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What You Need to Know About Product Safety for Children’s Clothes

When the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) was signed into law in 2008, the childrenswear world was turned upside down.

The landmark law, which came into play following Mattel’s 2007 lead paint scandal, mandated that manufacturers, importers and retailers must have an increased awareness in the design, sourcing, production, labeling, marketing and sale of all products for children ages 12 and younger. Everything—including clothing—was suddenly required to be tested for lead and phthalates, and anything that wasn’t tested was assumed to be hazardous to kids’ health.

“For a while, the CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) had apparel people testing fabric for lead. There’s no lead in manmade and natural fiber, and it took them a while to finally come around and say that,” remembered David Callet, a principal in CalletLaw, speaking at Regulation Education, a half-day workshop hosted by Sourcing Journal at LIM College Townhouse in New York.

Since then, the CPSC amended the rule so that while no product designed or intended for children ages 12 and younger may contain more than 90 parts per million (ppm) of lead in a painted or coated surface, or 100 ppm of lead in the product’s substrate, certain natural fibers (including cotton, bamboo and wool) and manufactured fibers (rayon, lyocell, polyester and others) have been determined to not contain excess levels of lead and do not need to be tested.

This important revision meant that childrenswear companies could significantly reduce or eliminate some pricey testing processes. To take advantage of it, however, they would still have to ensure that after-treatment applications (screen prints, transfers, decals, etc.) wouldn’t result in the addition of lead into the material.

But there are still plenty of other safety rules that childrenswear companies must comply with, and failure to to do so could be extremely costly.

Children’s product manufacturers must always have mandatory testing done and certify their products as compliant, Callet said. The goal: to issue a Children’s Product Certificate (CPC) based on passing test results from an accredited third-party testing laboratory.

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For example, makers of kids’ clothing must test and certify that sleepwear (apparel sizes 9 months to 14 years, including nightgowns, pajamas and similar items, like robes, worn primarily for sleeping or sleep-related activities) complies with the commission’s Children’s Sleepwear Flammability Standard.

“This is an area where there’s a huge amount of enforcement,” Callet noted.

Drawstrings are another one. Specifically, hood and neck drawstrings on children’s upper outerwear in sizes 2T to 12, or the equivalent, are considered to be a choking hazard because they can catch and snag on other objects, like playground slides or the closed door of a moving car or school bus.

“Some apparel companies have been fined significant amounts of money for continuing to sell products that violate the Drawstrings in Children’s Upper Outerwear rule,” Callet pointed out.

Importers of childrenswear must also ensure that tracking information is permanently affixed to all products and packaging, with details on when and where the garment was made, and who made it.

With regard to testing, the verbiage of the law is very vague, calling for “every product” to be tested but not specifying an exact number of samples to test. That being said, failure to comply could create a substantial product hazard, and Callet stressed that companies must turn themselves in as soon as they discover an issue.

“What’s the best product recall? One that never occurs. What’s the second best? One for which you’re prepared,” he said, noting that the CPSC will focus on whether the problem was reported in a timely fashion. “If you become aware of a set of facts—and this is true if you’re the manufacturer of the product, the importer, the distributor or the retailer—you’re required to report to the CPSC immediately (within 24 hours) when you have information that reasonably supports the conclusion that the product fails to meet a mandatory product safety requirement, contains a defect which could create a substantial product hazard to consumers or otherwise creates an unreasonable risk.”

The best offense is a good defense, as they say, and there is no better way to protect your company than by having a consumer product safety compliance program in place to prevent problems.

“You need to protect yourself from getting in the sights of the government,” Caillet said, because a company that has a problem with a product once will be stopped a second and third time. “If you get on the bad list you’re going to be on the bad list until you get off the bad list.”