Homogeneous Marketplace

That’s what bugs me the most about all the regulatory changes in the last 10 years. They’re making a more homogeneous marketplace.

What do I mean? It obviously only makes sense for companies to get into compliance products that are selling well enough to justify the additional expense (actually, products that they think will continue to sell well enough once the price goes up to account for the expense of compliance). This means companies – particularly smaller ones – will be cutting their less profitable product lines in favor of their most profitable product lines.

One could argue that this is just good business sense, as well – except that the regulatory environment discourages companies from taking risks on new products.

What we’re going to end up with is a marketplace full of only what’s most popular right now – wraps, mei tais, and ring slings – with less popular carriers available from an ever-decreasing number of makers.

As an example: I’ve kept Podegis available as custom-made items for the last 8 years, since I sold my last instock Pod. They’re not super popular. But they are a niche product. Some people REALLY like them. The last Pod I made was for a customer who contacted me with this: “I’m so happy I found you!! I wore out my first Podegi a few months ago and have been looking for a replacement, but so few people make them! I love my Podegis and prefer them to any other carrier, and I was sad thinking I might not be able to replace the one I wore out.” (OK, that’s a paraphrase, I didn’t actually keep the email.)

But now, because it doesn’t make any kind of sense to shell out the money to bring Pods into compliance with ASTM regulations, since I sell about 2 a year, I’m dropping them from my product line-up.

Same thing with pouches (which you can still get on our clearance page). They’ve fallen out of favor. But many people still love them, and still more people love them once they have a chance to try them. But because they’ve been unpopular for the last 2-3 years, I don’t sell enough to justify the cost of compliance. So I’m dropping them.

And because of the huge expense involved in compliance before I could ever bring them back to the market again, I’m not likely to ever be able to offer pouches again.

And most smaller makers are in the same boat. Sure, if you’re pulling in tens of thousands of dollars a year like the “big name” brands are, you can take a risk on a product that might be less popular. (Though in the babywearing world, most of the big name brands aren’t taking risks, either.) But if you’re pulling in considerably less than that, risking $500 on a new product is… well, it’s risky.

So I, and countless others, are becoming stores that sell the same three products: Wraps, Mei Tais, and Ring Slings. (Most stores add SSCs to that list, but I don’t generally like them so I don’t sell them.)

It’s also creating a homogeneous marketplace in that it limits customization. Do you want your custom Mei Tai with a slightly shorter body? Slightly wider body? Contoured body? You want the waistband wider? Narrower? Seat darts? Too bad. Because each of these modifications changes the relationship of the carrier to the baby and the wearer, they’re changes that would require another round of testing at the lab. ($500.)

And again, while larger businesses with a greater volume are going to be testing each of these variables, smaller businesses are forced to either cut these options or continue to offer them and hope they don’t get “caught.”

The end result is fewer choices for you, the consumer.

And I’m not convinced the end result is actually going to be safer carriers. This process would definitely have weeded out the terrible Infantino bag carriers that killed several babies. But it will NOT be addressing the many hundreds of small sellers who either don’t know or don’t care about the new regulations. I’ve personally talked to a few babywearing makers who have told me that they’re aware that there are regulations, but they haven’t bought them and they don’t intend to. They just assume their carriers are safe and they tell their customers they’re safe. One actually advertises that their carriers are in compliance – and how is the consumer to know the difference?

Less choice, no better safety. Sounds great.

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Wrap Conversion Deadline Approaching – is there hope?

Here are my current thoughts on the future of wrap conversions at Wallypop.

1) Wrap conversion Mei Tais using new wraps. I can still do this, sort of. Current industry thinking is that converters need to have each brand/weave tested separately, but the final decision rests with each converter. THIS converter doesn’t see how she can realistically make a decent argument that she does NOT have to test each brand/weave separately, and until the CPSC issues further guidance (which we’ve asked for), I’m following that guideline. So, I will be converting a new Girasol wrap to a standard mei tai with wrap straps and sending it in to the lab for testing. I’m *not* doing this right away – my first priority is to get my regular instock fabric MTs tested/passed. Once I’ve finished the process with a regular fabric MT, I’ll proceed with the wrap conversion. (The MTs could fail the test for any number of reasons. I’m not concerned about the structural integrity, but worry that they’ll fail over my having overlooked some minute detail about labeling or packaging. So I’m going to get ONE carrier through the process before sending in the rest.)

2) Wrap conversion Mei Tais using used wraps with wrap straps. No. After September, no. Not even as a favor.

3) Wrap conversion Mei Tais using used wraps with regular MT straps. For the last year I’ve been saying that I’ll have to stop conversions with used wraps entirely. Recently, though, I’ve started to think differently. For my regular instock fabric MTs, I’m changing my method somewhat – I’m making all of the MTs (from September on out) with two layers of canvas throughout – the “base” of the MT will be a two-layered canvas carrier with two layers of canvas straps. That’s what’s going to pass the testing at the lab. Then ADDING more layers to that carrier will NOT, in my opinion, require additional testing, since I’m adding to, not taking away. So the base carrier, the plain canvas, will be inside every MT that I make. Then I can add decorative cottons or canvas or silk or whatever else ON TOP OF that layer. That’s already basically what I do, but I use twill at the present time. Canvas is just a bit sturdier, and my twill prices have doubled in the last decade, making canvas a more appealing choice on all fronts.  I don’t see how a used wrap would differ from any other fabric in this particular application, as it would not affect the underlying structure. At the present time, I make the straps on WCMTs with JUST the wrap material, and with just one layer of canvas inside – this would change so that all WCMTs would have two layers of canvas throughout. But I should still be able to do it, legally. 🙂  Yay!   *edited to add: there will be significantly fewer options available. Anything that affects the relationship of the carrier to the wearer will have to be tested separately, such as different waistbands or seat darts. I won’t be able to offer these options until I have them tested to the tune of $400 each. I won’t be offering some of those options ever again, and I won’t be offering some right away but may add them later.

4) Wrap conversion ring slings. These are still OK for the time being. The ASTM standard for ring slings is in the review period, meaning we’re still realistically 6 months or more away from compliance being mandatory. Once we pass the compliance period for this standard, wrap conversion ring slings using USED wraps will no longer be legal (for anyone). Wrap conversion ring slings using new wraps will be OK. I will, just as with MTs, be starting with the Girasol wraps I carry and will be converting those. If those do well, I’m planning to add to the wrap brands/weaves I carry.

The Future of Wrap Conversions

This is another fun regulatory topic. But it will impact YOU directly IF you want your wrap turned into a ring sling, mei tai, onbu, or other carrier.

New regulations, which you’ll have PLENTY of opportunity to read about on this blog in the coming months, are going to be going into effect later this year. Actually, the regulation affecting Mei Tais and other similar carriers is already mandatory and the 6 month compliance period expires in September. The regulation affecting wraps and ring slings will become mandatory in a few months. The babywearing industry is now going to be regulated by ASTM standards. (ASTM is an independent, private company that writes standards for various industries.)

These new standards require a new level of testing for all babywearing products. CPSIA requires testing for lead (and, for some products, phthalates), tracking information for all products, registration cards for baby carriers, and certain information on labels. ASTM will require testing for safety and a whole new set of labels. Those of you who have bought certain brands of carriers recently may have noticed the giant new tags with pictures of people showing how to wear them – those are the tags required by ASTM.

The testing that’s required must be done on every carrier that’s substantially different or made from different materials. (As an example, I’ll likely need to change my ring slings to only one or two types of fabric – probably a linen/cotton blend and a light cotton twill, from only one mill. Then I’ll have to test a ring sling made from each of those fabrics, since they’re different, but not each color of each fabric. I’ll talk more about upcoming changes to Wallypop’s product lineup in a future blog.) Others in the babywearing industry are working to clarify what this means exactly in terms of deciding what’s substantially different, particularly as it relates to wrap conversions. However, the testing is destructive (and, might I add, expensive). It also requires a separate carrier be tested for each possible carrying position.

What this ultimately means is that USED wraps will no longer be able to be legally made into conversion carriers.

Why? Essentially, there’s no way to account for the wear and tear on the wrap. The manufacturer (converter) will have no way to be assured that the used wrap is not substantially different from an identical new wrap that has passed the testing. Since baby carriers must be tested for adherence to the standard in order to be legally sold, there’s just no way to comply in the case of conversion carriers from used wraps.

What does this mean for YOU? We anticipate the new standard being made mandatory yet this year. If you’ve been contemplating having your wrap made into a conversion carrier of any sort, you might want to do that sooner rather than later.

 

NEW wraps will still be OK, but converters will face a large compliance expense associated with the testing that’s required. Current guidance from the CPSC’s small business ombudsman is that different brands of wraps, different weaves of wraps, and different fibers of wraps are all considered different enough to require separate testing. (In addition, carriers with different strap styles – like wrap straps or narrower straps, carriers with different body styles – like infant or toddler, etc. will all need to be tested separately. I would not be surprised if this ASTM regulation shuts many smaller converters entirely out of the market. 😦

 

I need to note that, intellectually, I support these regulations. Assuming that people who make baby carriers care about compliance and care about babies, it should help make sure that the carriers being sold are safe. That they won’t tear, that the fasteners won’t slip, etc. Practically speaking, considering that well over half of the people currently making baby products including carriers wholly ignore all the OTHER laws they’re supposed to be following, I’m not too confident that, in the real world, this will truly make things safer. Hopefully savvy consumers will know to start making sure that the carriers they buy are ASTM-compliant, but there’s no practical way for consumers to really and truly know if they are. If someone’s not following the part of the law that requires safety testing by a third party lab, what’s to stop them from not following the part of the law that says you can’t lie about compliance?

In the meantime, this is just another giant hurdle making it harder for smaller players like Wallypop. 😦  Another set of regulations slowly pushing our marketplace to one that is dominated by large businesses and that excludes in-home, mom-and-pop operations.

Flame Retardant Sleepwear for Children

A question posed by a fellow WAHM on an industry discussion board (namely, “a customer just asked me if my diapers conform to the flame retardant guidelines – what?”) got me curious about the history of these regulations.

(note: no, diapers are not required to be flame retardant.)

I’ve known that children’s pajamas have to be either flame-retardant or tight-fitting, and that many people (myself included) don’t relish the idea of the flame-retardant chemicals rubbing on their kids’ skin all night. (if we purchase commercial pjs, we get the tight-fitting ones.)

I also know that many WAHM’s label their items as “loungewear” in an attempt to exempt themselves from the children’s sleepwear rules, but was interested to find that the law defines “children’s sleepwear” as “any article of clothing, such as
a nightgown, pajama, robe or loungewear, that is sized above 9 months and up to size 14 and that is intended to be worn primarily for sleeping or activities related to sleeping.” The Commission makes a determination based on whether the item is suitable for sleeping, and whether it’s likely that it will be used for sleeping, not on whether it’s labeled as being for sleeping. (Which seems to be how they do things, and I support their way of handling this. The most common suggestion after CPSIA came out was to just label my items as being for dolls instead of for babies. This is completely dishonest, and most consumers would be appalled if they discovered that any large company was skirting regulations by mislabeling products.)

And though I’ve always joked that I find it unlikely that my cosleeping children will spontaneously combust, and thus nonflammable garments are not needed (we all go to sleep at the same time and my children nap in whatever room I’m in, so they’re never sleeping alone), I found while I was researching this that one of the problems that this regulation was trying to solve was children’s clothing starting on fire while they played near a fireplace. (also not a danger my children currently face, as our fireplace is a bigger fire hazard than flammable clothes, lol.)  I can also readily acknowledge and recognize that MOST children in the US do NOT sleep with their parents, but sleep alone in their own rooms at night.

This page has an interesting collection of information about the regulations, as well, including that fire is the third leading cause of accidental death. I will say that I’m not a crazy huge fan of the chemicals used in pajamas, but the law DOES give parents an option – tight-fitting garments – and of course there is always the option of not wearing actual pajamas at all, but simply dressing your children in sweatpants and a sweatshirt at bedtime.

Unlike other regulations I could name *cough* CPSIA *cough* the regulation on children’s sleepwear really does seem like it’s at least fairly likely to be achieving its intended goal – protect children from the very real risk of catching on fire during the hours of the day when they’re most likely to be a fair distance from their caregivers.

CPSIA Amendment

Congress passed a CPSIA amendment earlier this month (finally, and yay)! Fortunately, they passed the House version and not the Senate version! (My Senator, Grassley, had been telling me that they were working on an amendment and it would address many of my concerns, and I kept reading the Senate version and wondering what the heck he was talking about.)

I’ve been waiting to hear from a few industry associations before commenting too much on it, just to make sure my impressions of the amendment are in keeping with what other people seem to think, too. While I’m still waiting to hear from the Real Diaper Industry Association (no surprise), I’ve now had an opportunity to read the thoughts of the Handmade Toy Alliance, the JPMA, and the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance.

The main thing I’ve been hearing from various people is that there’s an exemption for small batch manufacturers from the testing requirements. That is not actually in the law. The law does contain a provision that the CPSC must investigate ways to allow small batch manufacturers to comply without breaking the bank; barring that, they may allow an exemption to small batch manufacturers (who would then have to register with CPSC to take advantage of the exemption). So, that’s good news, but only sort of good news. Personally, I’m still rooting for component testing.

(Plus, small batch manufacturers are defined as making under $1 million per year, so they’re still talking about what is affordable to someone making, you know, many many times over what I’m making per year. Because, no, I’m not even close to $1 million.)

Here are a few good links to check out:

http://www.toyassociation.org/AM/Template.cfm?Section=CPSIA&CONTENTID=16083&TEMPLATE=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm

http://www.jpma.org/content/press/news/cpsia-amendment-passes-both-chambers

 

The other good news:

– categorical exemptions for certain products like ATVs and dirt bikes.

– exemptions for violations of the lead limit if the lead is necessary for the product to function. (As is the case with the lead in children’s bikes, for example. From what I’ve read from that industry, if you take the lead out of the spokes of wheels, the wheels will collapse and injure the child.)

– exemption for used children’s products (except, I believe, in the case of a resale shop, where the products are purchased for the purpose of reselling).

– application of future lowered lead limits only prospectively, rather than retroactively.

Bizarrely, I don’t think there is still anything that exempts Aunt Suzie from the law. You know, Aunt Suzie knits your newborn a hat. Technically, that hat is subject to CPSIA compliance. Ridiculous, right? Clearly not intended. But an example of the crap that goes on in Congress, where apparently NOBODY bothers to read things before passing them, and a majority of people are lacking sufficient brain cells.