Monday, August 16, 2010

It's Personal

This summer my family has participated in the CSA program at a local farm. Community Supported Agriculture means that we pay in the spring for a "share" of the farm's harvest and then from June to October we pick up produce every week. We have enjoyed spending time at Crystal Spring Farm, selecting salad greens and other veggies, checking out the chickens, pigs, and lambs, and picking flowers and herbs in the u-pick field. Another benefit of CSA, as mentioned on the Crystal Spring Farm web site, is that "shareholders also have the opportunity to know who grows their food and how it is cultivated." If you have a question about how something is grown, or how to prepare it, there is someone there happy to answer it. It's more...well, personal.

It occurs to me that there are similarities between this and the jobs of small cosmetics manufacturers. While we don't usually have shareholders, our customers know how their products are made and who makes them. If they have questions about what is in the products or how to use them, they have someone who is happy to help. For a while now I've thought this relationship between small cosmetics businesses and their customers was really special. Not to get all Jerry Maguire on you, but it's like what Dicky Fox says: "The key to this business is personal relationships." Especially when most of the work is customized—as mine is—there is more personal contact and interaction between customers and businesses. I'm not the only one who feels this way.

I recently attended a movie screening and panel discussion about safe cosmetics. The movie we watched was "The Story of Cosmetics," and one of the panelists was a recent graduate of Colby College named Sara Hart. Ms. Hart created a web site called Clean Makeup, launched last February to alert young women to the dangers of toxins in their cosmetics. During the discussion, the panelists were asked what products they used and recommended. Ms. Hart mentioned that she enjoyed lotions she purchased at the farmer's market. In an interview with MPBN, she gave a more elaborate recommendation:

"My favorite products are actually from the farmer's market that are home made by Maine families and local companies. I've had several conversations with different makers of the products and I enjoy meeting them and talking to them and I know the ingredients they use are good quality and safe."

It is my honest belief that Ms. Hart, the other panelists, and those in the audience at the discussion have no idea that the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 would put many farmer's market sellers out of business. While Ms. Hart, the other panelists, and the audience members all seem to support stricter laws like the Safe Cosmetics Act, I believe that none of them want to see small, local companies lose their businesses. In fact, one of the sponsors of the panel discussion, PPNNE, handed out a packet with a list of local Maine businesses whose products they endorse; many of these small businesses might not survive if this legislation passes as written.

After my first blog post about this legislation, I asked for your help. I asked you to consider signing this petition opposing the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 as written. A few days later, I received the following email from one of my customers. I am sharing an excerpt with her permission:

"I wanted to let you know that I signed the petition. I was really upset when I read that on your blog. I have finally found some companies that I can really enjoy with my sensitive skin and nose and have established relationships with these companies and now someone wants to take that away. That didn't sit well with me. So last night after work and a meeting I signed it. I like you too much and don't want you to lose your business. So again thank you for all that you do! You are a one of a kind and cannot be replaced. Sincerely, Shara"

I understand that you may not have the same feeling about me or my business; perhaps you don't even shop with me. That's OK. Maybe you're looking for the gluten-free products The Bath Nook offers. Maybe you shop cruelty-free and vegan with Cactus and Ivy, or enjoy the globally sourced indulgences of Bella Luccè, or "green" products made from a byproduct of the wine industry by The Grapeseed Company. Maybe you love the colorful soapy pops of Soapylove, the sweet bath treats of Milk and Cookeez, or the beautiful soaps and bath products of Mellabelle Designs. Or maybe you shop with another of the hundreds of small, local businesses selling at your craft fairs or farmer's markets. Please, talk with them about the impact that The Safe Cosmetics Act of 2010 will have on their businesses. Will they be able to stay in business if it passes as written? They are ALL "one of a kind and cannot be replaced." Support them by making sure this law gets rewritten to accommodate small businesses. Write to Congress. Sign the petition. And thank you for all that YOU do.

Soap photo from istockphoto.com by carterdayne

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting this. We saw this very same thing happen with CPSIA. Some of the supporters of CPSIA were not aware that the law covered small farmer's-market type producers. (Many farmer's-market type producers weren't aware of the law either, and they too thought it didn't apply to them.) Some of CPSIA's supporters weren't even aware that there *were* children's goods produced outside of large companies. And some firmly believed that they could write language like "all children's products" into a law and it would only be interpreted as applying to toys and couldn't possibly include bedding, nursing pillows, clothing, library books, ATVs, ballpoint pens, and bicycle tire valve stems.

    So thank you for spreading awareness of the unseen sectors of our economy that would be hit by this law!

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  2. Besides the SCA, farmers also have to worry about the Safe Food Act putting them out of business! I grow many of the herbs I use in my products and the SCA would require testing on small batches of herb extracts making it impossible to use these and support my farm. We are hurting so many small businesses in this country with over regulation. Thanks for the blog, I hope people are listening.

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  3. Sarah, thanks for your comment. The language of this bill would need to be much more specific before I would feel comfortable with it. There's a law here in Maine called the Toxic Chemicals in Children's Products Law. It was written to "Protect Children's Health and the Environment from Toxic Chemicals in Toys and Children's Products", and it was enacted in 2008. It was a no-brainer to pass this; what fool would publicly oppose safe children's toys? Now some folks here are trying to interpret this law as applying to personal care products and other products that children are exposed to. And to unborn children, which means pregnant moms, which then means any woman who could become pregnant. The language of the law doesn't seem to support this, but if there is any wiggle room at all for different interpretations, it always seems to happen. It takes zero imagination for me to see this same thing happening with SCA.

    Cindy, one of my recent posts about SCA had a flip comment about a Safe Foods Act, but I shouldn't even joke about such a thing! Our CSA farm newsletter last week included a link to a piece by Barry Estabrook in The Atlantic (here's the link: http://www.theatlantic.com/food/archive/2010/09/where-the-salmonella-really-came-from/62585/) that talks about the industrial food system and says, "There is a way the Senators can have their (Salmonella-free) cake and eat it too: vote to include an amendment put forward by John Testor (D-MT), himself an organic farmer, to exempt small, local sellers from the regulations." I hope at some point here we can all be regulated in proportion to the risk we bring to the marketplace. Thank you both for sharing your opinions!

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