Advocacy Day 2017

As you most likely saw on our social media pages, the Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild hosted our very first Advocacy Day on April 5th, 2017. Dozens of Handcrafters including HSCG Board Members and two HSCG staff members participated in this incredible effort to educate members and staff of both Congress and the Senate on the businesses of handcrafted soap and cosmetic makers.

Politics have been on the front of everyone’s mind lately, but my personal lack of experience in anything politically related meant the opportunity to participate in an event this important to our industry was even more valuable. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but I can say this; Advocacy Day exceeded any of the preconceived notions I did have.

Arrival

 HSCG Executive Director Leigh O’Donnell and I arrived a few days before Advocacy Day to meet with the HSCG’s advocate, Debra Carnahan. These were not casual meetings and I can personally attest to the amount of work that went into planning these meetings just from seeing the tail end of the process.

To give a little background about the amount of work that went on behind the scenes, Debra estimates that each meeting with staff or Congressmen, Congresswomen or Senators (she calls them “Members”, and that’s how we’ll refer to them in the remainder of the post) took approximately three hours to set up. We aren’t talking about a shortage of meetings either; Handcrafters from around the country participated in 36 meetings total. That is over 100 hours of planning that went into meetings alone.

As Debra worked hard on scheduling meetings, Leigh worked to bring the event together seamlessly. A welcome reception and dinner was provided the night before Advocacy Day started at the Capitol Skyline Hotel in D.C., where Handcrafters were able to meet and greet. The next morning, Leigh arranged for a breakfast before a brief orientation, where she broke participants into groups by state for efficiency. Each participant received a special edition Advocacy day bag, shirt and padfolio, which contained a comprehensive schedule, talking points, maps and important legislative information.

The Big Day

 Wednesday morning arrived and the sun was shining on our group of advocates; after a brief breakfast and overview of the day, it was time to get started. Clad in bright (and I mean bright) yellow shirts, there was no missing our merry group of Handcrafters as we walked from the hotel to the Capitol.

Walking through D.C. on a beautiful spring day brought out the best in our group. There was a feeling of comradery and a palpable excitement that surrounded us as we walked to the Capitol building. We stood in front of its gleaming white walls, across from the Library of Congress and the Supreme Court. Surrounded by history and places where the most important decisions in our country have been made, we made our way between the House and Senate office buildings, ready to tell staff and Members our stories.

The Experience

 Because I’m from New York where HSCG Headquarters is located, I tagged along with the New York group, led by Leigh. She was a woman on a mission! Having spent quite a bit of time in D.C., she knew exactly where she was going, and went with confidence into each of the offices we were scheduled to visit.

Our first meeting was in Senator Chuck Schumer’s office with Matthew Fuentes, a Legislative Assistant or L.A.. We were greeted and waited a few moments until he motioned for us to come in to a conference room; our first meeting was about to begin!

Leigh started the meeting by introducing herself and our small group to Mr. Fuentes, and explained that it is her belief and the belief of the HSCG that each and every handcrafted soap and cosmetic small business owner has the right to grow and develop their business without overbearing legislation. We also talked about how Congress has shown a great interest in updating the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 and that there have been at least one and as many as three bills introduced each term.

On the subject of these bills, Leigh says “some of these bills as written, would have been devastating to the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry by introducing burdensome fees, reporting and paperwork requirements that small businesses would have difficulty following. We discuss how any bill that is introduced needs to take into consideration the small businesses of the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry and their unique needs as opposed to the larger cosmetic industry. Lastly, we discuss the products that are made, ho safe they are and that they use mainly food grade ingredients.”

We were well received, to say the least; our meetings were all very positive and we left with the feeling that we had truly been heard.

The Importance of Face Time

 Many of our meetings were less than a half hour; one, less than fifteen minutes. But don’t let the time of the meeting fool you; these meetings were extremely valuable in the journey to have handcrafted soap and cosmetic small business owners heard.

