January 8, 2009

Bridge over troubled water...,

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!


Kitty said...

Really interesting post, Amy. I'm not quite sure HOW the powers that be are going to implement this law. Crafters have been making 'stuff' for their kids forever - are we not allowed to do that anymore? If someone asks me to make them a sock monkey, what do I do? Do we have to put 'buy at your own risk' on items - sounds like that's not even an option. It's all a bit mad really isn't it? All of us who are parents know that some toys are rather badly made - I know I've stitched up more than a few in my time. It seems mad to substitute a crafters love of his/her craft, and often the use of real quality materials, for the kind of horrid, synthetic 'stuff' one can get in shops, just because the company that makes said horrid synthetic 'stuff' can afford all the testing procedures!

Bonkers! x

sesga loves 1950s said...

Im just starting out in the craft world and I was hoping to start selling ,I live in the UK so will this affect us too ?
It so Wrong ,they have just made this up as a quick fix no one has actually thought it through .
Handmade stuff is always made with Love and care .Rubish toys that can afford this testing still could be dangerous!! .I understand that we need to keep our kids safe but surly thats up to the Mum who is buying for her child.
I hope this law can be cancelled or something or Amended in some way .
Love from sesga x


lucykate crafts... said...

sesga - i've emailed this reply to you too but am also posting it here in the comments for others to read.

"i think it will affect crafters here in the uk by restricting what you can sell to the usa, and given that sites like etsy are based in the usa, those restrictions cover a large percentage of any potential market. this has all come about after the larger toy manufacturers cut corners with their materials and a large quantity on toys were recalled due to, in particular, high levels of lead in paints used. the large manufacturers made the mistake, but it's the crafting world thats going to pay the price!

as with any regulations, as kitty mentions in her comment, enforcing them is always an issue, but etsy does make a rather concentrated resource for anyone wishing to police it unfortunately! "

Yarni Gras! said...

So many things pop into my head:
in the 1970's when crafts were booming, people just went to craft fairs. Will you be forced to give up the web and go back to that? And if so, are they going to send little craft fair police out to check on you?
Also, what about those of us who DON'T SELL their toys but crochet toys and blankets, etc as baby shower gifts and the like?
It sounds an awful lot like SOMEONE is trying to corner the very profitable market on toys in the USA and abroad.....not surprised....

Laura said...

And they simply seem to take out the collector who might not have children, but enjoy items like your handmade softies. What a bummer for everyone involved. I hope Etsy can figure some way around it.

Gina said...

This sounds like an absolute minefield, that at the end of the day is going to hit all the wrong people. Thanks for highlighting the issues so well Amy.

monda-loves said...

This is a tough one isn't it.
I make no claims that the softies I make meet strict toy regulations, because at the end of the day, they are one off, individually crafted items, and that they probably don't conform makes them unique, a whole lot less mass market and therefore more appealing in my book.
If I was to deconstruct one of my softies, I would have in front of me what amounts to the ingredients for clothing and bedding - which can be sold anywhere, and we all know the quality of clothing and bedding can vary quite dramatically depending on where you shop, yet there don't appear to be any similar restrictions on these items.

This new US toy rule is way too general. It hasn't been properly thought out, and I fear the impact will be huge on all sides of the pond. I do agree with Kitty though - how can this be enforced amongst the softie makers/crafters out there?


ethel and edna's tearoom said...

Nightmare!!! As others have said though who will police the law, how will it be done and, most importantly, what are the penalties if they find you selling untested stuff?
If they don't police it (and surely 'they' can't watch every single crafter, then the only way anyone will be prosecuted is if they make a substandard product which causes damage. If we carry on making high quality, well finished goods is it worth the risk? (As I say I don't know what the penalties are if you are caught out.)
As far as adult collectors of plushies and dolls are concerned could you not create a collectors club and, rather than charge for each new item prodcued, charge a subscription fee to the club which includes a set number of 'free' plushies. dolls, etc???
Oh it's soooo frustrating and annoying. All this grief and upset because one of the biggest manufacturers in the world cut corners to make more mega-bucks, while we sit at home trying to eke out an existence. China has a lot to answer for...

Super Monkey said...

It is a tough one. I agree that the US law has been hastily planned and the impact on crafters not properly thought through. At least they are now making concessions for natural materials, which is a start.

In Australia we have a similar law to the British Safety Standard for toys. Again the standard is not free, and covers a lot of areas but basically, if it looks like a toy it needs resting. I have had the toys I sell tested, for my own piece if mind as much as anything ( and probably still haven't recovered the costs). To cover variations in the product I was able to send in a sample for testing and say -the toys will be made from these materials, using these construction methods, and that was okay. I had to comply for my publiclyabity insurance as well. I would imagine that 99% of handmade toys sold in Australia have not been tested and no one is policing it - there has to be a complaint about your toy to the relevant authority who then investigates.

willywagtail said...

Your beautiful work would certainly translate well into applique

Mearaid said...

Would you be able to get around this by saying this is not a toy and not intended for children?

tillyboo said...

Hmm ... I haven't read all the replies but feel compelled to join in. I brought this up at this time last year after having a meeting with my local Trading Standards, do you remember my ramble about it ? It caused quite some interest. Basically, my TS officer completely put me off making my softies as she said that I should get them tested etc. I contacted a testing house and it proved to be a completely unviable option. Also, she told me that it was just not good enough to put 'Not suitable for children' etc. I contacted all the relevant bodies and paid out for the Toy Safety Standards - but in the end decided it just wasn't worth all the hassle. I spent a HUGE amount of time and effort in researching this issue & I got really cross about it. My TS officer was a recently qualified Law Graduate so I took it that she really knew her onions.
I feel sorry for fellow crafters who make such lovely softies and toys etc. It's quite clear that a large percentage of handmade stuff is so much better quality than some mass produced rubbish.
I'll follow this with interest.

Sarah Campbell said...

Dear LKC
A great post which clearly identifies this tricky and perplexing area. I have been through the panic, investigations and am now awaiting the results of all sorts of nasty procedures afflicted upon my little tweedies. Having swallowed my fear and spoken at length with the testing scientists I have actually learnt that a) the CE testing process does not have to be as expensive as I initially thought...£325 to test 6 designs and b) attachments such as buttons are not necessarily no go! As long as they stay fixed in a pull test they can pass.
I will be writing up a post about all the results when they come through, fingers crossed, but if you want to read about the journey to get to this place then check out the various posts on my blog.

xx Sarah

Fauna said...

They are so cute! :)

Helena said...

Goodness! I thought the EU was bad in bringing in sweeping big rules and regs! I hope a loophole can be found. I love handmade and/or one of a kind things. They are always a much nicer gift. I'm sure if a parent is buying a toy from somewhere like Etsy, that means they will consider it's materials, safety etc anyway? They would probably pay more attention to its construction there than if they were picking something up in a shop. Don't you think???