TOY SAFETY

June 23rd, 2010 | Archives, Handmade Toy Alliance, Handmade Toys, Natural Toys, Toy Safety, Waldorf Toys, Wooden Toys | Permalink | Comments (9)

One year ago, I was ready to take a break from teaching. I felt a need to spend more time at home with my family (ever hear the expression “Waldorphans?” Those are the children of Waldorf teachers), and I was yearning for a way to put my knowledge and experience to work in a new way. I made the bold decision to resign from my position as a Waldorf early childhood teacher, not knowing what would come next.

It seems that no sooner had I made the decision than I learned that Bella Luna Toys was for sale. I had long been aware of Bella Luna Toys as a wonderful online resource for wooden, natural and handmade toys, inspired by Waldorf education. The idea of working from home, selling the kinds of toys I loved and believed in would be an ideal situation for me. I was excited by the possibilities of using the website, not only to sell beautiful and unique toys that would inspire creative play, but also to share my experience and knowledge.

Then I got cold feet. I learned about the recently passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), which in its noble mission to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US, was written in such a limiting and restrictive way that it threatened to put many small toymakers in the U.S., Canada and Europe out of business. Since most of the suppliers of the toys sold by Bella Luna Toys are made by indvidual woodworkers, crafters and small businesses, I worried about whether I would be able to sell the kinds of toys I wanted to. I nearly abandoned my dream of becoming the new owner of Bella Luna Toys.

Before I raised the white flag, someone suggested I call Dan Marshall, founder of the Handmade Toy Alliance and owner of Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care in St. Paul, Minnesota. I called the store and Dan picked up the phone. He spoke to me for a long time. I learned about the important work that the HTA is doing to amend the language of the current laws in order to allow small batch manufacturers of handmade toys to continue producing the heirloom, natural and handcrafted toys that we all believe in and love. Dan probably doesn’t remember our conversation, but he convinced me that this is a great business to be in, in spite of the challenges. Knowing that there were such committed, caring business owners like Dan and the other board members of the Handmade Toy Alliance gave me the courage to follow my heart and take a chance with Bella Luna Toys.

Dan Marshall, Handmade Toy Alliance

Dan Marshall, Founder, Handmade Toy Alliance

The week of June 21 is the first annual Handmade Toy Alliance (HTA) Blog Week and I am happy to be participating. Here is some further information on the history and mission of the HTA from their Website:

In 2007, large toy manufacturers who outsource their production to China and other developing countries violated the public’s trust. They were selling toys with dangerously high lead content, toys with unsafe small parts, toys with improperly secured and easily swallowed small magnets, and toys made from chemicals that made kids sick. Almost every problem toy in 2007 was made in China.

The United States Congress rightly recognized that the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) lacked the authority and staffing to prevent dangerous toys from being imported into the US. So, they passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) in August, 2008. Among other things, the CPSIA bans lead and phthalates in toys, mandates third-party testing and certification for all toys and requires toy makers to permanently label each toy with a date and batch number. All of these changes will be fairly easy for large, multinational toy manufacturers to comply with. Large manufacturers who make thousands of units of each toy have very little incremental cost to pay for testing and updating their molds to include batch labels.

For small American, Canadian, and European toy makers, however, the costs of mandatory testing, to the tune of up to $4,000 per toy, will likely drive them out of business. And the handful of larger toy makers who still employ workers in the United States face increased costs to comply with the CPSIA, even though American-made toys had nothing to do with the toy safety problems of 2007. Toy makers won’t be the only ones impacted by the CPSIA, the thousands of US businesses who offer clothing, jewelry and other gifts for children –in essence– the entire children’s industry will be as well.

The authors of the CPSIA simply forgot to exclude the class of toys that have earned and kept the public’s trust. The result, unless the law is modified, is that handmade and small batch children’s products will no longer be legal in the US. The Handmade Toy Alliance represents these toy makers, manufacturers, importers and retailers. We actively lobby the House of Representatives and the Senate for CPSIA reform and also serve as a collective voice to the CPSC. Thriving small businesses are crucial to the financial health of our nation. Let’s amend the CPSIA so that all businesses large and small are able to comply and survive!

