Tuesday, 10 February 2009


Today's the big day: CPSIA is here

Picture taken from Fashion-Incubator forum, no credit I could find!

I've been in a bit of a creative funk lately due to lack of sleep, negativity, and the looming approach of the CPSIA. Well, today's the day, so where so we stand? The truth: no one really knows. The CPSC issued a set of last minute guidelines last night to clarify some of the issues people have been raising. Which is only a little bit helpful, as it has the following disclosure:

"This information was prepared by CPSC staff, has not been reviewed or approved by, and many [sic] not necessarily reflect the views of, the Commission. It may be subject to change based on Commission action."

This just about sums up the fundamental problem with the CPSIA: there is no clarity or permanence. Manufacturers and retailers have to comply with the law (that much is clear), but the goalposts keep changing. In fact, since my last CPSIA post the phthlate element of the stay has been challenged and overturned. This doesn't directly affect me as I don't make toys or feeding / sleeping accessories but what sort of confidence can anyone have that this law won't take another lurch in a different direction? How can anyone make provisions for compliance when standards are proposed then overturned, and guidance notes on the CPSC website aren't even official? And Congress and the CPSC play hot potato as to who's responsible for this mess?

Another red herring was contained within the guidance notes in the list of materials that are exempt. I felt all warm and fuzzy for a minute when I read that finally some textiles have been exempted:

"Dyed or undyed textiles (cotton, wool, hemp, nylon, etc.), including children’s fabric products, such as baby blankets, and non‐metallic thread and trim. This does not include products that have rhinestones or other ornaments that may contain lead or that have fasteners with possible lead content (such as buttons, metal snaps, zippers or grommets)."

See the catch there? The addition of buttons, snaps, or zippers moves it right back into the 'danger zone'. Methinks we'll be seeing a lot of pullover tops and elasticated trousers!... Or will we? Right now there are a lot of people scrambling around trying to figure out if elastic is okay.

Need something else to worry about? Even if you are being super vigilant and getting your testing done yourself, you still might not sleep easy at night. My favourite person, Walter Olson, posted this on Overlawyered:

"There are naturally occurring variations in lead content within a given run of metal alloy snaps, clasps or grommets. So even if all 20 that you test happen to score below CPSIA’s permitted threshold, you may still wind up incorporating some that fail into your line of garments. And the first you hear about that may be the press release from the state attorney general or private operator angling for settlement money. Aren’t you glad CPSIA was written to include such harsh penalties for inadvertent and unintended violations?"

And then there's the whole enforcement issue. The fact that the Attorney General of each State decides how to enforce the stay is a logistical nightmare. It was reported in my parent's local paper that Connecticut's AG (who was also instrumental in reintroducing the retroactive element of the ban) has said:

"My office will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure this phthalate ban is enforced.”

Compare that with Michigan's AG who has said:

"...many issues still need to be addressed with respect to the CPSIA. Until these issues are clarified, it would be an inefficient use of already-strained state resources to devote significant time to monitoring compliance with the CPSIA with respect to small operations..."

Will I need to keep a database of which States are okay to ship to?!

So where does that leave me (other than with a sore head and heavy heart)? This is what I see my opinions to be with regard to my Etsy shop:

  1. Leave it exactly as it was six months ago, with no mention of CPSIA. Stick my head in the sand until when / if I have an order.
  2. Leave it exactly as it was six months ago. State that I have not had XRF testing and leave it up to the consumer as to whether my elasticated peasant tops or fabric covered buttons are dangerous.
  3. Leave it exactly as it was six months ago. State that the clothes are for child-sized dolls.
  4. Leave it exactly as it was six months ago. State that I will not ship anything to the US except my patterns.
  5. Have a streamlined shop with no items with buttons, snaps or zips.
  6. Remove everything except my patterns.
  7. Set up separate shops for patterns and apparel to keep US and non-US customers separate so that it's easier to draw the line on shipping options.

For the moment I removed anything with snaps, plastic buttons or zips and left only things with elastication or fabric covered button closure. I didn't really even want to do that, a significant portion of my business (maybe 10% or so?) of apparel orders have been outside of the US so if I remove them no one's able to buy them. Over the weekend I had a full shop and an announcement that I regretfully wouldn't ship apparel to the States anymore but I just felt so awful about that (and worried it would alienate people) that I took it down. I would love some advice from my generous readers!

I really don't have the time to go into how this is affecting resale / thrift shops, charities, libraries and children's boutiques, but it's big. Children's books made pre-1985 are pretty much contraband unless you have the resources to test. There are reports of thrift stores throwing all their children's toys and apparel into dumpsters. You might even struggle to buy your kid a bike. If you feel like reading more (as if!), here is some more interesting reading:

Fashion Incubator

Forbes's round-up of how the CPSIA effects each of the 50 States

Overlawyered's CPSIA Chronicles: February 10

CPSIA Cheerleader

600ppm: The CPSIA Blog (if nothing else, check it out just for this picture)

NB. After three days of negative posts, I hope it's worked it's way out of my system and normal irreverant, sarky posts can resume tomorrow!

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