Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A CPSIA Primer

Cross posted at my personal blog, Organic Baby Farm.

Sit back and grab a cup of your favorite stimulant drink, and I'll bring you up to speed on a law you may not have heard about. Or if you've heard about it, you may think it doesn't apply to you. Read on-- it applies to everyone.

In 2007, lead in toys was all over the news. There were large recalls of toys that had lead in their paint. Reacting to this in the knee-jerk feel-good way that is their trademark, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in 2008. The well-intentioned object of this law was to make extra-super-duper sure children's products laced with lead never, ever again appeared on the evening news. Unfortunately, we all know where the road paved with good intentions leads. The bill was poorly thought out and passed by huge bipartisan veto-proof margins, and was signed into law by Pres. Bush in August of 2008.

CPSIA addresses the problem of lead in children's products in a manner much like swatting a fly with a shotgun blast. Its scope wasn't limited to the "big guys" or the "bad guys," and it affects more than just businesses-- libraries, charities, thrift stores, even yard sales fall under its dominion. It allows no exceptions-- technically you can get an exemption for a particular item, but only if you meet an impossible-to-meet standard. And it covers waaaay more than just toys. Just about everything child-sized, child-colored or child-oriented or that a child 12 and under might touch is included, whether or not it's ever been a danger: clothing, ATVs, school supplies, bicycles, cell phones, lamps, books, hair ribbons, underwear, science kits, rocks, chairs, shoes, blankets, Cub Scout insignia, food-grade organic play-dough, and many, many other things you'd never have thought ought to be tested for lead in the first place. The requirements are so stringent that they amount to an outright ban on child-sized ATVs, bicycle tire valve stems, ballpoint pens with cartoon characters on them, rocks for geology class, thrift store clothing, charities that fix up bikes for poor kids, and books published before 1984. Even "adult novelties" aren't immune from being considered "children's products" by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the government agency tasked with enforcing this law.

The CPSIA law puts in place many requirements, but here are the highlights that relate most frequently to handcrafters:
  • You have to make sure your product and all its components have less than 100 parts per million of lead in them, BEFORE selling your product. There's a list of materials that are exempt from lead testing and phthalate testing, but if you use any material that's not on that list, you have to either get it tested yourself (at great expense) or find a source for it that provides test results.
  • All tests must be done by a CPSC-certified laboratory. These tests destroy the sample completely. Home lead test kits do not provide enough information to meet the requirements, and XRF testing (a cheaper, non-destructive method) is not allowed.
  • All children's items must bear a permanent tracking label that has enough info on it to identify your name or company's name, where you are located, and when the product was made.
  • You must keep records of where you bought your materials and on what basis you claim they meet the lead standard.

In addition, CPSIA also requires manufacturers of ALL items (not just children's items) to provide a General Conformity Certificate that certifies that it meets all the standards that apply to that product. You have to list the standards and give the name of the laboratory that did the testing. These certificates are required for exporting to other countries. If your products don't comply with CPSIA, they cannot legally be sold or even given away in the United States, nor exported to other countries.

Now, the CPSC is very busy and they've made it clear through their enforcement actions that they don't intend to really go after us small-time crafters or crack down on yard sales, mostly because they can't extract big newsworthy penalties from us. But they have also said that they're watching eBay and Etsy (yes, they know about Etsy) so you may want to make sure you're in compliance. CPSC hasn't been enforcing a lot of the provisions because they decided to stay enforcement of them for two years, but that stay is about to expire and they've said publicly that they won't be renewing it.

Affected businesses large and small (mostly small) have been trying for two years to get Congress to listen to us tell them that CPSIA is going to either drive us out of business or drive us to not make children's products. As the deadlines rolled in I watched many of my friends' businesses go under. Mine was six days away from having to close permanently, as CPSC was unable to write the regulations they needed to enforce the law before the enforcement deadlines passed. Fortunately, with the change of parties in the House, we're finally able to get some action. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has oversight here, and they have already had a meeting to hear suggestions for improving CPSIA. We are hopeful that they might take action before the CPSC's stay of enforcement expires.

This is just an overview; there is much, much more in this law that makes it even worse. In some cases it's physically impossible to comply. I could have written a book on it-- heck, if you add up everything I've written over the last couple years on the topic, it'd probably be book-length! I'll be posting more later on about meeting specific CPSIA requirements and keeping you abreast of the breaking CPSIA news.

