Thursday, January 29, 2009

Confidential: A Sneak Peek Inside agent jane

I just finished the first purse for my new Etsy shop, agent jane. I love these fabrics so much (it has a pretty red lining inside) that I think I'm going to have to make one for myself!

This particular purse doubles as a diaper bag and will be perfect for moms who only need to bring the essentials. I've incorporated four generous pockets inside: two for diapers and wipes, one slightly smaller one for a sippy or straw cup and another slightly larger pocket for other goodies like a compact changing pad or extra outfit for the baby. 

I'm hoping to get at least two more bags finished by opening day, February 10. Aside from all of the sewing and pattern making I have to do, I definitely need to work on my photos (the first attempts will definitely not end up in my final listing, although this photo is much improved). I've gotten so used to my photo set-up for Little Peanut, but now I have to completely change the way I look at styling my photos. This should be a fun challenge!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

CPSIA Blog In - Help Us Save Handmade

Today's post is part of the CPSIA blog-in. I'm one of over 300 bloggers who are writing to create awareness about the CPSIA.

As parents and concerned citizens I’m sure most of us at one time or another have been confronted with the question of lead poisoning. But have you asked yourself what your government is doing to protect your children from lead contained in toys? The answer? They're banning toys, taking books from schools and libraries, hurting low income families, killing entrepreneurial spirit and risking putting the economy in an even greater depression than we've seen in decades. I'd like to introduce you to their solution: the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA).

Do you know about the CPSIA? No? Then I ask you to take a few minutes to find out about it.

The CPSIA is a new set of laws that will come into effect on February 10, 2009 and will impact many, many people in a negative way. Make no mistake, this is very real. View it for yourself. If Forbes, the American Library Association and numerous other media are paying attention, perhaps you should too. 
  • The cost of school supplies will go up. Yep, even glue sticks and crayons fall under the scope of the CPSIA.
  • Children's books will be a lot harder to come by, especially at school and public libraries since there is currently no exemption in place for books.
  • Handmade children's items will virtually disappear since most artisans won't be able to afford the cost of third-party testing.
  • The landfills are going to be filled with brand-new toys, clothes and books that haven't been tested, just in case they might have lead in them. It will be illegal to sell anything that hasn't been tested.
  • Kids items will be nearly impossible to come by at second-hand stores. Low income families will no longer be able to find affordable clothing and toys for their children.
Trust me when I say that this is not an exaggeration. The national media is finally starting to take notice. There was even an article in Forbes recently. Still unsure? Read the actual law.

Are you angry? Upset? Unsure what to do?

It's time to act. Call your Congressperson; ask for their support in amending the law. If you're looking to make a big impact, contact the big players. Don't delay – the handmade movement needs your support now as the deadline approaches. February 10 is almost upon us. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lost Mitten

The little miss and I were about 10 minutes into our walk this morning when I heard a little voice say, "Uh oh!"

I turned around to see my bundled up little girl smiling up at me from the wagon, holding up one mitten-less hand. After a quick search of the wagon and a glance down the sidewalk, I figured she must have dropped her mitten quite some time before.

We decided to finish our walk and look for the mitten on our way back home, since we would be taking the same road back to the house. While we walked, I shared a nursery rhyme that I remembered my mom reciting to me when I was a little girl:

Three little kittens,
They lost their mittens,
And they began to cry,
“Oh, Mother dear,
We sadly fear
Our Mittens we have lost!”

“What? Lost your mittens,
You naughty kittens.
Then you shall have no pie.”

“Meow, meow,meow!”
“No, you shall have no pie!”

The three little kittens,
They found their mittens,
And they began to cry,
“Oh, Mother dear,
See here, see here,
Our mittens we have found.”

“What? Found your mittens,
You good little kittens!
Then you may have some pie.”

“Purr, purr, purr.”
“Yes, you may have some pie!”

And then, on our way home, we spotted the lost little mitten. It was hanging from a bush. She must have reached out to touch the bush and snagged it on the branch as we passed. I'm so glad I had my camera this morning; it was such a funny little sight!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Make Your Voice Heard

February 10 is drawing closer, but there is still time to voice your concerns about the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) to Congress and the national media. With so little time left, it's important that we use only the most effective means of communications: the phone.

Forget about email. Forget about letters. Those take too long to be processed and are easily ignored. 

It's much harder to ignore or set aside a real person. And if we all make a few phone calls, we'll be speaking with one very loud voice. The more pressure we put on our representatives the more likely they are to work for change.

Below, you'll find list of phone numbers to help get you started. The representatives listed are folks who, if persuaded by some very vocal constituents, might be able to help sway Congressman Henry Waxman. Of course, you'll also want to contact your own representative.
Let's not forget about the media! Here are a few numbers of some national media sources that we should all be calling (again, forget about press releases, emails and letters). Ask them if they've heard about CPSIA and how it is going to devastate American small businesses, share your own story and urge them to cover this issue!
Am I missing anyone? Please leave the phone numbers of any important media or congressional contacts that I may have missed in the comments section of this post. I'll be happy to add them in!

