Friday, May 8, 2009

"How It's Done" Part 2 - with Cecilia Leibovitz of Craftsbury Kids and the Handmade Toy Alliance

Thanks for joining us for Part 2 of our interview with Cecilia Leibovitz. Cecilia is President of the Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) and owner of the popular online children's boutique, Craftsbury Kids, which offers a vast variety of handmade items for kids, home decor, gifts and even adults!

Today, our interview focuses in more detail on the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), the Save Handmade effort, and more about how the HTA continues to work toward amending the CPSIA.

~Can you give us a quick overview of the Save Handmade movement, your role in the Handmade Toy Alliance, how it all started and where it is today? (Including a brief overview of the CPSIA issue).

In November of 2008, I joined the HTA after receiving an email invitation from Dan Marshall, co-owner of a children's store called Peapods. He had started this small group for the purpose of discussing the new CPSIA and how to deal with it as a small business owner specializing in small batch products for children.

The CPSIA had been written in reaction to the 2007 lead toy recalls. After millions of mass-produced toys were recalled due to the presence of lead in paint, it had become painfully clear that the United States needed to take a closer look at the way toy safety was being handled. Alarmingly, the CPSIA was written in such a way that it lumps together all makers of products produced for children, including not just toys, but clothing, art, bicycles, books, CDs-literally everything under the sun made for kids.

Each and every producer of children's products --from the mom at home sewing dresses for toddlers, to the retired senior citizen carving wood toys from his garage, to the multi-million dollar multinational corporations pumping out millions of toys in huge factories -- is treated exactly the same by the CPSIA, as currently written.

The law was not written in a manner that is friendly to micro businesses and handcrafters. Rather, it was designed to work for extremely large companies, manufacturing in huge factories. A producer of children's products must have the wherewithal to invest many thousands of dollars for testing, technology, and equipment, in order to comply with this law.

The newly formed HTA group was painfully aware that CPSIA--only weeks from being enacted-- was poised to destroy thousands of small businesses, without helping children to be safer. It was evident that changes to the CPSIA were needed if we were all to remain in business.

When I first did a "CPSIA
" search back in November, Google yielded little more than two or three results linking to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) website and documents associated with the CPSIA. The number of people who knew that the CPSIA even existed was next to zero. A search today, just five months later will bring up 1,280,000 results.

This is largely due to the work of the HTA
and its supporters. This tiny group of people rallied thousands of overnight activists, devastated by the cold reality that CPSIA could soon ruin the handmade and small batch children's industry. We needed to convince Congress to recognize the so called "unintended consequences" of the law.

When I became a member of HTA there were just 3 or 4 members. Today there are over 300 members. The HTA recently incorporated as a non-profit organization, and I currently hold the title of President.

Our members are multi-talented, and have made huge progress in communications with Congress, and the public. We have introduced a proposed bill to amend the CPSIA in such a way that child safety is preserved, and small businesses are allowed to remain in business.

The HTA mission is "Supporting
small batch children's apparel, toy, and accessory makers." An unexpected and happy side affect of CPSIA has been the banding together of many, many like-minded businesses. Up until now a trade organization for the smallest among small businesses who serve the children's industry has not existed. It is our goal to continue to help small batch producers succeed in the children's marketplace as we work toward improving the CPSIA, and move beyond this hurdle.

We welcome new members to join, and benefit from our collective experience, and perks such as a profile page on the HTA website, future cooperative advertising opportunities, and guidance from fellow members. Anyone who is interested in joining can email me at to request complete membership details.

~How have you balanced your role in the Save Handmade
effort with your roles as Craftsbury Kids owner and mom?
Who do you have helping you with keeping everything running smoothly? To be honest, it's been tricky! There are just two of us running the business. During the 2008 holiday season (always our busiest time of year) my husband and partner Michael, took care of virtually all Craftsbury Kids business while I focused on CPSIA related work. He did this as well during a trip I took to DC for a CPSIA rally and Congressional briefing this April.

We have our 2 1/2 year old with us all day, and we tend to trade off childcare and work duties throughout the day. Michael
does a good deal of driving the kids to and from school, as well as helping with meals, and managing our customer service. I would not be able to get half the work done if it wasn't for Michael's help, and I'm very grateful for it.

~What are your goals for both the Save Handmade effort and with Craftsbury Kids now that the CPSIA is in effect? What changes are you hoping will occur and how will they be reflected at Craftsbury Kids?

Now that President Obama has named a new Chairperson to the CPSC, I'm expecting we'll see more rapid forward movement
with implementation and any changes to CPSIA, though there is still much work to be done. I'm hopeful that the "Risk Based Reform Bill" being introduced by HTA will be carefully considered by both Congress and the CPSC.

I'm hoping
for commonsense implementation, if not amendment to the law, so that Craftsbury Kids and other businesses focusing on small batch production are able to affordably remain in business, and continue to offer the amazing range of safe beautiful handmade items currently available to children in the USA.

~Can you tell us a bit about your vision for and how you started Craftsbury Kids? What has been the most rewarding thing that has come outof your work with Craftsbury Kids? I started Craftsbury Kids out of a desire to celebrate the amazing talent of artists and crafters who carry on the quality of old world craftsmanship in our modern age.
Many people aren't aware of the beautiful and impeccably made toys, clothing, and other items that are still out there for children today. You can literally feel the love that went into the making of these things. The emails and letters we receive from pleasantly surprised customers are the biggest reward my work brings.

~Can you provide some of the most important links for folks wanting to learn more about or get involved with the Save Handmade effort?

And that's "How It's Done." Thanks again, Cecilia! (All of the photos of handmade and small batch toys in today's post are courtesy of Craftsbury Kids and are available at

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