In support of work-at-home moms, and other reasons to defeat the CPSIA act

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.

-Visit the Handmade Toy Alliance and check out their proposed changes to the act which make a whole lot of sense, sense being something sorely lacking in congress at times.

-Find your congress person and senators and write a letter like the sample here, particularly if they serve on the consumer protection subcommittee.

-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:

Save Handmade Toys

We’ve created a Save Handmade! resource page as a source of info and breaking news. And a cute button to boot. Want it? Find it here.


48 thoughts on “In support of work-at-home moms, and other reasons to defeat the CPSIA act”

  1. Thank you for calling this to my attention. Although, I admit it feels a little like spinning my wheels and wasting my time, I will follow up and write the letters. This is so sad.“No Child Moves Ahead” pains me literally every school day when I send my bright, inquisitive children off to sit in a classroom where the overwhelmed teacher will be spending so much time trying desperately to get the under-performing kids to learn something that anyone who is even average in the class is left to fend for themselves. Anyone above average? Forget it, just pray they don’t become a behavior problem.I hope someone can see sense and fix this broken policy so we can still buy quality homemade products.

  2. I’m so on fire about this. As you said, keeping harmful chemicals off our kids is one thing. This is a clear attempt at stifling true entrepreneurs. I will forward your post to EVERYONE I KNOW. It’s a lot of people too. YUCK!

  3. Wow. I’m in Canada, and I had no idea. I have a VERY small business of my own selling handmade art by Canadian artists. I don’t think this act would apply to them (especially being in Canada), but I can certainly feel for those whom it’s affecting. I’m going to do what I can to help. Thank you for bringing this to my attention…. Beautiful post, too, by the way….

  4. Huh, I never knew that part of your history. Thanks for sharing, and I’m definitely going to make my voice heard about that.

  5. Aargh, I mean about the CPSIA act.Sorry, my brain is fried from writing brilliant snippets for the Obama transition team’s perusal. 😉

  6. I’m concerned – Cool Mom picks says this affects Canadians and Europeans too, but there’s no info on what Canadians or Europeans can do… can you amend the post with more info?

  7. Ozzy, the rule affects all toys sold in the US. So small manufacturers in other countries will either choose not to sell their toys here any longer, or some which rely so much on US sales will also have trouble staying in business. Obviously our congress can’t legislate for the world. Although it seems at times they’d like to.

  8. Done. My congresswoman is on the committee so I emailed her. I will be contacting our Senators as well.

  9. This is SO upsetting! I hate when the goverment tries to regulat what doesnt need to be reulated. So I have been sending out emails and doing what I can. I just pray they listen to all of us little people!

  10. Thanks for this and for putting it on CMP, Liz. I’ll be heartbroken if I have shut my etsy shop down. I’m not exactly getting rich over there, but I’m proud of every item I make and the income keeps me sane.I’m puzzled as to why the mainstream media hasn’t covered this legislation (from the craftperson’s perspective or otherwise). Hopefully soon, hopefully in time.My letters went out on Monday, as did my emails to friends and family, and my facebook pleas.

  11. Wow, what a story Liz. I can almost see your mom’s creations in front of me. Thanks so much for all that you do.

  12. I never knew this story about your (amazing, kind, lovely) mom. It makes me even happier that I have already emailed everyone I know about this and sent off my letters. This cannot happen to the craftspeople and companies that I have come to love since having my children. And, I hope to see much more national press about this issue soon.

  13. I did this last night in a panic after getting an email from my sister. The news is soooo quiet?I remember last Christmas, when parents were in a panic and many turned to local toy makers and cottage shops to provide safe products for our children. This bill threatens to put these same artisans out of business. Um?I’m stunned.I spend far too much money on etsy. Enough of this nonsense. Everyone, write your letters.

  14. I read this first from you/CMP and haven’t seen any mentions in the mainstream press, not even someone trumpeting that “we’re saving the children” this year by enacting laws.I’m all for making things safe, but things are getting very police-statey. Will head off to the website to add to the petition. After all, I may want to go into business making plush lightsabers someday.

  15. I, too, am disappointed that this hasn’t been forefront in the media. My letter was sent to my congress person yesterday and I can only hope that our voices will be heard and considered.

  16. I wish I could write to a congressman about this, alas I live in the UK. Utter nonsense is what it is.We also have “every child matters” except here it is done on your post code. So really not every child matters only those whose parents have never worked a day in their lives and live on benefits. I kid you not.

  17. Thank you for this info. I’m printing a letter now. Sad. I hope they fix this. I will certainly pass the links on in hopes some of my friends will help too.

  18. What about crafts not intended for child’s play? Would a disclaimer stating that ‘this item is decorative and not intended for use by children’ work?

  19. There is definitely some speculation about labeling items “decorative” but I’m not sure how far that goes. (Sort of how designers got around the flame retardant law by labeling “loungewear, not intended for sleep”I would check the etsy forums for the latest buzz, and there’s a facebook group that just popped up. I’ll update with more info as I get it.

