CPSIA: Thoughts on the demise of the children’s cottage industry

Closed signFebruary 10, 2009, also known as National Bankruptcy Day. Have you heard of it? It’s the unfortunate result of the new CPSIA law requiring more stringent testing of children’s products for lead and phthalates.

Good Idea Gone Bad 

What started out as a well-meaning law to protect children under 13 has morphed into a potentially catastrophic economic disaster for America’s small businesses catering to kids: manufacturers; home-based businesses; crafters; small publishers; and proprietors of secondhand (thrift, antique, and book) stores.

This law is likely to shut the door on WAHMs, cottage industries, small publishers, and enterprising manufacturers nationwide because the method and cost of testing products for lead and phthalates is prohibitive for the small businessperson. This poorly crafted law not only impacts these businesses, but the millions of consumers who will have fewer choices at higher prices. In light of our current economic downturn, is this the year to:

  • Force thousands of small businesses to shut their doors?
  • Forbid struggling families from reselling used children’s clothing, toys, books, and furniture to help make ends meet? 
  • Bring to a screeching halt the services once provided by secondhand stores to put affordable products into the hands of those who choose to live frugally?
  • Put collectors and used-book stores out of business because they can’t buy or sell collectible antique toys or vintage children’s books anymore?

There are many concerns among children’s toy and clothing manufacturers about the effect that expensive mandatory testing will have on their businesses, and with good reason.

Farewell to Old Friends

We’re self-publishers with a market that includes children 12 and under, and we’re concerned about the impact of this CPSIA law on our business. The bulk of our product line is for older kids, but we do have to make some changes.

We’re not alone. I’m even more worried about my fellow small publishers, booksellers, and manufacturers. 

  • Consignment, antique, and thrift stores will lose a major component of their business–used children’s articles. And the babies-only thrift stores will be forced to close their doors entirely. Bye-bye to donating used clothing and toys to the church nursery and Mexican orphanages. No more lovingly handmade quilts and afghans for preemies, cancer patients, American troops, and senior citizens. 
  • A sweet friend makes a living traveling to homeschool conferences where she resells vintage books she finds at estate, garage, and library sales. Much of her inventory is old children’s books. She could lose her business because she will no longer be able to buy or sell used books.
  • One of my former WriteShop students (now a college sophomore) sews and sells period costumes as a cottage industry. Her children’s line is now kaput. 
  • My daughter occasionally makes and sells custom baby slings and carriers. Nope. No more.
  • A fellow vendor creates amazing science kits from a variety of components. The components themselves are not usually marketed to children, but once he has assembled his science kits, he sells them to schools and homeschooling parents for their children’s use. He too could lose his business because he will not be able to afford to test every component for every science kit he produces. 
  • Similarly, another publisher I know also creates history-based craft kits. For the same reasons as my science friend, she will be closing this line, her most profitable, at a time when her family is faced with over $100,000 in medical bills.
  • And what about collectibles? Collectors who buy and sell vintage toys will not be able to conduct business anymore. Collectible Barbies, comic books, retro toys and lunchboxes, Victorian dollhouses, you name it! If these items are no longer saleable, they will lose their value because no one can buy them anymore without prohibitively expensive testing. These items, once intended for kids, are now adult collectibles, yet the door will be shut on their businesses without a swift and sweeping change in the law.
  • Let’s not forget the garment industry. For every children’s garment in every style and every size, testing will need to be done on fabric, thread, zipper, buttons, and trim. The cost will be staggering, especially for the small manufacturer or WAHM or grandma who makes handmade blankets, bibs, and other sewn items.
  • And landfills. That’s another quandary. Since used items can’t be donated or sold, they’ll end up in landfills. A law whose original intent is to promote green thinking will actually have a horrible backlash as used articles make their way to the trash unnecessarily. How crazy is that?

I have six grandchildren whose lives and health I cherish. I’m not suggesting we lower the lead standards or compromise the safety of children’s products. This law is going to create many more problems than it solves. I just don’t believe that anyone saw the far-reaching effects of the law when it was signed. But in the process, a law was created with the grave likelihood of closing down many entrepreneurs and small manufacturers in this country.

Our government has thrown out the baby with the bathwater.

.  .  .  .  .


The Smart Mama – Environmental attorney, mom, and entrepreneur helps us slog through the law

CPSIA Central – Website with tons of information


What will they think of next?
Picture books as pre-writing activities


  • Posted January 6, 2009


    You might want to point all of the sewn products people over to my site for the lowdown on how it affects us.

  • Posted January 6, 2009


    Thanks for the reminder! I added a bullet point about the garment industry along with your link.

  • Posted January 8, 2009



    saw this today, good for thrift stores/resale shops. Looks like (my understanding) they can use their reasonable judgement on an item.

  • Posted January 8, 2009


    momto4, as iI understand it, Julie Vallesa claims she was misquoted (either that or she gave incorrect information). Furthermore, she resigned from the Consumer Product Safety Commission yesterday, which tells me something too. So at this time, I don’t believe “reasonable judgment” is an option. Guess we’ll have to see!

  • Posted January 8, 2009


    I stand corrected, momto4. This crossed my desktop tonight:


    It’s a press release from the CPSC and it does, in fact, appear to offer a reprieve for thrift shops and consignment stores to use reasonable judgment when selling used items. They will probably not want to sell painted wooden toys without first having them tested, but books and clothes seem likely to be safe.

    I’m sure we’ll hear much more chatter about this in the next few days!

  • Posted January 17, 2009


    So sorry, CPSC did NOT issue a ‘reprieve’ for resale, consignment and thrift stores. It was a PRESS RELEASE, craftily worded, to try and stop all the massive amount of telephone calls, emails, faxes and news stories they and Congress were being swamped with. It worked didn’t it, because many of you believed it. If it was on TV it has to be true right?

    National Association of Resale and Thrift Stores should know right? Visit and see what THEY have to say!

    Read the recent article in the Wall Street Journal

    or, Forbes Magazine!

    We would appreciate it if you would help us correct this incorrect information the media has been spreading, by conveniently not researching a story, but merely lifting ‘sound bites’ from a PRESS RELEASE. CPSC has no authority to change this law or give ‘reprieves’ or exemptions. Only Congress can do that.

    Visit http://www.savekidsresale.com for more information and to help us by signing our petition with a couple of clicks!

  • Posted January 23, 2009


    Thanks for the semantics clarification, Cynthia. Perhaps the word “reprieve” was poorly chosen.

    There’s a Catch-22 here. Even though secondhand stores CAN sell used products without having had them tested first, there’d better be no doubt that these products meet the lead limits established by the CPSC. The CPSC will still subject these sellers to the same penalties and fines as other violators, should they be caught selling anything that doesn’t fit the standards.

    Secondhand stores should be pretty safe with ordinary books and most unembellished clothing, I’m sure. But children’s furniture and wooden toys (especially painted items), among other products, could be highly suspect.

    So even though it appears as though the CPSC has given thrift and consignment stores a “reprieve,” in reality these establishments are still assuming a risk by remaining in the children’s business.

  • Posted October 20, 2010

    Kids Science Kits

    It has certainly taken a turn for the worst.

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