(Warning: Long, detailed post ahead! You may want to make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and turn on some relaxing music before you dive in!)
If you have been selling children’s items in the US for the last few years, you have probably heard of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) that was passed into law in 2008. And if you are operating on a very small scale, selling at craft fairs or on Etsy or some other online venue, you probably have wondered how the law applies to you and how to make your items compliant with the law. Now, I am certainly no lawyer or expert on all the ins and outs of the regulations, and this post is most definitely not intended as legal advice! But for a long time now I have wanted to put together a post outlining the things I do to try to be in compliance as well as listing several helpful links and resources online to help you get started weaving your way through the rather confusing web we call the CPSIA. For clarity sake, I’m actually going to split this up into at least two posts. This first one will deal with the basic information you need to know to start getting compliant, as well as links to the pertinent websites for more in depth information. The second post will contain examples of what I have been doing to try to conform to the regulations.
The first thing you need to know is whether your product is something covered by the CPSIA. If you make anything intended for use by children 12 years of age or younger. Here is a link to the CPSIA’s web page outlining the basics of determining whether your product is covered under the law: http://www.cpsc.gov/Business–Manufacturing/Business-Education/childrens-products/
Once you have identified your product as a children’s item, you need to know what to do next, right? My first recommendation is that you register with the Small Batch Manufacturer Registy, if you qualify…which you most likely do if you are reading this post. (The big guys all have lawyers and people to figure all this stuff out for them!) Why register as a Small Batch Manufacturer, you ask? Well, the thing is that testing for compliance is very costly, and most of us little guys don’t make enough to afford that. So the small batch manufacturers are allowed exemptions from testing on certain products. Here is a link with some basics on who qualifies as a small batch Manufacturer and a general list of items that DO and DO NOT have to be tested if you qualify: http://www.cpsc.gov/smallbatch. Here is a link to the Small Business Portal where you can get registered: http://saferproducts.gov/SmallBatchManufacturers/. You may be asked to send a letter on “company letterhead” in order to verify that you are the owner of your business and ave the authority to register for your company. You don’t have to have some fancy letterhead…just using a basic professional looking business letter template from your favorite word processing program will do, provided you include your business contact information as requested by the Small Business Portal representative who contacts you.
Ok, so now that you’ve gotten registered, what’s next? Well, if you have determined that your product is on the list of items that requires third party testing even as a small batch manufacturer, then I have little advice for you because I don’t make those things. You will no doubt need to find a way to have your products tested by a third party company. If, however, you have determined that you qualify for exemption from third party testing, then the next thing we should discuss is CPSIA tracking labels. What are tracking labels, and why do you need them? A CPSIA tracking label is a permanent distinguishable mark that identifies a product with your business in the event that a customer has a problem with your product and needs to report it. The purpose is to help make the recall process easier in case of a potential hazard in a product, such as lead paint, choking hazards or the like. The information that you need to have on all your tracking labels is as follows, from the CPSIA website here:
“A tracking label must contain certain basic information, including:
(1) the name of the manufacturer or private labeler;
(2) the location and date of production of the product;
(3) detailed information on the manufacturing process, such as a batch or run number, or other identifying characteristics; and
(4) any other information to facilitate ascertaining the specific source of the product.
All such information should be visible and legible.”
Now, for those of us who do make small quantities of items and do not often make multiples of a certain item, a batch number is not really applicable. In this case, what I and many others have chosen to do is create a date code that can be marked on each label so as to distinguish it from other items and make record keeping easier. For example, on my hand knits and crocheted items I use the following code on each fabric label:
DOM: 13 14
DOM stands for Date of Manufacter. The numbers 13 and 14 stand for the years 2013 and 2014, so I can keep using this label format throughout a 2 year period and keep printing them as needed. JFMAMJJASOND are the first initials of each month of the year. To mark the date, I simply make a small stitch through the year and month initial, then sew my tag into my items. It is important to keep some kind of record log so that you can match up each item with the date you made it. This is one area I am not so good at…bookkeeping is my nemesis! So, I don’t have much advice on how you should go about keeping records, but you can find a system that will work for you!
Now, some items you make may be too small for a sewn in fabric tag, such as headbands or hair clips. In this case, you must still provide the required tracking information on the packaging that goes with your item, such as a headband display card. For more detailed information on this subject, see the CPSIA page on tracking labels.
Another thing you might see mentioned in regards to compliance with CPSIA laws are GCCs, or General Certificate of Conformity. This certificate is meant to show that an item has been tested under the CPSIA guidelines and conforms to those standards. However, for most of us who sell on a retail basis only and do not manufacture items for wholesale, it is my understanding that we do not have to issue a GCC to our customers. See the quote below from the page I just linked to:
“The law requires manufacturers or importers to issue a GCC that accompanies each product or shipment of products; that the GCC be furnished to retailers and distributors; and that the GCC be provided to the CPSC, upon request. Accordingly, you do not have to provide the certificate to consumers in direct-to-consumer sales.”
Where GCCs do come into play for a small business like mine is in the supplies we use to create our items. For example, if you make children’s doll clothes that include zippers or buttons, you probably will need to contact the manufacturer of those supplies to obtain a GCC from them showing that they have tested the materials and that they are in conformity with the CPSIA standards. I do not believe you need to supply this certificate to your customers, but you do need to have it on hand for reference. I will tell you that I have not had to do this because I use only all natural materials in my items, materials that have been determined by the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) not to contain levels of lead that may be hazardous. For a detailed explanation and list of these exempt materials, see this link: https://www.cpsc.gov/Business–Manufacturing/Business-Education/Lead/FAQs-Total-Lead-Content-in-Childrens-Products/
Another abbreviation you may see is for a certificate similar to the GCC is called a CPC or Children’s Product Certificate. This is another certificate that shows conformity to CPSIA guidelines, but it is again only required to be provided to your retailers and distributors if you are selling wholesale (or perhaps consignment), not directly to your own retail customers. See quote below:
“The law requires manufacturers or importers to issue a Children’s Product Certificate; that the certificate accompany each product or shipment of products; that the certificate be furnished to retailers and distributors; and that the certificate be provided to the CPSC, upon request. Accordingly, you do not have to provide the certificate to consumers in direct-to-consumer sales.”
Ok, so if I haven’t completely lost you by this point, here is my basic summary: You at the very least need to register as a Small Batch Manufacturer via the Small Business Portal, and you must find a way to label your items with a CPSIA tracking label and keep records of your items in some way. Let me add one or two more quick links below that may prove helpful, and I will save the rest for another post! Thanks for sticking with me through all this, and I hope that by my doing a bit of the leg work I have helped make the process of becoming CPSIA compliant a little less scary and more doable for someone!
Keeping Up with the CPSIA team on Etsy (a good place for Etsy sellers to ask questions of other sellers and find more links to helpful resources)