Still looking for information on CPSIA and how you can help? Check out Reform CPSIA.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fighting the Good Fight - Amend CPSIA!

I'm energized. I'm excited. I'm ready burn through my cell phone minutes. 

And I hope you'll join me.

This afternoon I had the opportunity to meet with my state representative, Congressman Dan Lungren, to discuss how the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) is going to impact my business. I was the last constituent to arrive for our 3:30 p.m. meeting, and the only Etsian in the group. The others owned and operated online shops that sold lovely children's items - some handmade and others made by small companies.

We spent the first part of the meeting explaining to Congressman Lungren how this ridiculous law is going destroy our businesses. Most small and micro businesses cannot afford to spend hundreds of dollars per item on third-party testing, not to mention how much it will cost to fund permanent labeling on small batches and one-of-a-kind (OOAK) items.

Then we started talking about what can be done about it. The law was not intended, of course, to destroy American small businesses and the handmade movement, and Congressman Lungren was clearly dismayed by how we are being affected by the CPSIA. I'm sure our little group would have loved for him to say, "Don't worry folks. I'll take care of everything. I'll talk to my friends in Congress and we'll get this sorted out right away." Unfortunately, being part of the minority (he's Republican), he doesn't exactly have a lot of sway with the major players involved with this law. 

So what can we do? Obviously, the law has been written and signed into law. But Congress still has the power to change it, remove it or replace it with a new law. All it's going to take is a little (okay, a lot) of pressure from the good folks who keep them in office. Yeah, yeah, we've been doing that already, right?

Here's where we learn something new:
  • Start now. The Republicans in Congress will be taking their annual retreat next week. This means that many of the Democrats will be returning to their home states, taking the opportunity to hold town hall meetings and meeting with their constituents during office hours. This is the perfect week to call your Congressperson's local office and try to arrange a meeting. Who knows, maybe he/she will actually be in town and have time to meet with you!
  • Get on the phone. Forget emails and letters folks. Phone calls are the way to go. When you send an email or a letter to your local congressperson's office it goes straight into a database in their D.C. office. What comes next? Well, as many frustrated Etsians will tell you: a form letter arrives in your mailbox or inbox. A phone call, though, means that you talk to a real person. You get to share your story, ask them to work for real changes, tell them how this ridiculous law is going to affect the lives of their constituents and cripple an already ailing economy. The more people who call, the more pressure we put on Congress to make changes.
  • Contact the national media. Lungren also urged us to go to the national media - forget the local news, it's small potatoes at this point. Each of us has a story that would make incredible headlines: "Congress forces closure of countless small businesses" or "Women- and minority-owned businesses close up shop due to Congressional blunder" or "Senior citizens forced into poverty by hastily written law". You get the idea. Once again, though, forget about letters, emails and press releases. Those take too long and are too easily ignored. Pick up the phone and dial CNN or FoxNews or The New York Times. Maybe if enough of us call and make a lot of noise, we'll be heard.
  • Focus on the big fish. We need to put pressure on the guys in Congress who matter. Right now, that's folks like Reps. Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush. Rep. Waxman is the Chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce - he has the power to call a hearing on concerns regarding the impact of the CPSIA. Rep. Rush, of course, is the man who sponsored the bill. We need to flood their offices with phone calls, asking them to work for reasonable changes to the law. And if you happen to live in their districts or know someone who does, we need your support! They're much more likely to listen if it's a constituent calling.
I hope I've inspired you to take action. Later this weekend, I'll try to post some phone numbers of organizations and folks you can contact. In the meantime, get your phone ready for a workout on Monday. This is too important to ignore!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Little Peanut Goes to Washington... Sort of...

It all started back in November. I was awash in denial after reading a thread in the Etsy forums about a new law, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). 

I admit, there were moments when I considered thumbing my nose at the CPSIA, daring the government to come after me and every little old lady who knits baby blankets for church craft fairs.

But when it comes down to it, I just don't have it in me to break the law. Selling crayon wallets and monster tails simply isn't worth the risk – no matter how slim a possibility – of going to jail.

So instead, I did what every American should do when they don't agree with something the government has done: I called my Congressman, Rep. Dan Lungren. I spoke with a member of his staff, who didn't know much about the law but was surprised by the fact that it will have such a negative impact on small businesses. She promised to call me back with any new information, but I didn't really expect to hear anything since Congress wasn't making moves to change the act.

Thursday night, I received an unexpected call from my Congressman's office as we were leaving Disney World's Magic Kingdom park for the night. As it turns out, I'm not the only one in my area who is concerned about this law. Enough people have called my Congressman's office that the man himself has arranged a meeting with us in his local office this coming Friday!

I'll be there. With my products and my insights as a small business owner.

I don't harbor any illusions of this meeting inspiring sweeping changes in this law. But I get a tiny thrill out of taking part in the democratic process outside of my yearly duties as a voter.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Pretty Glass and Caramel Apples

There were a million questions going through my head as I boarded the plane bound for Orlando, Florida early yesterday morning.

Will the plane leave on time?

Will me make our connection to Florida?

