Thursday, December 4, 2008

Handmade Toys Facing Extinction

From Dan: I've been writing this post in my head for a while, but the time has come to commit words to pixels.

As a store, we've always been concerned about safety. One of the biggest reasons Millie and I started Peapods was to provide healthier and safer toys than what was available everywhere else. For ten years, I think we've done a pretty good job of that.

But, many of our smallest toymakers are now facing a possibly insurmountable burden imposed by Congress when it passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) this past August. The CPSIA was designed to prevent the problems caused by large China-based manufacturers who failed to control quality and turned 2007 into "The Year of The Recall"

One of the central aspects of the CPSIA is that it mandates third party testing of all children's products. Not just toys--everything from cloth diapers to Barbie Dolls. For large manufacturers, this adds a cost of a few hundred dollars per toy, which is negligible when you're making hundreds of thousands of toys at a time.

For small toy companies, however, the cost can be a lot more serious, especially if you make lots of different toys which will each require testing. Third party laboratories are charging anywhere from $150 for simple wood blocks to $4,000 for a wooden rattle, depending on the toy and the specific standards that apply to it. For some of our toymakers, these costs will put them out of business. These rules go into effect this coming February.

In fact, we have just learned that Selecta Spielzeug, which makes all their toys in Germany from hardwoods finished with beeswax, will cease selling to the Unitied States this month because they cannot afford testing.

Another toymaker that we've carried for ten years wrote to us: "This new law makes it impossible for us to stay in business as our understanding is that on one simple product each color thread, each piece of trim, interfacing and each color of silk must be tested...the cheapest [third party testing] rates we have found are $230 phtalates [per toy] and $35 per lead component. One simple toy was found to have 8 components so each one will cost $35. And we have over 100 other products to test."

Many small toymakers, WAHM diaper makers, etsy crafters, fair trade companies, and small kids clothing companies are just starting to realize what the ramifications of the CPSIA will be.

Truly, we're feeling a bit depressed about all this. We never thought we'd be in a position where we'd be arguing against the regulation of industry. But, this law was simply written without any consideration for small manufacturers, the great majority of whom have exemplary safety records. If this law were applied to food, almost every farmer at the farmer's market would be out of business.

We've been working with other stores and toymakers to argue for improvements to the CPSIA through a new group called The Handmade Toy Alliance. We're hoping that we can persuade Congress and the Consumer Products Safety Commission to make some reasonable accomodations that might save small manufacturers. Please take a moment to visit our site and, if you feel as we do that small toymakers should be protected, click on "How You Can Help" and write a letter to Congress and the CPSC.

Dan and Millie
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