One of my treasured possessions is a handmade teddy bear that my aunt purchased at a craft fair for me while my Mom was still pregnant with me. Bear - I renamed him many times over the years, but always came back to Bear - isn't that handsome (he's the one in back), and he's really looking his age, which is like 95 in teddy bear years, but he's taken so much abuse over the years and survived. He knows all my secrets and has been there for me whenever I needed him. I actually left him at home when I went to college... and then brought him back down with me the very next time I went home, because I missed him so much.
But if the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act had been in effect back then, Bear and I probably would never have been given the chance to become the best of friends.
I think the only time I've ever written to a Congressman or Senator might have been in high school -- I'm not positive -- and a few weeks ago, when I wrote to request Inauguration tickets. But today I wrote to my Congressman, my Senator and my Senator-elect, and I ask you to please do the same thing.
In its crucial, admirable and necessary efforts to protect children from poisonous products, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act requiring manufacturers of items for children -- everything from toys to furniture to clothing -- to submit their products for extensive, and expensive, third party testing.
The unintended consequence is that thousands of independent American makers of handmade toys, baby blankets, clothing, and the like may very well be forced out of business, because the cost of the testing is so prohibitive. This legislation, which seems to be aimed at large companies importing items from countries like China,* does not take into consideration the sole proprietors and small businesses making safe, high-quality handcrafted items in workshops, cottages and studios across the United States, Canada and Europe.
My artwork is not targeted specifically at children, although parents do bring me a large portion of my business, but the effects could spread far and wide, as craft fairs and the online marketplaces that serve all craftspeople, such as Etsy and ArtFire, take a beating. If they, in turn, go out of business, even those people who do not make items for children may lose their main sales venues.
I don't think a single person is arguing against making sure products are safe for children - in fact I think most of these craftspeople are parents or grandparents themselves, or hope to be, like me, and are making these things because they love children - but if provisions are not made for small businesses and sole proprietors, the unintended consequences could be devastating to the handmade world.
I think it is a terrible shame that legislation that is intended to protect the health of children and babies should also throw another baby – small business owners and craftspeople – out with the bathwater, particularly at a time when our economy needs all the help it can get. At a time when people who are losing their jobs might turn to alternate methods of earning a living, the CPSIA will pull those opportunities right out from under them.
There must be solution: perhaps a way to make it possible for these small makers to document their materials to show they are not dangerous, or perhaps, as the Handmade Toy Alliance suggests, for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to offer free testing for small businesses.
I've sent letters to my Congressman, my Senator and my Senator-elect, and you can find out how to do the same thing, here: Senate and Congress. You can also find out more at the Handmade Toy Alliance, and find a sample letter here. You can also read an open letter written by Etsy, here, and find more information at this activist site.
Please, take a few minutes, and put in a good word for craftspeople. They need you.
* And I certainly don't want to imply that items from China or other countries, and items manufactured or imported by larger companies, are automatically dangerous to children, or that this won't affect large companies whose products are safe, as well. It's just that craftspeople and small businesses have much smaller safety nets, if they have any at all.