Will we be the least popular passengers on the plane? (i.e. Will our daughter scream the entire time?)

Will I see anything handmade during our stay at Disneyworld?

The answers to those questions are: Yes. Yes. Maybe (she didn't scream the entire time, but had her moments... diaper changes in the plane bathroom are not so fun when you're a toddler). 

And... yes, I did encounter some beautiful - and delicious - handmade goodies at the Magic Kingdom today. I was carrying my slumbering little princess on my back in the mei tai carrier this afternoon for nap time, so I had plenty of time to check out the shops on Main Street. 

I happened to walk into the Crystal Arts shop during an incredible demonstration. The cast member in the photo is a glass artist. He spent quite a bit of time showing us how he adds color to glass, heating it between additions, then stretching it out into a long rod. The best part was that he didn't just work - he interacted with his audience and shared all kinds of interesting information about the scientific properties of glass. When it was cool enough, he cut the rod into smaller sections, which I imagine were going to be used for a beautiful object of some sort. 

Here are just a few of the pretty handmade glass pieces that can be found in the shop:

Unfortunately, I couldn't stay to watch the entire demonstration - I had to keep moving in order to keep my little one sleeping peacefully.

As my luck would have it, the next shop I wandered into was the Main Street Confectionary. I know from my extensive candy tasting experience at Disneyland that the parks often have cast members who hand craft some of the tempting treats they sell. Today, several ladies were behind the glass making caramel apples. Yum!

It's refreshing to think that you can still find a slice of handmade at the Happiest Place on Earth. I think Walt would be pleased as well.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I Just Can't Help Myself

The CPSIA deadline is looming. I promised myself I wouldn't make anything new and only sell what's in my inventory. I can't afford the lead tests, so what's the point in stocking my shop with things that I may not be able to sell after February 10?

Then I remembered that I have a craft show coming up on February 7 - three days before the dreaded deadline. What would be the harm in making a few crayon wallets for the show? Perhaps I was just making excuses for my desire to make cute things for kids... but it felt so good to make something adorable again. 

I'm excited about my new shop, agentjane, but I'm really going to miss Little Peanut while it's... 

...on hold.

I refuse to believe that this law will stand forever. And when it changes, Little Peanut will be back. 

In the meantime, I'm going to Disneyworld! Mama Peanut, Daddy Peanut and Toddler Peanut are going to take a break for a week to hang out with Mickey and friends. Have a wonderful week everyone!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Morning Walk

This morning, I took my daughter out for a walk in her red wagon. The weather was chilly and overcast, but we took our time as we strolled along our usual route through the park and around the neighborhood, stopping to look at kitties like this one. When it was time to move along, she waved goodbye and meowed to the cat, although her version of "meow" sounds a bit more like "oooooowwww".

As we continued our mini journey, I found myself (as I often do) looking at the decorations people put up in front of their houses. Today, I was struck by the notion that many people like to decorate their homes with things that look handmade, but are actually factory-made. How sad that we seem to value the handmade look but often don't take the time to seek out the real thing.

We've walked through this neighborhood many times, but until today I'd never noticed this interesting flower arrangement in front of one of the houses along our route. I wonder what this type of gardening is called... faux gardening? Fauxdening? Are there classes you can take for this – classes like Plastic Planting 101? 

I suppose there are benefits to "planting" fake tulips out in front of your house. No watering. No fertilizing. No bugs chewing up your plants. 

But no matter how you dress them up, they always look lifeless and fake... and maybe a little sad.

The end of our walk brought a smile to my face as I spotted a few birds' nests among the branches of several trees. What could be more handmade (or birdmade, I suppose), more authentic than a bird's nest? 

Friday, January 2, 2009

agent jane

This is going to be an interesting year. Much of the Etsy community is waiting in anxious anticipation for what has been dubbed, "National Bankruptcy Day".  On February 10, 2009 the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) goes into effect, creating stiff regulations for anything manufactured for children under the age of 12. 

While big business will likely continue as usual, the handmade movement will be crippled - at least when it comes to children's items. Everything made for a child under 12 will have to be tested for lead by an approved third-party laboratory. Manufacturers (yes, that even includes folks like me) will have to provide certification that their products have been tested or face the possibility of stiff fines and jail time. Unfortunately, getting certified means spending hundreds of dollars (per test) to test each item I sell for lead. And since I don't own a money tree, I'll have to make some changes.

So what does all this mean for my Etsy shop? Things will continue as normal until February 9, at which time it will likely be placed on hold for a while, at least until the law is (hopefully) amended. My blog will live on, since I love writing about handmade goods for children.

In the meantime, I've been dreaming up ideas for my second Etsy shop, agent jane, which will become my focus until things change with the CPSIA. 

So what's agent jane? It's the place to find bags, purses and totes that lead a bit of a double life. Agent jane bags are on a mission to make everyday tasks like diapering your baby, knitting (okay, more of a hobby than a task) on the go, and grocery shopping beautiful and fun.

You can check out agent jane at any time, but it won't be stocked with bags until February 10. In the meantime, I'll be giving sneak peaks of my bags here on my blog in the coming weeks. Stay tuned!