Handmade Toy Alliance

Bella Luna Toys is proud to be a business member of the Handmade Toy Alliance. Please become a fan of the HTA on Facebook, and visit their website at http://www.handmadetoyalliance.org to learn how you can support their work to keep handmade toys legal in the U.S.

Do you love handmade toys? Leave a comment here professing your love! Do you have a blog? Then please join me in spreading awareness of the Handmade Toy Alliance and add a post to support HTA’s first annual Blog Week!

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May 17th, 2010 | Sarah's Silks, Toy Safety, Waldorf Education, Waldorf Toys | Permalink | Comments (7)

Because the play silks and line of products from Sarah’s Silks are bestsellers at Bella Luna Toys, and being that my name happens to be Sarah, I am often asked if I dye the silks and make the line. The answer is no! That honor belongs to Sarah Lee, who founded her delightful company 16 years ago in Forestville, California.

Today, I am very pleased to introduce you to Sarah Lee, the founder and owner of  Sarah’s Silks. Sarah’s company is truly a pleasure to do business with and I am very proud to carry their entire line. Not only are their playthings beautiful to behold, but they also embody the qualities that I am committed to providing at Bella Luna Toys—toys that are nourishing to the senses and that engage the imagination. (Oh, and did I mention how incredibly nice Sarah and all her employees are?)

I got to know Sarah shortly after taking ownership of Bella Luna Toys last fall. I discovered a kindred spirit in Sarah. Not only did we share the same first name, but I also learned that she grew up just up the road apiece from me in coastal Maine. I thought it would be fun to interview her so that you could get to know her a little better, too. If you’re not familiar with Sarah’s Silks, when you’re done reading the interview, head on over to Bella Luna Toys, and take a look at the play silkstoys and dress ups from Sarah’s Silks. (Though sadly, photos on a website just cannot covey the rich, shimmering colors, and the wonderful tactile experience of silk!)

sarah baldwin moon child blog

When did you start Sarah’s Silks and can you tell us how your company came to be?

I started Sarah’s Silks 16 years ago, shortly after my middle son Noah was born.  I wanted to stay at home and nurse him, yet still be able to pay for my four-year-old to attend a Waldorf kindergarten.  Our local school, Summerfield in Santa Rosa, California, had a lovely teacher, Ellyn, who had play cloths in her classroom. I saw the creative play and use of the cloths and thought it would be wonderful to have some at home, too. I bought some silk scarves and dyed them with the help of my neighbor and our four-year-olds, while wearing Noah in a sling.

Friends started asking for some and soon I was selling them to the local Waldorf toy store. Then my four-year-old son, Josh (now 20 and an artist), wanted capes and tunics to dress-up in, so I expanded to dress-ups too. I made the first silk blanket for Noah. He loved the silky feeling, and I found silk wonderfully warm.

Voila! Sarah’s Silks was born.

Last February, I attended the NY Toy Fair where I saw many cute dress-ups for children, but noticed they were all made from polyester or other synthetic fabrics. Why silk?

Silk for no itch!  Many children are sensitive to synthetics; they may like the look of dress-ups but wear them only briefly, as they don’t feel good. Silk is also a renewable resource, encouraging Mulberry Tree farmers to plant trees in China. Furthermore, silk takes dye beautifully and flows well.

Where are Sarah’s Silks products dyed and made? Can you describe the process?

In the beginning all of our silk was dyed here in our home.  We still dye some items here, like most of the play silks.

However, cost became an issue and so my husband Mike went to China and worked closely with a man named Yue Fung, who has a degree from a Silk College!  He works with people in a small village who hand sew and dye much of our silks.  The rainbows are painted with a paintbrush.  Mike has visited the village, seen the women sewing in their homes, and carefully monitors the dyes for safety. We use non-toxic acid dyes, which are called acid because they use vinegar as the solvent.  It is much like dyeing Easter eggs!

toys boys girls maine wood

There has been much concern lately about toy safety and worries about toys made in China. How can customers know that Sarah’s Silks products are safe and non-toxic?

We employ small village workers who are closely monitored.  Also, all of our products have been safety tested to the highest European standards and the new U.S. CPSC standards by independent test labs.

