katherine-stein_web.jpgThe school year is upon us again. For parents, that means a few days dedicated to sifting through clothing racks, backpacks, school supplies and other odds and ends.

Some children might be surprised to find this year’s selection of clothing and accessories is decidedly less flashy than in previous years. Likewise, some parents might be surprised to find that products with flashy snaps, ribbons, buttons, bows, zipper pulls, and other components made of metal or pliable plastic seem more expensive this year.

Parents, don’t fret. You might end up paying more, but it’s for good reason.

Following last year’s stream of recalls from children’s products manufacturers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission became the watchdog for the recently passed Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA). Effective Feb. 10, 2009, the new legislation provides stipulations that limit the amount of lead in products intended for use by children 12 years old and younger.

While rules limiting lead existed in the past, the legislation was limited to lead in paint and wasn’t extensively enforced. This new, more defined legislation mandates testing, compliance and certification for all components of a product before that product can go to market.

For manufacturers, the CPSIA means rising costs for lead-free screen-prints, buttons, rhinestones and zippers. Consequently, consumers might see increases in clothing and accessory costs coupled with decreases in the number of flashy clothing designs.

For instance, a manufacturer that used to produce ten-color screen-prints on a clothing line might move to three-color screen-prints because each of the colors must be tested independently from the others. Backpacks might have fewer toggles, locks and other metal objects. The latest girl’s trend might not include rhinestones as a component. Overall, we will most likely see well-engineered trends and lower levels of embellishment.

Adherence to the requirements of the legislation has been superb. There are concerns that bigger brands have the investment backing to survive the rising costs of materials and testing, while smaller designers and manufacturers might struggle with some of the new regulations.

Remember, these new regulations apply to both U.S and international manufacturers. Just because an article of clothing was made in China doesn’t mean it is exempt from the law or crafted from lower-quality materials. Chinese labs are working tirelessly to test products for CPSIA compliance. So, don’t be afraid of buying from China!

Even with the more stringent regulations, concerned parents should continue to check the CPSC website to view information on recalled products.

Katherine Stein manages U.S. Softline Sales for SGS North America. She has 24 years of experience in the apparel and textile industry, and currently oversees compliance, quality management and reduced import risk for retailers, brands and importers.

Editor’s Note: For more information on the U.S. Product Safety Commission, log onto http://www.cpsc.gov/.