  20. I’m genuinely outraged, but not surprised. Nor should you be. I’m fighting as hard as I know how against crap like this. Please remember what you’re feeling right now when it’s someone else’s ox being gored.

  21. You definitely inspired me to join the movement! Cool Mom Picks is a must read for me everyday because of the focus on small mom businesses and unique hand made items. I hate going somewhere with my daughter and seeing everyone in the same Babies r Us outfit. I always try to make sure she has unique clothes and toys and I just can’t stand the idea of of being forced to buy mass produced items from China.Thanks for letting everyone know!

  22. thanks for your beautiful post. these people picked the wrong women to mess with. we are moms. we protect our creations.i say a big spank and time out for every member of that crew that signed this act and didn’t think about the consequences.thanks to everyone who is taking the time to send letters and help.

  23. Johnathan, I hate to start a fracas here on Liz’s turf, but I feel compelled to clarify how this proposed regulation differs from other proposed safety regulations (like BPA).In all instances, there’s expenses to the manufacturers – be they moms or corporations. Other materials – more costly ones – can be substituted for BPA; compliance is possible for everyone. But under the CPSIA, compliance will be impossible for many manufacturers. That in itself should give the CPSC pause.Plus, the CPSIA will ensure that the costs of compliance are passed on to consumers, and our choices of what to buy and from whom will be greatly limited – in ways far beyond what other safety regulations would entail, and with extremely dubious ROI. That’s what really sticks in my Libertarian craw – we’re all getting screwed by CPSIA, even people who’ve never bought a single handmade item. The only one benefiting here is the CPSC, who gets to hire a ton of people to enforce and monitor compliance.

  24. I work for an organization that produces fine art and craft fairs. We are fighting tooth and nail against this. It would put so many of our toymaker members out of business. It’s just wrong.

  25. I used to buy the cutest dresses for Maya from a street fair vendor around here. I’ll check into this issue, and see what I can do to help. Thanks for the heads up.

  26. Absolutely. I’ve sent my letter. I’ve done so much of my holiday shopping on etsy and I’d be heartbroken to see that dwindle.

  27. Thank you so much for writing about this!! As a custom boutique designer this act will hurt my income as well. We use the money that I make from my hand crochet items to suppliment our income and were hoping to build it as a way to pay off my student loans. Now the way that this Act is written, I will have to stop selling my hand crochet designs after February 10th or crochet only for adults and dolls!!

  28. God bless you for writing such a heartfelt, supportive post. Most moms who started independent design businesses (myself included) did so because of the void in the market for goods that were not made in third-world country sweatshops. We wanted clothing and toys for our children that were original and safe and ethical. We wanted quality.And even though my children were not Made in China, my government is determined to put that label on their backs.

  29. This will definitely put me out of business if something is not done! Thank you for this post. I think I might try writing letters to some of the media too. This seems so unAmerican!

  30. that is so very terrible, i did not know about this before! 🙁i’m in the UK, so i reall don’t know what I can do to help.How really truly terrible.

  31. Thank you for writing so eloquently about this issue which affects so many of us. If we all write our representatives and do everything we can maybe the legislation will be changed. I hope that one day my daughter doesn’t have to write a story about me with as sad an ending as you have written about your mother, all because of bureaucracy.

  32. Yes! The irony of it all is that many of us started our businesses as healthy and responsible alternatives to the chemically laden clothing that comes out of sweatshops. It is still so unbelievable to me that in February I could be out of business.

  33. I just posted a video about Jamie Bird of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Jamie is the inventer and maker of the popular “wet bags” which she manufactures at her homebased business. started the channel on YouTube called “handcraftivist” to showcase the stories of handcrafters, artisans and small businesses that will be affected by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act 2008 as it now stands. You can get to it by going to which is redirected to the channel on YouTube.Or you can go directly to the page by clicking on am looking for leads on TV/radio stations who have reported on the situation or videos made by those who think they will be affected February 10, 2009 when the lead testing mandates go into effect.Please email me athandcraftivist@yahoo.comAnd please check back as more videos on the CPSIA situation are added.Karen

  34. This is just one more way to keep the American people down. In a time when so many people have lost their jobs and are turning to making handmade items to stay afloat, this is just ridiculous. I am so there with you on this. Our government just makes things harder and harder for us every day.

  35. Liz,Thanks so much for your post! As you know, this will really affect my business. Either I’ll have to pull out of all kids shops (online and in store), get rid of some products, and market others as storage or unfornturately, I’ll have to shut down. It’s a huge kick in the gut after working so hard and putting so much time and effort into making sure I’m using the right wood, non-toxic paints, low voc polys, etc. I really appreciate (as does my family) your support and what you and Kristen have done to make people aware of this new ruling. I’m keeping my fingers crossed something changes come February. Thanks for everything! If it still stands as is in February, I’ll send you an honorary “I’m a law breaker – I have an illegal toy box” certificate that you can proudly display. Happy Holidays,Kiersten

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