|Wooden you?: Frank Burkhauser says many toymakers are
upset by new restrictions. (photo by Becca Trabin)|
Etsy members and toymakers express frustration over new
by Becca Trabin
Philly artisans worry the federal government will put them out of
The handmade wooden cars that Frank Burkhauser sells in his Pine Street shop
will not poison your children. He’s sure of it.
“It’s wood and some mineral
oils,” says Burkhauser, who owns Spirit of the Artist, a store selling a wide array of
crafts. “I happen to know it’s safe, whether it’s tested or not. It’s wood and finish.
They can eat it if they want.”
Burkhauser’s toys probably won’t appear on a
kids’ menu anytime soon. But he and numerous other Philadelphia artisans are worried
that new federal testing rules designed to protect children will end up forcing them to
give up making toys, bibs, sweaters and other handmade items for children—leaving the
entertainment and clothing of American youth entirely in the hands of big corporations.
“There’s panic in the market already,” Burkhauser says.
panic was created by the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), a federal
law passed last year in the wake of safety scandals involving Chinese–made products. The
act requires that all products created for children—including books, clothes and wooden
toys—undergo testing and certification for toxic substances such as lead and phthalate.
What’s more, the rules apply both to big businesses and the “mompreneurs”
making bibs to sell on Etsy. Mattel can afford to pay $550 to test a toy; for Philly’s
community of knitters, woodworkers and other artisans—as well as the stores, like
Burkhauser’s, that sell their goods—that same cost could be a deal breaker.
“There’s fear in the buyers because the buyers think they’re gonna have to
pull out in the future,” Burkhauser says.
The crafters have already
received one break. Facing an uproar over the requirements, the Consumer Product Safety
Commission has issued a “stay of enforcement,” meaning the new rules—which were set to
go into effect this month—won’t be enforced until Feb. 10, 2010.
leaves the craft community uncertain about what’s next.
“There’s been some
attorneys general who say they intend to enforce the law,” says Kathleen Fasanella,
author of the book The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product
Manufacturing. ”We don’t know how stringent they’re going to be.”
But there is an opportunity to make the law work for everybody, she says,
including consumers. She and many other industry insiders believe that the
responsibility of testing for lead and phthalate should lie with the suppliers of raw
“A lot of suppliers already certify their products, so we would
like to be able to use our vendors’ third–party certifications. And right now, we’re not
allowed to do that, which doesn’t make sense,” Fasanella says.
“If you make
pajamas, you have to comply with flammability rules for kids, and we’re allowed to use
certifications from fabric vendors for flammability. So we’re just saying it makes sense
to do that with lead and phthalate testing as well.”
Even with the stay of
enforcement, nervous chatter about CPSIA was prominent at the recent biannual Buyers
Market of American Craft, hosted at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Wendy Rosen, president of the Buyers Market, is protective of her
“These people are the most organic people on the face of the
earth,” she says. ”We all know that the toys that have been of the greatest concern have
been imported toys.”
Rosen says the fear created by CPSIA has already
damaged the industry.
“In a time of so much fear right now for small
businesses, this is just too much,” she says. “What is the impact of fear and what is
the impact of legislation? Those are two separate things.”
though, was hopeful.
“The point is that consumers need to be protected,”
she says. “It’s not a situation of either/or, where only consumers or only manufacturers
need to be protected. We can make this situation work for everybody.”