CPSIA: Thoughts on the demise of the children’s cottage industry
February 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.
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The Smart Mama – Environmental attorney, mom, and entrepreneur helps us slog through the law
CPSIA Central – Website with tons of information