January 5th, 2009 By Trent Hamm | Wellness/Renewal | Posted In: Green living

Hand-Me-Down Clothes in the Post Hand-Me-Down Era


For those of you who haven’t heard the news yet, on February 10 the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act comes into effect. One of the major changes that this program will bring into play is a mandate that everything sold for children 12 and younger will have to be tested for lead and phthalates, and anything that isn’t tested (or that fails) will be considered hazardous and can't be sold. Read more about the CPSIA at the L.A. Times and some interesting blog commentary from the fashion industry.

For new products, this isn’t an issue at all and is in fact a good thing. Many products are already being screened with such tests, and those that are not will be required to begin such testing shortly or will be pulled from the market. In terms of safety for my children, I’m quite happy with the effects of this law on new products.

Where things get interesting is with used products. Consider your local resale and thrift shop. Currently, all of their secondhand children’s clothes will have to be tested for lead and phthalates. Given that many such stores aren’t high-income operations - many are nonprofits - these shops simply cannot afford to do the testing on the children’s clothes on their shelves.

So what happens? Most thrift shops are currently not accepting any children’s clothing at all. Sometime in the next month or so, all thrift shops will have to clear all of their children’s clothing from the shelves … and send them to the landfill. (It’s worth noting that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is considering a reprieve for products made from natural materials, which would exempt some clothes, but not nearly all clothes.)

What are the effects of this?

Used children’s clothing stores are basically going to be forced out of business. With no way to easily distinguish between “safe” and “unsafe” clothes without testing every item that comes in for lead and phthalates (which is fairly expensive), these stores can’t stay in business. Either their business model will have to change or they’re done.

Children’s clothing at secondhand shops will vanish. They simply won’t carry such products because of the liability risk, so they won’t carry such clothes for at least a few years.

Landfills are going to fill up. The inventories at these stores will no longer be able to be sold (though they may be able to be given away). Thus, these stores are going to have to either toss their inventory or simply give it away to charities.

The big question here is are these effects worth the benefit of eliminating children’s clothes that have some chance of being tainted with lead or phthalates? This is a question that could be debated for years.

Obviously, from the singular perspective of children’s health, it’s far better to have all of their items lead and phthalate free. Even if the chance for exposure from an individual item is slight, having that chance reduced is better for the health of children. It’s worth noting that most articles of clothing that children wear are made largely out of cotton or other natural materials and are not treated with anything. Areas of concern for lead and phthalates would be clothes that were treated to be flame-retardant, clothes made out of artificial fibers, and potentially clothes that have plastic printing on them.

On the flip side of that coin is the fact that this will increase the cost of children’s clothing. Without any changes to the law, used clothing stores will no longer sell low-cost slightly used children’s clothes, a resource that many frugal and low-income families take advantage of.

Are there any useful potential compromises? One simple thing that could be done is to simply exclude used products from this law. This would require Congressional action, but would allow Goodwill (and other such secondhand stores) to continue selling low-cost children’s clothes - the availability of which is very important to families with low incomes. Similarly, the law could be amended to apply only to items made after February 10. In both cases, though, Congress would have to act on the matter, so if you feel this is important, contact your congressperson and ask that they amend the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act in a satisfactory fashion.

So, what should a frugal parent do?

First, you need to consider the question right now whether you are personally concerned with this issue and your children’s clothing. To be quite frank, it’s a reasonable decision to decide that you aren’t really concerned with this, considering your children are likely already exposed to substantially more lead and phthalates from other products besides their clothes - it may be much like worrying about a molehill when there’s a mountain nearby.

If you are concerned about this issue, you should halt your purchasing of both new and used children’s clothes until after February 10, then purchase only new clothing.

If you are not concerned about this issue, now is the time to stock up on such clothes. Hit used clothing stores hard in the next month, as many such stores will begin seriously cutting their prices on used children’s clothing as the cutoff date approaches.

If you have clothes that you’re no longer going to use, you may want to consider handing them down directly, as you’ll likely no longer be able to donate them. Look for people who could use the clothes and offer to just give them everything you can’t use - or sell them at a low bulk price.

Now, two questions for discussion about all of this.

First, are issues like this even worth worrying about at all? It’s a reasonable perspective to look at situations like this and simply shrug them off - there are so many safety issues out there that obsessing over a small chance of lead or phthalates in children’s clothing or toys isn’t worth your while unless you’ve been alerted to a very clear and onerous situation. At the other end of the spectrum comes a parenting philosophy where one buys only all-natural toys and such to avoid such chemicals in the home. I fall somewhere in the middle - I like to be aware of such things and I’m sure to keep an eye out for product recalls on children’s toys in our house, but this news story is not about to make me start chucking out my kid’s clothes.

Second, is a law like this fair? Again, I see both sides on this one. My personal feeling is that used items should be exempted from the law for at least a year - and that items sold post-testing should have a symbol on them somewhere for easy identification. I tend to think that the law does make a lot of sense for new products, but it’s very aggressive on the used items.

I’m really interested in your thoughts on this issue (and similar consumer issues).

TRENT HAMM blogs about personal finance at www.thesimpledollar.com. If you have a question that you would like answered, ask in the comments on his blog.

