then see what happens. 
Why not open the bill up to a little more scrutiny?
Why not wait for the economy to stabilize before you throw another wrench in the works?
Why won't you answer our calls?

Where's our bail out?

It's great that you are back handedly telling librarians, ebay & etsy sellers, stay at home moms, sock monkey makers & frocks sewers that they're outlaws but too rinky dink to attract any real attention from the authorities. I get it; we're small potatoes. 

I don't want to be making money illegally, but allowed to function because you can't be bothered with me. That's not the answer. 

I want to be legal.
Again.

Sincerely, Danamarie
************

I am cautiously optimistic that something WILL change. I have faith in our new administration and in the passion of my fellow small business owners. But I am also incredibly tired. I am tired of spending my time scouring the internet instead of spending time with my family; I'm tired of putting art projects on hold because I'm not sure I can legally sell them. Etsy is starting to vocalize more regarding how it will handle CPSIA, but so far the responses are still too vague to be confident in. In a virtual chat last night, Etsy admin acknowledged that they will be keeping the "Children's" category... I'm curious to see what you can find in it come February 10th. I don't know who will be left... maybe the international sellers who are going to be safe selling amongst themselves. Most of the people in the forums are having "CPSIA: Going out of Business Sales".

I'm not lying down or rolling over that easily, but I do need some time to figure out what to do next. At the very least, I need to be proactive and contact my vendors and make sure we are prepared, in case items need to be pulled, returned or marketed differently. There is a good chance, after all, that Knitimals (as they are) will be safe with some minor adjustments to my marketing and hang tag language. But, that doesn't fix this for me completely, and it certainly doesn't fix things for the hundreds of small business owners I have grown to know and love (and whose work I would be sad to know can't be sold anymore). 

I don't intend to do anything drastic, because, like i said, I am confident that if we all work together, we can amend the law. But who knows what the amendment will bring. In the meantime, I am going to have a HUGE sale, to clear my Etsy shop of listed Children's Items, as well as a liquidation of my current stock (not yet on Etsy). If i leave them up, I will lose the listing fee and end up obsessing over my language and weather or not someone from CPSC is waiting to swoop down. Paranoid? Perhaps... but, at least this way, YOU can also benefit. Because yes, come Feb. 10th, you will very likely notice a dramatic decrease in the availability of quality handmade goods, gifts, retailers and vendors. So, if you have any babies or children in your life (or adults who like things that are "intended for children under the age of 12"), please check out the shop and the post below this one for details, and enjoy your freedom while you have it!




2 comments:

takinanap said...

wow. great post. good use of your time, since there was no class tonight. you are being remarkably clear and level-headed. KNITIMALS WILL SURVIVE!

sarah said...

You have no idea how livid I am right now. Actually, you probably do. I'm coming at this from two sides, both as someone who makes handmade items and as a Children's Librarian. And I'm scared. Because if the kids can't touch the books, what need is there for me anymore? I guess I could sit in the roped off section and read to them anything they point to, but the library may not want to pay me for that.

I was wondering if I could quote a portion of your post, along with the post on my blog, to send to my local TV station as well as to National News coverage? I don't know if anything will come of it, but I think it needs to be broadcast. You have written such a thoughtful and well researched piece, that I don't think I could top it.

My husband thinks this law will just be ignored, but I agree with you. If that's the case, then just amend it to make us all feel better.