Wednesday, July 14, 2010

GUEST BLOG - Jolie Fay's Story

I was not sure what all to tell. Narrowing down the story to a blog, or even a short conversation has been a challenge.

Do I mention that we are not "unintended consequences" but rather, "collateral damage"?

Do I bring up the seniors I help who are so old they do chair Tia-chi, who can afford lunch only when they can make it to the senior center, but have made wooden trucks for 40 years?

Do I bring up the fact that with NO notice to this cottage industry we are forced in the middle of the supply chain to test our products because large toy companies were breaking an already existing law?

Too much...too much to tell, so this is what I wrote. Just my story.

In November 2008 I learned about the CPSIA.

I thought that was the beginning of my journey with this law, but I realize now that my journey began when I was seven years old and participating in my first craft show with my mom. I was selling anything I could make, mostly small animals I had made from pom-poms, felt, glue and little googley eyes. Before age 12, I added to my "line" a small army of "pet rocks," cats cradle kits, quilt patches, purses, and many, many other kids' crafts.

When planning my family, I decided to start a business that would allow me to stay at home with my children. I started with what I knew, crafty-ness, sewing skills and some of my favorite memories of my childhood, reinvented. One thing lead to another, and before my daughter was a year old I had a business that would eventually help us buy a house in San Francisco.

Time passed, my business grew and so did my family. It was amazing being there to watch both of my daughters take their VERY first steps on their own, to be the one they turned to when they got hurt, to be their mother. I loved being there, and I knew I would not be in that situation without the money from my little on-line business.

We sold our house in San Francisco and moved to Portland, Oregon in March 2008. At the time, my business was strong. My line was growing and investing in my business seemed like the right move. My husband agreed and we invested a large portion of the profits from selling our house into my business.

I bought supplies and began production. When I bought the supplies, what I was making was legal to sell, but in August 2008, unbeknownst to me at the time, my life was taking a U-turn.

By November 2008 we felt the effects of the sluggish economy, but my business was still surviving and I felt optimistic about our future

Then I got the email: "if you make ANY products for kids, this law [CPSIA] affects you!"

I have to admit I ignored the first 20 or so emails, because I could not believe that my little sew-in-my-basement business was being forced into the same regulations as Mattel without any warning. As the days went on, and the number of emails I received grew, I realized my dream was crashing around me.

I called the lab, got the quote and did the math. CPSIA-mandated testing costs for my little product line was over $27,000 for just over $30,000 worth of product. I cannot express the horrible feeling I had when I realized that I had made a mistake that was going to cost my family all of our money. In the business world, companies recover. In my case, I WAS the company and what family can recover from a loss that huge? I was not only losing my investment, but I was also losing my source of income.

With the February 10, 2009 deadline to comply with the new lead standard only weeks away, the panic took over and I was fighting with everything I had to reach someone who would help make this nightmare go away.

I found a group of people nearby who were renting an XRF scanner, and I rented it for 24 hours. I tested every single item, every color way, every button style, every fabric piece, every color and style of trim...I tested in my tiny basement, next to my washer and dryer, for 15 hours. I was driven by a fear that I cannot describe. I needed to know that when I called every person in DC that I could think of, I could be certain that I had a product that was safe in March 2008 and continued to be safe, even though I did not have $27,000 to test my products to prove it.

I would wake up at 5am Portland time, to begin calling everyone imaginable in Washington, DC -- any number I could find. I had never been politically active before and had NO IDEA how things worked. I genuinely believed that some Congressman would take my call and realize that a mistake had been made. I would start to tell my story, pacing between my washing machine and computer, crying to these aids who would reply "Thank you for your call. I will pass your message on." I could just feel the rolling of their eyes and bored posture as I was begging them to let me talk to someone who could help me.

By 8 am, when my girls were up, I would be so emotionally drained and my spirit was crushed. I did this for weeks and it was truly one of the most painful times of my life.

The days passed, the fight went on. I would ask these aides and CPSC staffers "what do I do? Should I just throw it all away?" and their response would be "I cannot tell you what to do." I was begging for help and they would only give me "I cannot tell you what to do.".

Eventually the CPSC did issue some rulings that prevented my having to throw all my products in the garbage. However, these rulings were to few and too infrequent. CPSIA is going to doom my business. The testing costs, the paperwork, the liability and for what? Will my products be
any safer? No, instead there will be no products.

