Beginning in February 2009, new federal requirements take effect to make products for children safer and free from lead.
The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was mandated by Congress last August following the findings of unacceptably high levels of lead in imports primarily from China – toys, jewelry, and clothing.
The new rules apply to manufacturers, importers, and retailers. Children’s products made on or after February 10, cannot be sold if they contain more than 600 parts per million (ppm) of total lead. The total lead drops to 300 ppm on August 14, 2009.
For phthalates – an industrial “plasticizer” that is used to make vinyl flexible and is found in nail polish to shower curtains - if a product contains more than 0.1 percent of certain specific phthalates, or fails to meet the mandatory standards for toys, they too cannot be sold. A loophole exists for used items sold in thrift or consignment stores. Those sellers are not required to certify that those products meet the new lead or phthalates limits.
While they sound good on the surface, not everyone supports the new rules.
Kathleen Fasanella of Las Cruces, New Mexico, admits to causing an online ruckus over the CPSIA.
Involved in the garment industry for 30 years, Fasanella helps entrepreneurs launch clothing lines. In her book, “Entrepreneur’s Guide To Sewn Product Manufacturing” she guarantees to, "get you off to a solid start or your money back,” promoted on her Fashion Incubator Web site.
But lately the conversation has moved from couture and contracts to what CPSIA will mean to the thousands of apparel startups – the bulk of which are small businesses of fewer than 20 employees, or are run by stay-at-home moms. And for the vast majority, it means closing their doors.
Fasanella tells IB News, “I get 3,000 children’s wear designers visiting the site everyday and all but three say they are going out of business.”
The reason is the regulations. “Sewn products” for children, such as clothing, books, stuffed animals, bedding, pajamas, shoes, slippers or diapers, without component testing at the supplier level will do nothing to make products safer, says Fasanella.
Whether grommets, buttons, sequins or fabric, they should all be tested before the item is produced, not after.
“Traditionally you test your components. The new law requires we do unit testing with is an amalgamation of everything. Typically a designer will use the same fabric in a variety of styles, some with buttons, for example. The way the law reads, they have to test ten different styles, not just the components. There is nothing in the manufacturing that is going to introduce lead,” she says.
Testing ten different styles in three different colors by a third party verifier, could easily result in a $30,000 price tag, far too much for the small mom-and-pop or mom enterprise.
In her letter to Nancy Nord of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) which oversees the regulations, “Today I received a price estimate from a work at home mom who makes hair bows that exceeded $125,000.00. That’s right, one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. In light of that, your repeated assertions that lead testing amounts to a minuscule $25 is offensive. Tell me, which lab is this? I can send them a lot of customers.”
An exception to component testing might be in flammable fabrics. Producing pajamas already requires a manufacturer to buy certified flame resistant fabric. That requirement remains unchanged.
Fasanella says the feds didn’t consult with independent manufacturers before crafting the Act and many of the rules and regulations already exist on the books, but are not enforced.
Least to suffer under the new rules ironically might be Wal-Mart, which led the drive to low cost overseas labor. The big box retailler won't suffer because it has the clout to order China to produce to its specifications, and the ability to test to make sure they are in compliance.
With help from the internet, many independent entrepreneurs today market their wares to the public directly through eBay or Etsy.com, a place to buy and sell all things handmade. Many sellers on Twitter say Etsy.com will never be the same and Esty has set up its own protest page to CPSIA.
On Friday, several members of Congress expressed concern for the small business community and suggest that products in which lead has never been a problem might be exempted from third party testing, such as a children’s book or undyed fabric.
Fasanella tells her online community that most of the problems with dangerous products on the market come from the tiniest companies so, “an exemption would actually increase the proportion of dangerous products on the market.” That’s why, she suggests, it won’t pass and is more like a bone being thrown to placate the negative feedback.
As the last minute wrangling continues, it’s the small business community that will be hardest hit by the new regulations. Wal-Mart, Burlington Coat Factory and Macys are all requiring certification for recent products shipped or they are sent back.
The end result may be some safer products from big box producers, but fewer independents able to stay in business and ultimately fewer products on store shelves for consumers to choose from. #