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Story Retrieval Date: 10/30/2014 12:30:57 PM CST

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Julia Hawes/MEDILL

Handmade toys, such as this stuffed animal made by Chicago-based Scrappy Nation, faced expensive federal certification requirements that have been delayed for a year.

Handmade toy makers -- and buyers -- are safe for now

by Julia Hawes
Feb 05, 2009

Handmade puppets and stuffed toys have been given a reprieve from possible exile, Independent toy makers can continue making and selling them without certification for another year.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission voted unanimously to issue a one-year stay of the Feb. 10 deadline for testing and certifying toys under the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

The certification focused on providing added protection from lead and other substances in imported toys but also applied to domestic manufacturers and the popular cottage industry of handmade toy makers. 

The commission voted a mere 10 days before the CPSIA would have gone into effect, with requirements that threatened to send some small toy makers out of business.

Although manufacturers large and small are still expected to abide by the lead and phthalate (a plasticizing element) guidelines set by the CPSIA, small businesses will not be required to obtain certificates to sell each of their products for another year. Gaining certification involves expensive testing and would be required for any product sold for children ages 12 and under. 

However, the CPSC has advised handmade toy makers to be vigilant in keeping track of where their materials and parts come from and what’s in them. 

The stay has temporarily placated many toy shoppers and shop owners in Chicago. Heather Muenstermann, who owns Green Genes in Andersonville, said she initially felt relieved when she heard about the commission’s decision to place a stay on the act. But she doesn’t know what it will mean in the long run.

“I don’t think it’s a remedy to the situation,” Muenstermann said. “This is a good thing, but it’s not over yet. We need to forge ahead.”

In the weeks leading up to the Feb. 10 deadline, Muenstermann was inundated with calls and e-mails from some of her vendors. Other vendors had no idea the act even existed.

“It feels good that someone had the common sense to say, ‘Hey, people are up in arms here,” she said. “We want to adhere to guidelines and be safe, we just want them laid out more explicitly.”

Written statements by CPSC Acting Chairman Nancy Nord and Commissioner Thomas H. Moore said that the commission had issued the stay in order to clear up much of the confusion that has surrounded the act. 

Commission officials expressed hope that the extension would give toy manufacturers and business more time to learn about the requirements and explore economical means of testing their products. It is not expected that the stay will be renewed after February 2010.

The Oak Park-based Baby Blend Tees is a small manufacturer that would have required certification under the CPSIA. A week before the stay was announced, owner Jennifer Leaphart sent 20 of her t-shirt products to a lab in Seattle, so they could be scanned with an x-ray lead analyzer. Leaphart said the testing for the shirts, which sell for $23 each, cost approximately $1,500.

“My stuff is all organic cotton—cotton doesn’t have lead in it,” Leaphart said. “I agree that toys that are painted should be tested for lead, but not many kids are sucking on their ‘onesie’ snaps. It’s such a hard time right now for retailers. It was just really bad timing on top of everything else.”

“If there is one message a small manufacturer should take from the commission’s action today it is this: If you have been making products without receiving any safety-related complaints, you should go on making and selling your products," said Moore in a CPSC statement. "You should, however, begin to look for and demand that the components you buy are certified as not containing lead or banned phthalates, as your demands can help to bring the component market into compliance.”

Leaphart said that she would send her certification to a retailer if they requested it.

“Hopefully [the act] is gone in a year,” Leaphart added. “But I’ll be ready.”

To some manufacturers, the looming CPSIA deadline seemed to discourage the existence of small businesses.  But others, such as Sarah Steedman, expressed faith that the act will be rewritten in a way that will make everyone happy.

“I can see where it was coming from,” said Steedman, a Chicago toy maker whose Scrappy Nation line is sold in stores such as Green Genes. “It’s definitely well-intended. They just didn’t necessarily take into consideration people like me, who make stuff in small batches.”

Steedman hadn’t planned on closing up shop, with or without a deadline. She said that her stuffed animal creations are popular among teenagers and adults and could continue being sold as an item for children 12 and up.

“I have faith in the government,” Steedman said. “We’ll figure it out.”