I have invested thousands of hours in trying to get the CPSIA changed to allow crafters - young and old - to continue their craft. The time I spent trying to bring common sense to the CPSIA was time I was not investing in my business. I was afraid to let up the fight because I was not seeing anyone else fighting for ME.

Where was my Senator, who told the crowd "folks, we did this for safety"?

Where was the ombudsman to help guide the way at the CPSC? (Surprise! There STILL is not a position at the CPSC to help the crafters, the stay-at-home moms who use skill and time to help feed their kids).

Where were the Congressmen who represent me and the seniors who have made SAFE children's products for 50 years, and who can barely afford lunch and would NEVER be able to afford testing?

Who is looking out for the children who will learn from their mothers how to nurture their entrepreneurial spirit?

Last July I hit bottom. I had to turn my children over to daycare workers and join the work force just to keep us in our tiny rented house. My little business that helped us buy a home, that kept me at home with my kids to help them learn and grow, was no longer a safe investment of my time.

This is happening all across the county; women just like me, who are making safe kids' products, are being forced to end their stay-at-home businesses. Mothers who want to obey the law, who are afraid of the consequences of NOT obeying the law, are making the choice to give up their dream to keep their children warm and fed.

We need a law that does not make us criminals. We MUST have a law that does not criminalize the old, young, and poor because they make safe products that they cannot afford to test.

On the second day of after-school care, I went to pick up my 5 year old daughter from school and the "teacher" pulled us aside as we were leaving. She said, "Jane had a tough day today, she did not want to be here. She wanted to be with her mom." The "teacher" continued, "I am a grandmother and I know how to deal with this, so I took her by the hand and walked her to the mirror and said, 'Jane, look at your face. Look at how UGLY you look when you cry.'"

I blame every one of the Energy and Commerce legislative staffers for the emotional injury to my daughter that day. She should be home with me, being raised by a mother who believes in the American spirit of hard work, integrity, and honesty.

She should be home with me while I continue my business of making safe children's products.

She should be home with me, making pet rocks (illegal to sell today) and having fun making pom-pom animals with her mother – like the ones we used to sell at the local Saturday market.

My daughter is the CPSIA casualty of the week.

Blog post written by Jolie Fay, founder of Skipping Hippos clothing ( in Portland, OR and a
Board Member of the Handmade Toy Alliance


Sebastian said...

Thank you for writing this. The disruption that the law has caused your family comes through clearly.
I don't think that the advocates of this law understand that there are real families and real children who are being hurt by these new rules.

April said...

What a raw and honest piece. Thank you for sharing your story, and putting a family's face to the unintended, and unremedied, impact on small businesses.

Michael said...

Jolie, the 'collateral damage' you have personally endured is a perfect example of the REAL harm that CPSIA is and has been doing to families and children nationwide. Your tragedy sits at the end of this journey that all of us are so desperately trying to avoid. People with families have lost life savings and jobs to this fiasco. The children in those families have less because of this. Less time with parents, less to eat, less to learn from through play and activities, less opportunity in the form of education savings vanishing, less wellness as their nutritional and housing needs are compromised, less to look forward to.

Your loss Jolie is a loss we all have some responsibility in seeing addressed, even if you are never made square. All of us need to demand more and better from our elected officials, no matter how exasperating, how pointless and how fruitless it may appear.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your writing this story.

Women and mothers are hit disproportionally by this law and the idea that Americans can only make their way in corporate America and not through entrepreneurship has cost me many a sleepless night.

What does it teach our children? Sorry kids, dream big, but you'd be crazy if you ever struck out on your own because your own govt can deal you a death blow (for no good reason) at anytime they wish.

My heart breaks for you, it really does. I'm able to keep operating, as a criminal, but still operate, as resale store owner.

I meet fresh faced entrepreneurs, kids in tow, every day who want to consign their new items in my store and it breaks my heart to crush this spirit by saying no, the government says I can't sell your perfectly safe products in my store if you don't test them.

Insanity and yes, it is hurting our children more than the the small minority of mass produced products that broke existing lead paint laws that were put on the market.

Truly we have lost our way...

halojones-fan said...

Well, but there it is. How do you know they're perfectly safe? No, "we've been doing it for years" doesn't count, how. do. you. KNOW?

Indeed, there's the central problem of the CPSIA. No matter how much you test, you can't know. There's always the chance that between test facility and retail shelf, the product somehow came into contact with lead.

Heck, I could see this becoming not just "untested = bad", but "in the same storage facility or retail store with untested = bad"! Cross-contamination and all that.