Ten to fifteen years ago, it was easy to start a baby carrier business. Many parents, excited by the idea that they could work from home and be with their kids while still earning money for their families, parlayed their sewing skills into successful small startups. Some were even able to take their creativity to the next level and make them into real and thriving businesses.
However, the market has changed much in the last 6 years. Since the well-publicized recall of the Infantino SlingRider, the lead-in-paint scares of the late 2000s, and similar actions, the CPSC and other agencies have taken a far closer look at products intended for use with or by children. This has resulted in an increase in our children’s safety, but it’s also meant that the baby carrier industry in particular is more regulated now than it was ten years ago, and further regulations are on the way. (Ours is also a unique category in that it had escaped regulation for so long — most durable infant products have been closely regulated for decades.)
Here’s a short breakdown of what you must do to comply with the laws pertaining to baby carriers. It should be understood that where stated, these are not suggestions; they are mandatory for any durable infant product, which includes baby carriers. This is also not a comprehensive list; it’s merely to give you an idea of what you need to do to legally sell carriers in the United States.
You must, no matter how large or small your business is, comply with the statutes set forth in the CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act).
Whether you sell one carrier a month or one thousand, you are legally required to meet its standards:
All carriers must include a permanently-attached tracking label. This label has to include the following information: Place of manufacture (your address), date of manufacture (month and year are sufficient), and a unique identifier like a model or batch number (you may use an order number or similar, as long as it allows the product to be tracked). The label must be permanently attached to the carrier– a sticker is not sufficient. See section 103: Tracking labels.
All carriers must include a postage-paid registration card.
The card must conform to the format required by the CPSC (so a picture postcard with your address on it is not sufficient). You can see an example here — scroll down through the text of the regulation to see it at the end of the document. This requirement is NOT waived even for direct person-to-person sales. Even if you have a record of all the customer’s information from the sale itself, you are still required to provide the registration card. Additionally, it must be attached to the carrier such that the customer has to interact with the card to remove it — you can’t just put it in the bag or box with the carrier.
You must keep on file a General Certificate of Conformity. Some elements in a typical baby carrier are exempt from this requirement — dyed and undyed textiles, for example — but other elements, such as rings, buckles, snaps, printed textiles, foam padding, batting, and zippers — must be tested and shown not to contain lead or phthalates. Many manufacturers of these components are supplying a GCC on their products, but you need to ask them for it and keep a copy on file for your records.
You must create and carry out a third-party testing plan and maintain proper records of your plan. To understand the different types of testing processes, read here.
You are also required to report to the CPSC any incidents that occur with your product. This would include a defect in the product that might impact its safe use, such as poor reinforcement, thread that breaks in use, or design elements that make the carrier difficult to use safely. Mandatory Reporting requirements can be found here.
You must familiarize yourself with the applicable ASTM standard that applies to your product. All soft carriers, mei tais and front packs manufactured after Sept 29, 2014 must be tested and compliant to ASTM F2236. All frame child carriers manufactured after Sept 2, 2016 must be tested and compliant to ASTM F2549. All wrap, sling and hybrid carriers manufactured after February 2018 must be tested and compliant to ASTM F2907 with the additional requirement of having all warning labels sewn down around all four sides of the label. This means that, again, no matter how small your business is and how few carriers you may sell each month, you will be required to have samples of your carriers tested in order to legally sell into the US market. There are also safety labeling requirements and clauses that must be included in your directions.
The carrier standards must be purchased; you can find them via the links below. If you join the ASTM for $75/year, your membership includes the standards publication for your product group (in this case, F15).