01.06.2009 at 03:46 Reply
Tip: might consider telling the powers that be that this box is way too tiny unless they're deliberately attempting to limit comment length. You wrote: "For new products, this isn’t an issue at all and is in fact a good thing. In terms of safety for my children, I’m quite happy with the effects of this law on new products." For new products, this is a very BIG issue and is not a good thing. The effect of this law on new products is that 68% of children's wear manufacturers will go out of business. Yes, MOST children's wear manufacturers -68%- are tiny companies with fewer than 20 employees. This means you're not going to have the range of choices you imagine and with fewer competitors -and owing to higher costs- consumers are going to be shocked at the prices they'll be compelled to pay. And all for products that were already safe. Then you wrote: "At the other end of the spectrum comes a parenting philosophy where one buys only all-natural toys and such to avoid such chemicals in the home." See that's the thing. The *very* companies -tiny ones- that were putting out 100% organic natural products are the ones who will be hit hardest. This law will decrease, not increase, the range of natural products in the marketplace. No no, you'll end up with a lot of plasticy polyesters that are scratchy and unsustainable, contributing to environmental degradation. It's the largest producers who put out commodities with lower cost materials who will be left, not the natural product producers who got into this btw because they were concerned about chemicals in fibers. And just so you know, it will be illegal to give away used or even new products to charities. They'll be hurting too.


01.06.2009 at 04:05 Reply
I think you've got a little misinformation here. This law is devastating to small american businesses. This law will in fact affect new products made in the US. I encourage you to take a look at the forums at Etsy.com (http://www.etsy.com/forums_thread.php?thread_id=5950540) to see how many small business owners and stay-at-home moms who create safe, sustainable toys in their home to contribute to the household budget are going to be affected by this. The cost of testing is prohibitive for businesses this size. They will be forced to go out of business. The disappearance of responsible American businesses is definitely something to be concerned about. Not to mention the environmental repercussions that will come from 68% of companies having to dump their inventory. Please take another look at this law, read some first hand accounts from small businesses about how this will affect their livelihood and a culture of entrepreneurism in this country. Please remember that all of the lead-tainted products were manufactured in China by massive corporate entities. These are the companies who have lobbyists in Washington and have been kept in the loop regarding this entire lawmaking process. these are the companies with the funds to test their products and keep them on the market with no change in price. These companies are the problem and after Feb. 10th, they'll be your only option.


01.06.2009 at 04:06 Reply
Trent, I am a micro-manufacturer of children's clothing, and this law IS a problem for me going forward producing my clothing. I use primarily 100% cotton fabrics, that are already pre-certified by my suppliers to be lead free. My buttons and other inputs are also lead and phthalate free, but yet I am guilty until proven innocent of producing lead filled clothing. The problem with the law is not whether it is FAIR or not. It is the cost of testing products that are already considered non-toxic in the first place. I as a small manufacturer cannot afford to spend hours on one garment, ship it to a certified lab, have them destroy it with all sorts of nasty chemicals, only to have them tell me that it was safe before they destroyed it. My suppliers have already told me as such, but yet I have to retest, and spend hundreds of dollars not to mention my time to get the certification. I can guarantee you that if this law stands as written, most small toy, clothing, and organic manufacturers will be put out of business. It is simply too expensive to test their line. So, yes, your kids may or may not be safer, but you won't have any choice in the matter either as to what products you buy. Trust me when I say I would love to have never worried about this law, but unfortunately my livelihood is at stake, and I can't afford to sit back and let Congress have some emotional knee-jerk reaction to testing children's products. I understand everyone's concerns, I am a mother, too. But a little rational thinking would have been a better congressional response.


01.06.2009 at 07:15 Reply
For small business to survive CPSIA, exceptions and or amendments are direly needed and FAST! COMPONENT TESTING needs to be allowed. In apparel manufacturing why is 3rd party testing necessary if the components used (fabric, thread, buttons, ribbon, etc.) are certified lead free by the vendor who can provide a certificate. Cutting, sewing and ironing fabric does not introduce lead into the equation. Component testing will actually be a safer means to the end, as EVERY component must meet the standards vs. unit testing where a lead button may find it's way through the testing process when combined with all the other components. Component testing is much more cost effective, safer, and will ensure safe products for children as the legislation intends. EXEMPTIONS for items which clearly do not contain lead. Wood, precious metals & jewels, beeswax, vegetable dyes, natural fiber fabrics and yarns, Oeko-tex fabrics, organic fabrics, CONSIDERATIONS for where an item is manufactured and in what number If America expects to have any items made here, any spirit of entrepreneurship left, and support emerging, small and micro businesses the legislation needs to consider the handmade industry which is expected to comply just as the large companies. PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS to the CSPIA. They have extended a REQUEST for COMMENTS. Give them yours! Send to: Sec102ComponentPartsTesting@cpsc.gov


01.08.2009 at 11:02 Reply
My family owns a children resale shop and this law is going to put us out of business. I think it is ridiculous that in this time when people are struggling to make ends meet the government can come in and change laws that will put many people out of work. I understand and am all for keeping kids safe, if I didn't care I wouldn't have started the business. My main concern is for the families that can not afford new clothing even the cheap Wal-Mart clothing but are willing to sell their used clothing to me so that their children can be dressed for school. What is going to happen to those people? It just makes me sad to know that people who don't know what it feels like to struggle can make laws that will only effect people who are struggling. I just pray that something will happen and this can be changed quickly. I know that there is no simple solution but something has to happen.


01.09.2009 at 02:11
I've just been researching this since I'm chairing a clothing sale for my son's preschool and found this site helpful, http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09086.html hope it helps you too. Paige Daniel