by Jill Chuckas, owner, Crafty Baby; secretary, Handmade Toy Alliance
Activist, lobbyist, press secretary. Not titles that I would have anticipated preceding my name a year ago. But boy, what a year can do. I own a small, handcrafted children’s accessories business called Crafty Baby. In December 2008, one of my accounts e-mailed me requesting a General Certificate of Conformity in compliance with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). After much reading and many restless nights, I realized that my company was in trouble. Not because my products didn’t comply with the new safety regulations, but because I knew that I could not afford the testing protocol to prove it. A week later, I joined the Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) and quickly took on a leadership role in the collective effort to educate, inform and work toward common sense changes to the CPSIA.
The months since December have been a roller coaster, to say the least. I have spoken to countless members of the press, corresponded and spoken with my members of Congress, written dozens of press releases, outreached to artisan-based show promoters, including Wholesalecrafts.com, the Buyer’s Mart of American Craft, Sugarloaf Craft Festivals, New York International Gift Fair, and Artrider Productions, and assisted in writing letters to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It is amazing what a person can do when their very livelihood is at stake!
In April, I and hundreds of others traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a rally and legislative visits. Industries affected by the CPSIA had the opportunity to share their stories in an open forum on Capital Hill. As Secretary of the HTA, I was given the opportunity to speak on behalf of handcrafted artists throughout the country (Video Here). Following the rally, I met with Rep. Jim Himes (CT), members of Sen. Lieberman’s (CT), Sen. Dodd’s (CT) and Sen. Kerry’s (MA) staff. In each meeting, I needed to assure my members of Congress that we at the HTA believe in child safety. We want products that are free from toxins and healthy for our families. We believe in the intention of the CPSIA, but the third party testing requirements are redundant and cost prohibitive for our membership, and do little to improve overall product safety. Many of our members, myself included, may very well be out of business in August of this year when the third party testing and batch labeling requirements go into effect.
Since the rally, I have been involved in drafting an actual amendment to the CPSIA, incorporating risk assessment back into the legislation. This way, the CPSC can once again do what they do best – assess risk in the products available for children and implement common sense rulings regarding testing protocol for lower risk products such as mine (for example, allowing component-based certifications to show that the end product is compliant). Never in my wildest dreams did I ever see myself writing legislation, but here I am, trying to effect real change in this law. It’s pretty different than my day job – and a lot more draining.
Without real change, small businesses throughout the country will slowly, but surely become extinct. And I, for one, will not go quietly. Joining together with other hand crafters and retailers of handcrafted products, has given me a voice and comradery that has been absolutely essential to my work to enact change. The thing is, all I really want to do is keep making my clutch balls and Nap Packs, among other things. Let’s hope this time next year, I still will be. Fingers crossed!