soft infant carrier: carriers whose primary use position is upright, specifically soft packs, mei tais, hip carriers that have a soft carrier adaptation portion (assisted holding devices like a hip seat with no shoulder straps are outside of this standard) http://www.astm.org/Standards/F2236.htm
infant sling carrier: carriers in which baby can recline, specifically pouches, ring slings, wraps, hybrids http://www.astm.org/Standards/F2907.htm
frame child carriers: carriers with a stiff frame http://www.astm.org/Standards/F2549.htm
This is where joining the BCIA is a huge help. Experts in the field have spent hours creating and refining the ASTM standards, along with the CPSC and other governmental agencies. They are intimately familiar with the intricacies of the standard, and can help guide you through the regulations, find accredited labs that may be more affordable to the small business, and work through the testing process. Though testing is not inexpensive, BCIA has worked hard to lend the voice of the microbusiness to the standard and continues to work to make compliance affordable for as many manufacturers as possible. If you want to remain in the baby carrier business, you must submit your product for testing. The lab will look through the instructional materials you provide with your carrier (and you absolutely must include written or video instructions with the carrier — there’s no excuse for not doing so, and just pointing them to a website is not adequate) and, using those directions to fix the carrier to the test model, will then run the carrier through a number of tests to determine whether your carrier is safe.
Failure to comply with the CPSIA can result in severe penalties, including heavy fines and even jail time. The CPSIA’s regulations are legal requirements. They are not voluntary. You must comply or risk your business (and possibly even personal) assets.
Joining the Baby Carrier Industry Alliance is an excellent first step in making sure you can comply with regulations. BCIA experts can help you access testing discounts, source labels, give you leads on suppliers who are known to comply, and provide a product registration service that brings the registration card price down to a level that smaller businesses can still afford.
For any size carrier business, you must give consideration to the liability issues that sewing baby carriers creates. In the United States, it is not a legal requirement to have insurance for yourself and your products, but if you don’t and an incident occurs, your business and even personal assets can be seized to pay damages.
No matter what you may have read, having a disclaimer in your product sales listing will not protect you from a lawsuit. Merely saying “I am not responsible for the misuse of this product” does not actually stop someone from successfully suing you in the event of an incident that results in injury or death.
An LLC (limited liability corporation) designation helps somewhat, since in that case, only your business’s assets can be considered, but having an LLC does create other legal responsibilities. Still, if you plan to sell carriers, some kind of company formation is an important step in legitimizing your business. Several company or corporate designations are available — consult with a business attorney to determine which one will be best for your circumstances.
Product liability insurance may be expensive, but if you are selling baby carriers, it really must be in place. Some providers will give you a lower premium if you are selling only a few at a time and are sewing everything yourself, provided you are meeting the other requirements for the product, but it can be difficult to find a provider because the category is so inherently risky.
Be constantly aware of current safety standards, particularly in the use of your carrier. Until 2006, few people were aware that a chin-to-chest position in a sling could cause problems; now, we realize that it can cause positional asphyxia, which can be fatal. Covering babies’ faces used to be thought acceptable as well; now, from incident reports, we see that the majority of carrier-related deaths were due to the babies being covered up so that the wearer could not see their distress. If customers send you photos to use in promotional materials, be absolutely certain that their positioning is the best it can be. In the case of an incident, the CPSC will look at your directions and promotional materials — even those that are customer-submitted on Facebook — and use those as factors in their judgment of your product.
It’s a daunting list, isn’t it? However, in the current market, there is really no excuse for non-compliance. It really doesn’t matter how large or small your business is. Everyone in the industry takes infant safety very seriously (as well we should), and if the CPSC feels that a carrier is putting children at risk, they will take action. One of the first carrier recalls after the SlingRider was of a ring sling where only 40 had ever been sold — clearly a very small manufacturer, yet the recall was made anyway. Don’t feel that because you’re small, you’ll fly under the radar. That may have been true ten years ago, but it isn’t true now.
If you feel that you cannot comply with the guidelines and regulations above, please do not try to wing it and sell homemade carriers anyway. Our industry must stand together, and the choices each of us makes in compliance and safety are interrelated: any carrier recall makes the public at large feel that all carriers are unsafe, as those who were in business at the time of the SlingRider recall can attest. There are plenty of other products you can sew at home without the risks that baby carriers entail, and you can share your passion for babywearing in other venues, like becoming a paid or volunteer babywearing educator, or retailing carriers that others have manufactured. While it may be more difficult for small businesses to break into the market now, the goal is to keep babies safe, and few would argue that is not a worthy goal.