Saturday, January 31, 2009

TheJuneBride News: A Stay of Execution

As it turned out, reason prevails. At least for a year. The CPSIA's one year stay of enforcement would seem to be the solution small business and manufacturers had hoped for... not denying the fact that safety standards need to be improved, but offering time and resources to find reasonable methods to do so without denying the livelihood of the small entrepreneur that is the basis of our American dream.

Here is the statement from Honorable Thomas H. Moore indicating the necessary delay in enforcement, issued January 30, 2009.

Also worth reading is the very ballsy (that's right) statement from acting chairman Nancy Nord, also issued January 30, 2009.

The apparent effects of this stay are that, while all saleable products must meet the lead limits and phthalate ban required by the new legislation, they do not need to be certified as such during the period of this stay which is slated to be terminated February 10, 2010. During this time, it is expected that changes will be made to accommodate the special needs of smaller businesses and independent crafters, including the limitation of unnecessary testing. In theory this may be achieved by the use of compliant components in manufacturing products that will then not be required to be tested as a whole.

As a seller of items intended for children 12 and under, I am hopeful that this stay will be a fruitful season of open discussion, providing small businesses the resources needed to comply, both for their legal safety and for the physical safety of the public at large.

Friday, January 23, 2009

TheJuneBride News: A Catch-22 with the CPSIA

I'm sure you heard at least something about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). If you haven't, you will soon enough since it takes effect on February 10, 2009.

I don't think anyone wants to make dangerous or toxic products available to children. Enacting safety laws to protect children from poorly manufactured items is critical and certainly tougher restrictions are necessary, but CPSIA, as it stands, is a far-reaching law requiring stringent compliance from businesses, including additional testing on products long considered safe.

In case you are not aware, the new legislation requires third-party testing and certification for each component of each product, in each color and each size, that is manufactured in or imported into the US and is intended for children 12 years old and under (including all toys, clothing, bedding, books, everything!). This will remove hundreds of thousands of small busineses from the children's product marketplace, leaving only stores large enough to foot the bill for the expensive testing requirements and recoup their costs by selling mass-produced products at higher prices.

With the the new CPSIA legislation going into effect, after that date, I will no longer be able to legally sell my baby and child items as the costs for lead and phthalate testing is simply out of my range (even though fabrics are not even suspected of containing either of those). I will not be able to sell in the US or outside the US. In all likelihood, I will also not be able to sell any existing merchandise after that date since it has not been tested and the ban appears to be retroactive to all present stock at that point. I am very grateful I do not sell these things for my livelihood, but I have serious concerns beyond just how this will affect me. Congress has not yet interpreted or clarified the law, so there is a mountain of ambiguity regarding its far-reaching potential ramifications.

In a bizarre reversal of "innocent until proven guilty", every children's product is now considered hazardous until proven otherwise. According to the new law, a product is not just a sum of its parts. Even if each part of an item is known to be lead- and phthlate-free... even if each part is tested and certified as such, as is required... the whole product must be tested as well. Who knew hand-assembly could pose such a potential threat? Additionally, after August 14, 2009, each product sold after that point will need to have a tracking label to assist in the dissemination of recall information, should it become necessary. Not exactly practical requirements for your average sole proprietorship.

Since little is known about the economic impact this will have other than that it is poorly timed in general, the only thing to do is wait and see. Will thrift stores, who serve more now than ever, have to stop selling children's items because they are untested? Will some children's books be slipped inside brown paper bags and handed guiltily under the checkout counter at the bookstore? Will it be illegal to donate untested products instead of burying them, unused, in landfills? If prices are driven up by the cost of testing, what will happen to families living paycheck-to-paycheck who need to buy diapers and clothes for their children? And what about families who's income will be lost or diminished by the newly-decreed law now, when finding a new living-wage job of any kind is already a task averaging 6 months or longer in the US?

If you also have concerns and haven't done so already, feel very free to sign these petitions:
Save Small Businesses from the CPSIA
CPSIA Impacts on Children's Apparel Industry

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Etsy Thoughts: Photography - Room for Improvement

I'm realizing that some of the very first and very best advice I read about Etsy is not only true, it's a motto to sell by: "Take the best photos you can".

It's completely obvious why this is true AND worth the extra effort and planning - Because it sells your stuff. Plain and simple. So you're not a professional photographer. So what? You can still make the most of your current skills and the equipment available to you. And then worry about getting better at it.

Here's my story... I started on Etsy in Feb 2008. My skills at that point were based completely on taking pictures of my kids... not product photography. My camera was and still is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ5 6 megapixel (chosen for it's movie mode with sound and image stabilization... can you say "family cam?"). It cost $280-ish when we bought it in May 2006 and then $100 for a gently used identical replacement after we dropped and killed the original on a vacation in July 2007.

My first pictures were taken using some brocade-like fabric from a curtain as the background:

Not great, but you can see the whole item clearly. I kept these photos into the summer since there wasn't a whole lot of reason to take new pictures when hats were not exactly in demand. Meanwhile I was reading up here and there about table-top photography, light tents and the like. I also looked around to find pictures of similar products to see how they were displayed.

Next I tried standing the hats up and adding some little pebbles for visual interest:

A failure, if I do say so myself. I may have used the pictures for a week or two, but I didn't like them from the get go. I took them in the late afternoon, near a normally-bright window, but they did not turn out as I had hoped. Regardless of the actual quality of the photo, I didn't like the set up. I didn't feel like it highlighted the hat to it's best potential.

So, I did some more reading and started working with a solid white background (actually a roll of kid's art paper) and placing the hat to highlight the "ears" after which they are named and to show the fuzziness of the fleece:

This time I was very pleased with the result, and this particular hat made it to the front page shortly after listing the item. Success! I only used the basic default Windows Vista photo editting software to crop and "auto adjust", and then manually brightened them further if they seemed a little dark.

There is a LOT of room for improvement in my photography skills, but I'm so pleased with my improvement over the course of a year. I know more, can do more, and I definitely sell more. Good luck to you!