Thank you for all the well wishes for my squashed fingers, apart from one lumpy bruise they are all now recovered. Today is a work day for me, and it has begun tinged with a little sadness. Over christmas, I spent some time reading up on what is going on regarding new guidelines coming into play in February covering the sale and manufacture of toys to, from and within the USA. In a nutshell, this means that anyone who makes a toy or any other item deemed suitable for a child which they are planning on selling, will have to submit that item for expensive, rigorous product testing. The problem is, this new act makes no differentiation between products which are mass produced by a large company, and products which are handmade by a sole trader.
It also covers, as do current UK safety standards, that it is not enough to label an item as 'not a toy'. If it looks like a toy, feels like a toy, could be played with as a toy, then it is a toy.
The question now is, should we, and how do we try and save handmade?
I have two points of view on this, the parent in me feels, that there indeed need to be some safety guidelines in place for any product aimed at children, but the designer in me feels that these guidelines need to bear in mind the distinct nature of handmade.
Here in the UK, there have been similar guidelines in place for some time. To manufacture and sell a toy, the item technically needs to have a CE mark on it which requires product testing similar to those the CPSIA want to bring in across the pond. The difference here seems to be that this testing is a fair bit cheaper in the UK. But on the flip side, UK products are also required to conform with the British Toy Safety Standard (BS EN 71), online information on this standard is limited, a hard copy may need to be purchased (although, you may be lucky and find one in your local library), however, there are a number of different areas making up this standard (flammability, chemical compounds, small parts, durability), and before you know it, you can have spent up to £1,000 just getting hold of all the relevant information. The most immediate source here is your local Trading Standards office.
So, as of February 10th, what will the impact be? Etsy have joined the debate as it will affect a large percentage of sellers making anything from knitted baby hats & mittens, to wooden building blocks. Naturally, I am most concerned for the future softies, I'm sad that, many talented, inspiring crafters and designers may be backed into a corner. The cost of product testing makes it not viable for items made and sold in small quantities, and what happens with in cases where every item made is an individual one off piece? We can all, in theory anyway, still continue to create as normal, but sell?, probably not.
One thing all this has done for me is to clear up what was a huge grey area regarding UK toy safety standards, the information I have read scratches the itch I knew was there, but have been, to a certain extent, avoiding. Maybe the answer lies in finding a bridge over these troubled waters?. I listened to this podcast yesterday and it brought the word 'diversify' very much into the forefront of my mind. I'd be very interested in your views and current experiences on this subject as I suspect, given the size of the crafty blogospere, the effects will become global.
Update - Etsy have just posted some information to say that the voices of crafts people are being heard, and possible exemptions are now being discussed for handmade goods, a little light at the end of the tunnel!