Read the rest of this entry »

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May 14th, 2010 | Toy Safety | Permalink | Comments (2)

In recent weeks, members of the Handmade Toy Alliance have met with members of Congress in Washington to call for amendments to the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). There is now a draft bill pending, which may or may not be taken up for discussion. This bill would ease restrictions for small-batch makers of handmade toys and small retailers of natural toys like Bella Luna Toys, and could prevent hundreds of toy makers and retailers from going out of business due to strict restrictions, originally aimed at large scale manufacturers of toys produced overseas.

Cecilia Leibovitz, owner of Craftsbury Kids and president of the Handmade Toy Alliance, a grassroots organization advocating for makers of small batch children’s products, has sent out this urgent call for action to bring the discussion before Congress and to help save handmade toys and keep their sale legal in the U.S. I am happy to share her appeal here, and urge all of you who believe in safe, quality handcrafted toys to join me in taking action!

Handmade Toy Alliance

Republicans and Democrats disagree on a CPSIA amendment that would offer relief to thousands of small batch children’s product makers.

Will small batch makers and specialty retailers of children’s products survive the CPSIA? This has always been the question, and as from the beginning, this law has left us suddenly on the verge of extinction. Eighteen months of hard work has resulted at least in recognition of the fact that our preservation was not considered when this law was passed. However, we are still very much endangered, and action is needed now more than ever.

Thanks to the collective voices of American small businesses and citizens, we were heard by the media and our representatives, and could not be ignored. Once again, we must raise our voices, to prevent handmade children’s products from becoming a casualty of Washington’s inner partisan disagreements.

Recently a bill was introduced by the Department of Energy and Commerce, to amend the CPSIA, offering important relief to thousands of small batch business owners. This relief would prevent many from closing their doors. Democrats and Republicans in Washington cannot see eye to eye on the need for the proposed agreement.

We need to tell our representatives today that it is time to take a stand, and show their commitment to keeping our businesses alive. We at the Handmade Toy Alliance urge you to call your representative in the House Commerce Committee and ask for the CPSIA draft bill to go to mark up and become open for discussion. We have been told time and time again, that we must call, call, and call if we are to be heard. The combined power of our voices is what it will take to keep small batch children’s products from becoming a distant memory in America. Please help! Contact the Minority side at 202-225-3641, and Majority side at 202-225-2927. You are likely to get an answering machine. Leave your name, city, state, House Representative’s name and urge that they must work together openly in committee to bring about an amendment to the CPSIA now.

waldorf dolls silks games gifts paintsDo you love handmade toys? Tell us why.

Did you take action? Report your calls here.

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April 5th, 2010 | Play, Toy Safety, Waldorf Toys, Wooden Toys | Permalink | Comments (14)

We love wooden toys because they are safe, natural, and durable, but also because they are nourishing to a young child’s senses. They feel good and, with their variety of natural colors and grains, are beautiful to behold! Not only will wooden toys provide many years of play for your children, but with proper care, they will also be enjoyed by your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Wooden Toy Cement Truck

But how should one care for wooden toys to make them last? Because they are made from a natural, living material, they need special care and loving attention.

Simple cleaning with a mild solution of soap and water (I like Dr. Bronner’s liquid castile soap) or a vinegar solution will keep your wooden toys safe and germ-free. Vinegar has mild disinfectant properties. Be sure to avoid bleach, detergents or abrasive cleansers, which will dry out the wood, leading to cracks and breakage, and will also lighten the surface. Use a damp cloth, soft brush or a sponge to wipe clean. It is best not to submerge wood in water (and never put it in the dishwasher).

Wooden Toy Dish Set

Wood needs to have its natural moisture replenished in order to prevent it from drying out, warping or cracking. The best way to keep your wooden toys hydrated and well-nourished is with a natural oil or wax, like plain mineral oil or beeswax polish, like Three Beautiful Bees. Beeswax polish is not only completely non-toxic and safe for children, but it also smells like honey, further adding to the sensory deliciousness of wooden toys!

beeswax-polish

Like all wood, wooden toys can be affected by changes in temperature and humidity. Be careful not to leave them outside overnight or for extended periods of time. Heat, sun and humidity can all affect the appearance and shape of wooden toys, and worse, lead to cracking, swelling or breakage.

With proper care and feeding, the wooden toys you purchase for your child today will be enjoyed for generations, delighting other children and families decades after the plastic toys end up sitting in the bottom of a landfill for all time.

What are your favorite wooden toys? Leave a comment and let me know!

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