If you have questions about CPSIA you'd like to see answered in future posts, please put them in the comments.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Clear your Studio, Clear your Mind

by Tiffiny Appelbaum of TiffinyDesigns

If you're feeling depressed about your work, bogged down in your work area or just plain uninspired, your studio may need a makeover. Physical disturbances can affect the way you think and feel about your work and work area. Disturbances can be obvious and out in the open and consciously affect you, like clutter, or can be little things that nag unconsciously at you, like unfinished projects.

By unfinished projects I mean a variety of things, like...
  • Projects you've started but not finished
  • Materials you acquired for a specific project you haven't started
  • Materials you have that don't inspire you anymore
  • Ideas buzzing around in your head
  • Filing that's piled up
  • Bookkeeping or unresolved tax issues
  • Reading you've meant to do but haven't
All these "unfinished projects" clog your mind, take up valuable space in your mind and create a disturbance in your creative force.

Clearing disturbances can make an enormous difference in how you feel about your work and increase your productivity. Asking yourself a few simple questions, answering honestly, and being willing to let go can clear your work area AND your mind.

Prepare To Clear
First, to set up you'll want a bag for trash, a bag for recycling, a bag for returns, and a bag for giving away. Also a notebook and pen.

Second, there are rules...
  • Do NOT try to do your entire work area in one day, or even one week! TAKE YOUR TIME. If you take on too much at one time, you will become overwhelmed and lose momentum or even give up.
  • Choose only ONE AREA to begin with, like one drawer or shelf or one area of a table. If you feel good after this one area, try another, but don't rush. TAKE IT SLOW! Even the smallest amount of clearing effort will make a difference.

Ask Yourself Questions and Answer Honestly
Third, choose the ONE area you'll be clearing and work on ONE item at a time. Ask yourself each of these questions about each item until you are either finished, out of time, or exhausted... Take a deep breath first and remember to keep breathing...

  • If you answer YES, then ask... DO I WANT TO USE THIS or finish this project? If you answer YES, keep it and continue with question #2.
  • If you answer NO to Do I WANT to use this, ask yourself why?....
  • Are you bored? Any chance you might be re-inspired? If not, let it go.
  • Are you disappointed with how the project has turned out? Are your expectations of how a material would be used dashed? Do you want to try to make it right? If not, let it go.
  • Are you burned out but still interested? Set it aside for later or let it go.
  • Have you not had the time to work on it? Are you willing to make time? If not, let it go. If you are, write down in your notebook WHEN you will work on it, how long you'd like to spend or expect it to take, and get that nagging feeling out of your head.

  • If you answer MAYBE to #1, then ask... DO I LIKE IT A LOT? Does it inspire me at all? Does it have potential? If YES, keep it. If NO - maybe the materials can be returned? If not, toss it, recycle it or give it away.

  • If you answer NO to #1, then ask... WHY AM I KEEPING THIS?...
  • Do I feel guilty?
  • Did someone give it to you and I think I should keep it?
  • Did I spend a lot of money on it and don’t want to waste it?
  • Did I have grand ideas and feel disappointed in myself for not finishing?
  • Etc., etc., etc.
Answer honestly and be willing to let go of your material or project AND any emotional baggage attached to it. The emotional baggage is what drains your creativity and inspiration.

Be Kind to Yourself
A few things about letting go...
  • First, YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO IT. I'm just suggesting it as an opportunity to clear your space and your mind, but you don't have to do it.
  • Second, BE KIND TO YOURSELF. It's hard work on a physical as well as emotional level going through stuff you're attached to. IT'S OKAY IF YOU'RE NOT READY TO LET GO.
  • Third, some things just have a lot of emotion attached to them. (For me it has been the sewing stuff I inherited from my grandma. It's taken me years to sift through it.) If you open a drawer or look at a box and feel completely overwhelmed just looking at it, close the drawer, put the box away, move to a different area in your studio. Work on it at a different time. Start with something easy.
  • Fourth, BE WILLING. Be willing to let go. This does not mean you have to let go. Just being willing may open your mind to why you're holding on and allow you the space to let go. If you're really stuck while you're working on clearing, just say to yourself, "I'm willing to let go" and see what happens.

