When I was a brooding tween back around 1980, my mother had her own children’s software company. She was not some computer visionary (sad to say, no trust fund for me). Rather, “software” used to be a term for things that were actually soft – pillows, soft sculpture, and of course, children’s clothing.
She was divorced, fairly broke, and this was her attempt to follow a dream. She was 37.
I remember the pride of seeing the most beautiful little things emerge from the attic which served as a sewing room and design studio: Creamy velour playsuits, satin-appliquéd buntings (hey, it was the 70’s) lace Christening dresses so spectacular that they appeared in the Smithsonian catalog. What was most incredible to me was that inside each tiny collar lay a satin label with my very own mother’s name. It was like magic.
Of course it wasn’t all creativity and happiness and lovely little ribbons to steal for craft projects. As the company grew bigger and orders started coming in from Neiman Marcus and Saks, my mother hired several women to help her cut and sew. My mother being, well, my mother, paid them nicely and allowed them to bring their children to work.
One of them was a preschooler named Eric with a shock of black hair, chocolate milk skin, and an attitude problem of satanic proportions. He spent as much time as possible drawing on our walls with marker, ripping my beloved sticker collection off my bedroom door, tearing pages out of my books, and oddly, eating the bark off the trees in our front yard. His mission in life was to torment me. And tormented I was.
If he had been run over by the nearest late model station wagon cruising up our suburban street I would not have shed a tear.
Let’s just say I was not the most supportive daughter in all the land in part because of him. I didn’t like feeling our home was invaded by strangers. I didn’t like seeing all these weird lunches in our refrigerator from the Columbian seamstresses. I didn’t appreciate how my mother spent hours up in the attic, although I never would have let on to such a thing.
However while I bitched and brooded and whined at home, at school I boasted about my mother’s business. It’s in the Smithsonian Catalog, you know. The Smithsonian? As in…you know, that museum in Washington with the ruby slippers? That’s a REALLY BIG DEAL. I told me friends about the bolts of fabric in the attic and how so many of them arrived each week that the UPS guy knew our name and let us take rides down our hill in his open-doored brown truck.
Indeed I told everyone about my mom’s own name printed in red in those teeny little satin labels worn by babies everywhere.
And then the government. Oh, the government. It would seem that it got all wacky about flame-retardant chemicals and decided that they should be in all kinds of baby clothes despite the fact that we now know that they may have caused more issues than any actual fires. My mother couldn’t afford to comply. On top of that, she was being undercut by the big companies who were sending off their patterns to be cut and sewn in other countries for less than minimum wage. That’s not how she wanted to work. But as the department stores insisted on lower wholesale prices and larger orders, there was no other option.
Well, there was one.
She went out of business.
No doubt this is why I’m passionate about what I do at Cool Mom Picks and how we help small businesses, and particularly those run by moms, to get the word out about the beautiful items they make with love and care and attention.
This is also why I am simply crushed to learn about the new Consumer Product Safety Commission act that is going to put small toymakers and clothing designers out of business.
I have never received so many letters at Cool Mom Picks as I have since we posted about the act – a designer who was able to stay home with her child for the first time last year because she earned enough through her business after paying the $5300 in insurance already required. A toymaker who will have to spend $4000 per toy to comply with the regulations, when his toys only sell for a few dollars.
I’m all for requiring lead-paint testing and banning Phthalates and BPA and other chemicals from our children’s products. I’m all for protecting kids in reasonable ways. But this Consumer Products Safety Improvement Act is about as well-considered as No Child Left Behind.
To require such prohibitively expensive third-party testing and labeling on products that are already inherently safe (natural wood train sets finished with beeswax are not made with lead paint, duh) is not thinking this whole thing through.
Let me be clear:
If this act goes into effect in 63 days, as is, it will make handmade toys and children’s items illegal.
So if you’ve ever bought a cute pair of ribbon barrettes for your daughter at a craft show; if you’ve ever discovered the most beautiful handmade dolls for your kids that didn’t have plastic faces and nylon hair; if you have a thing for those hand-whittled wooden toys passed down from your grandparents; if you’ve ever thought there was value in buying items from small businesses and local artists with more integrity in their crafts than any big-ass manufacturer shipping all their crap off to China…
please consider joining me in taking action.
-Send a letter directly to the CPSC.
-Spread the word to everyone you know who cares about helping the little guy, particular in today’s economy.
This ones for all the moms. Mostly mine.
Edited to add: