Category Archives: Regulation

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 update

Received this today from the Real Diaper Industry Association:

When you are setting your priorities, sometimes to you need to ask, “What is the one thing without which nothing else matters?” For many in the cloth diaper industry right now, that one thing is CPSIA. If there is no amendment passed to CPSIA, many of our manufacturers will not be able to afford compliance despite the fact that they can prove that their products are lead-free. Without this amendment, many of our members will go out of business. Without this change, getting funding or networking with colleagues just doesn’t matter.

RDIA Associate Member Handmade Toy Alliance has been pouring volunteer time into lobbying legislators to get the changes to CPSIA that small-batch manufacturers need. Right now, an amendment is in markup in the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the House of Representatives. Right now, we do not have bipartisan support for the amendment. Please read the full story below, and please contact your Congressional Representative to let them know why this amendment is important to save small businesses.

 

And then this is quoting from the Handmade Toy Alliance:

The Handmade Toy Alliance has worked three long years to get to this point. Namely, getting a change to the Consumer Product Safety Improvment Act (CPSIA) that will stem the tide of tainted toys, almost all of which are imported, without imposing a regulatory environment on small, ethical manufacturers and crafters that will literally drive them out of business with red tape.
<snip>
How can you help?
A CPSIA amendment is currently in mark up in the Committee of Energy and Commerce in the House of Representatives. This amendment should be presented for a vote in this committee soon but surprisingly, despite all the rhetoric about supporting Main Street, not a single Democrat has voiced support. (emphasis mine) If this does not change, thousands of small businesses stand to be sacrificed at the alter of partisan politics.

 

Is your congressman on the Committee that’s considering this amendment? Here’s the full article from the HTA, which includes a list of who is on the Committee.

 

Letters to my Congressmen

This is going out tomorrow to Harkin, Grassley, and Boswell. The contest is on: whose letter will have the least to do with the issue at hand? My guess is Boswell; he rarely disappoints in this regard.

 

Dear (whomever),

My name is Sarah Reid, I live in Des Moines and am a constituent. I own Wallypop: Supporting a Natural Lifestyle, which is a microbusiness operated from my home. I make cloth diapers, baby carriers, and reusable household and personal items and sell them all over the state, the country, and the world.

I have written to you in the past about CPSIA, and my grave concerns over its implementation. This subject is my top priority as a business owner - it is a tremendous burden on my small business.  Enacted into law in 2008 to improve toy safety, the law's complexity and over-reaching regulatory provisions are causing significant economic damage that may result in driving my company and other small businesses in this industry out of business while doing little to improve product safety.  Congress is currently considering amendments to improve the CPSIA and I urge you to support these changes designed to bring common sense back to our product safety laws and to keep American small businesses in business.

I’m also concerned about the CPSC’s stance on babywearing.  Baby Carrier Industry Alliance (BCIA) members are moms and dads as well as leaders in their industry, whose top priority is the healthy development and safety of babies and toddlers. Millions of Americans have embraced babywearing as safe, practical, comfortable and convenient.  While our members support CPSC efforts to educate consumers about proper safe babywearing techniques,   CPSC's communication with our members over the past year make us fear that the agency will undertake unwarranted unilateral action against our products.  The agency's public statements regarding babywearing (using a soft carrier) are overly broad, which may unnecessarily confuse consumers and damage the thousands of small businesses that make up the babywearing industry.

I seek your support in urging CPSC to work with the babywearing industry to educate consumers about proper babywearing techniques. BCIA is currently developing a babywearing safety education program with Health Canada and we hope to do the same with CPSC.  Please encourage CPSC Chairman Inez Tennenbaum to work with BCIA on a similar program in the US.

For the past 3 years US baby sling manufacturers have been working with the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM International) to initiate the nation’s first voluntary safety standard for sling-style carriers. The standard, which will be finalized in early 2011, will join standards for cribs, strollers, hand-held infant carriers (car seats), bouncer seats, play yards and
other nursery products as an effective way to protect the public from unsafe products.

Baby slings are the optimal place for babies to spend time safely developing and bonding with parents in a nurturing environment. Research shows that this close caregiver attachment and stimulating, safe environment form a critical part of early childhood development. If you would like more information on this issue, I would be happy to provide details.

I look forward to working with you.

Draft proposal to extend CPSIA testing requirement stay to Sept 14

Checking my blog reader this morning, and had a nice surprise from yesterday. The CPSC released a draft proposal to extend the stay of enforcement on the lead testing and certification requirements to September. In the past, they’ve extended for a full year, so this briefer extension suggests they might be planning to take some sort of action (oh, please let it be component testing) in September.

It’s just a draft, and has not been approved, so is not official, but I can’t imagine it not being approved. This is good news, at least in the short term!

Bad Math

So, today, instead of processing orders, instead of sewing the 4 dozen fitteds that are awaiting some attention, instead of playing with my kids… I’m doing math. Bad math.

Part of CPSIA includes a provision requiring product registration cards to be attached to each and every baby carrier that is sold, because they are now labeled “durable nursery products.” Baby carriers are the only fabric item to be labeled as such, and the sudden change in categorization of baby carriers was, in fact, the first sign the industry had that bad, bad things were coming.

So the product registration rules go into effect in December. I have to label each carrier with the model name and number (so, yes, each carrier will have a No Duh label on it, saying “Ring Sling” or “Wrap”). This brings the total number of labels on each carrier, required by law, to 4. Give it a few months and I’ll be up to 5. Soon, your carriers will be more label than carrier. You’ll look like an Indy driver, barely able to see the carrier under all the labels.

I also have to include Postage Paid registration cards. Did you know that I can pull up the names and contact information of everyone who’s bought a baby carrier from me since I opened? So the product registration cards seem like a waste of money and paper.

The math is figuring out exactly HOW much money. There’s the additional cost of the label. This label isn’t so bad, but the label that’s coming will be a doozy, requiring me to hire an artist and find someone to custom screenprint large labels with pictures, which is MUCH more expensive than the plain-Jane labels I currently use. (And why do I use such boring labels? It’s CHEAP! I don’t want to charge you more for your products just so I can have a pretty label. That’s ridiculous.)

And then there’s the cost of printing the tear-off postcards, and paying for the postage. The problem comes when I figure in that probably only a very few customers will bother to return them. A permit to send business reply mail is $185. Then there’s the postage for each card that comes in.

The bad math, and I hate to say this, but I don’t think I can absorb the cost of this regulation. I’ve already been absorbing higher materials costs as I have switched to suppliers who can guarantee compliance with the lead testing parts of CPSIA. I just don’t think I can absorb these. Bad, bad math.

Being a downer

“you’re such a downer.” I’ve been accused of it before. And again today. I’m a downer on the CPSIA thing. For about two weeks, I’ve noticed many, many new businesses – mostly local – making small items for children. I’m guessing at least 75% either don’t know about CPSIA or don’t think it applies to them. And so I have to go ruining everything by being a big downer and telling them.

Why does it even matter to me? This question was asked of me recently. I’ll tell you.

I guess I could just live and let live. Maybe they’ll never get caught, and maybe their products will never hurt anybody. Maybe. I mean, if I saw a house burning and saw a person inside, unaware of the fire, I could just walk by – they’ll probably notice and get out on time, right?

But, then again. Maybe the State (in charge of enforcement of CPSIA) will see them as the low-hanging fruit that’s easy to bust. They are no doubt looking for smaller businesses who will be easy to make examples of – much like when the Feds busted a few college students for illegal downloads. Maybe they don’t realize that some of their items might actually contain banned substances, and testing would show that.

Actually, in some ways, the more businesses there are who are not even trying to comply, the less likely my own business will be the recipient of government scrutiny. Maybe I should even encourage them to be uncompliant?

But noncompliance, if caught, would be bad, beyond bad. Families could lose everything. They could face jail time. They could spend years and thousands of dollars fighting in court.

And there’s also the basic issue that, if you’re going to have a business, you need to take a few basic steps first, and among those steps is figuring out what laws affect you and how you can comply. (I wrote an article on this very topic over at boulevard designs.)

Argh. CPSC’s Final Rule on Baby Slings

So… The CPSC has issued the final rule about Durable Nursery Products. Baby slings are, for the first time ever, defined as a Durable Nursery Product in this ruling. That’s bad, folks. Bad.

It means that I will need to start including a product registration card with every sling that I sell starting in December of 2010.

This means that I need to get cards printed up (shouldn’t be a big problem, I can make them myself and have Office Depot copy them for me, but it is an additional expense). I need to stamp them. I need to track them as they come in, log them into a database, and store them somewhere.

Not necessarily a huge deal, though it is more time and hassle on government regulations. And definitely expense in both postage and time. I’ve absorbed a LOT of the increased time cost related to CPSIA so far, but there’s a point at which I just can’t absorb it any more. I’ve reached that point.

But what bothers me more is that I don’t see any way around having to start packaging my slings. I have so far avoided packaging them for several reasons. First, the idea of having disposable packaging around my products just really bothers me. I know most “name brand” diaper and sling makers use disposable packaging, but, well, I’m not them. Second, the packaging just represents an additional cost which would need to be passed along to the consumer.

Packaging goes against the two main driving forces behind Wallypop – reducing waste, and cutting out unnecessary expenses in order to keep prices as low as possible.

I’ve got a year to figure this out, obviously, but as I work on packaging and including cards, I’ll more than likely need to put in a price increase on baby carriers. This makes me very sad, because of the overwhelming number of emails I’ve received since opening from customers who were discouraged because they were having trouble finding quality babywearing products in their price range. One woman wrote, “until I found Wallypop, I was afraid my choices were the bad-looking slings of dubious quality that I could afford, or buying something that was out of my budget.”

Darn you, Congress!!

And there’s always the chance that the CPSC will clarify and we’ll be able to do electronic registrations, which would be nice.

PS, I posted my comments to the CPSC during their request for comments phase on here earlier. My point remains valid. I have more information on who has purchased what sling than I could hope to ever receive via product registration. 90% of my slings are sold direct to the end user, who has had to give me their name, address, phone number, and email address. I can pull up a list of everyone who’s purchased a ring sling from me since I opened, then peek in to their invoices and tell you exactly which one was purchased by each customer. That’s for 100% of my retail sling sales. That’s waaaay better than any product registration card system.

I’m  also willing to bet that my sling retailers have this level of detail on THEIR customers, meaning that the 10% of slings that I sell wholesale are also trackable. More trackable than through registration cards.

Incidentally, in researching this further, I found that in 2001, the CPSC considered requiring a product registration card for every item sold for use by/with children. Fortunately, they decided not to proceed. Can you even imagine? I’d bet that such a law would actually reduce the number of parents who bother to fill out registration cards for the important things like carseats, etc.

Also, not for nothing, but the inclusion of slings as Durable Nursery Products can only mean trouble from here on out. Durable nursery products have stricter regulations than most other baby products. Not good, not good.