Make a list in your notebook of when you will use the material, including amount of time you think it might take to complete and when you intend to finish the project. If you can't honestly say you will complete (or even begin) it in the next 6 months to 1 year, consider returning, tossing, recycling, or giving away. Write everything down and get it out of your head. We're clearing your work area as well as your head.

  • Do I need more materials? If so, what and where can I get them? When will I get them?
  • Do I need new equipment or tools? What and where can I get them? When will I get them?
  • Do I need to make time? When will I do that?
Write everything down in your notebook. Be specific.

Resist the Temptation
Finishing... first of all, congratulate yourself. This is hard work, physically and emotionally. WAY TO GO! Take some deep breaths, take a break, distance yourself from this project for at least 5 minutes before you finish... To finish you'll refine the details.
  1. Take your trash bag out to the garbage can.
  2. Look through your recycling bag and sort items into recyclables for your area (ie plastic, aluminum, glass, paper, etc.) Put the rest in your giveaway bag.
  3. Look through your returns bag - Do you think you have receipts for any or all of these items? If you think you do, where are they? Add "look for receipts" to your list. If there are things you don't think you have receipts, consider moving them to one of the other bags. Resist the temptation to put them back into your studio.
  4. Look through your giveaway bag - Do you have things you think a friend or colleague might be able to use? Put those in a separate bag. Take the rest to your local charity as soon as possible.
  5. Look at your list. Transfer the items having to do with time to your calendar and transfer the items having to do with materials, equipment or tools to a clean piece of paper.
  6. Extra credit. While you're clearing, vacuum and dust. You never know what treasures you're going to find in the dark corners of your studio.

Space for New Possibilities
So that's it... The great thing about these questions is they can be applied, with some tweaking, to about anything, including your inventory and your home. Either way, your space will get cleaned and cleared and in the process, so will your mind. And imagine all the space for new possibilities and new ideas to bloom!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Recreating Vintage Jewelry in something new

When I was little girl, one of my favorite things to do when I visited my grandma was to look through her jewelry box. I loved the sparkles of rhinestones and gems, smooth creamy pearls, texture of chains, rings and stunning brooches...I dreamed of the day I would be old enough to wear them.

Well as we know many styles come and go. Jewelry changes with the styles. So what can you do with the jewelry of long ago??

Recreate it into another piece. A piece with memory of the past.

I love taking old brooches and adding them to a necklace, old earrings become charms for bracelets and chains are woven into new necklaces with ribbon.
You can add fabric flowers, old buttons, beads from broken necklaces, old lace........it is endless of what you can do.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Write A Business Plan for 2011!

A business plan is a good tool to help you focus your business and define your goals. It isn't hard to write a business plan. Even if you don't write out a formal document, even if no one but you will ever see it, it's a good idea to at least sketch these things out for yourself. It can be as long or short as you want, as detailed as you want. If you ever need financing to expand your business, it's a good thing to have on hand. Banks will know you're serious if you have a business plan already written.

Here's what to write in your business plan:
  • a short (1 page max) history of your business
  • a description of what your business currently does, preferably using figures: annual sales, breakdown by category, etc. "Last year we sold $14,000 worth of baby booties, attended 3 craft shows, added 100 new customers, acquired a color laser printer," etc.
  • where your business fits in in your industry: retail and/or wholesale? what's your approach to business? what need in the marketplace does your business satisfy? who's your competition?
  • who your target market is, and how you plan to reach them this year
  • (optional) any community outreach you may be planning: fundraisers for your favorite causes, targets for community giving, and how these affect your business
  • your business goals for this year, including measures of success-- e.g. sales volume goals, goals for numbers of new customers, profitability goals, etc.-- so that you'll be able to know when you've accomplished your goals. "Increase sales" isn't as good as "Increase sales by 10%". There's no penalty for not meeting your goal, but the goal helps you get focused on a target and (if you share your business plan) communicates to others what your ambitions are, whether they're realistic, etc.
If you don't have numbers to attach to your goals (like sales volume for example) then set goals that don't have numbers, like "attend a large craft show". You can change it mid-year too. I added "work on making my craft show booth more attractive" to 2010's business plan. The point is to put in writing something that says where you've been, where you are, and where you're going. By putting it in writing, you can give form to your thoughts and create a record by which to evaluate your business' progress this time next year.

What are you putting in YOUR business plan for 2011? Are you writing a formal report, or sketching it out on a napkin?