When asked to give her take on the meetings, Debra says “the meetings were productive; one on one time for advocates to tell their stories about their businesses to the people that represent them” is “very powerful and compelling and will be remembered if and when the legislation comes to the floor for a full vote in that chamber.”

Leigh felt the same optimism, and told me that “we received a very open response, each office was very interested in hearing about mostly women-owned small businesses in their district or state. Some members were asked to follow up with their district offices, or were invited to other meetings and gatherings.”

Meeting with staff is just as important as meeting with the actual Member, and Debra explains this perfectly. She says, “think about the over 670,000 constituents that a House member serves with a staff in their home District and D.C. of only 20 people. In the Senate, the Member has an entire state to serve and that size varies from a state as large as Texas and California to Montana or New Hampshire or Rhode Island.” She goes on to explain that staff and Members must split their time between committee hearings, votes, caucus meetings and fundraising, all in the course of one day, along with the pressure of surprise votes that they have only 15 minutes to get to. This, added to the fact that Congress is typically in D.C. from Monday evening to around noon on Thursday before they must rush to the airport and fly home to their District to continue working on meetings and events. She says, “getting a meeting with a staffer that serves the Member on your issue area who will then advise that Member is a big deal. There are over 15,000 registered lobbyists on the Federal level competing for their time.”

That really puts it into perspective; with thousands of lobbyists and many, many duties to perform, the HSCG was fortunate to be able to represent 13 states in one day!

Continuing Advocacy Efforts

 

The push for fair legislation did not begin, nor will it have ended, on Advocacy Day. The Handcrafted Soap and Cosmetic Guild will continue advocacy efforts.

When I ask Leigh how the HSCG will continue to advocate, she says that “the HSCG, with the assistance of our DC Advocate Debra Carnahan, will continue to monitor all Federal Legislation aimed at the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry.” She goes on to tell me that an updated bill is expected from Senators Feinstein and Collins this spring, and possibly a bill from Representatives Pallone and Lance later in the term. But, don’t worry; she also tell me that “we will work with all of the Member Offices involved to ensure that there are adequate accommodations for small business.”

Advocacy is Everyone’s Job

 Even if you weren’t able to attend Advocacy Day, there are still many things you can do on your own to advocate for the industry and ultimately, your small business interests. It is very important to stay up to date on current legislation, especially legislation that could affect your small business or the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry as whole. There are a few ways that you can be an advocate for your industry and business.

  • Learn about current legislation and proposed legislation, too. Being educated about laws that could impact your business is the first step in being an advocate.
  • Work with your local district office. One of the most valuable things that you can do on a personal level is visit your Representative and/or Senator’s district office and ask for a meeting. As we discussed above, getting a meeting with a staffer instead of a Member is not a bad thing. Take the meeting and take the opportunity to tell your story.
  • Write a letter or email. There may be times when you are not able to get to your representative’s office; you can still write a letter or email. Make sure that you use proper grammar, spelling and punctuation and keep the communication as professional as you can.

Your Story is the Key

 What really makes a difference in any communication you have with a staffer, Representative or Senator is your story. Take a few moments and write your story out. Keep in mind the following questions when you are writing your story.

  • What is your business?
  • Do you sell in a brick and mortar location? If so, where?
  • Why did you start your business?
  • How would current legislation affect your ability to maintain your business?
  • What alternative legislation would you like to see?

These are just guidelines, but a great jumping point for you to write an effective and moving story.

Wrapping Up

 Meetings concluded around 4:30pm for most Advocacy Day attendees, and our New York group headed to the Small Business Committee room. The SBC room is absolutely beautiful, and we entered the room to group of bright yellow shirts worn by tired, but optimistic handcrafted soap and cosmetic business owners. DC was pretty hot that day, and everyone had walked a lot; but that didn’t dampen the excitement. Some attendees shared stories about how they were able to meet with their Representative personally, and that they felt they had been truly listened to.

This Advocacy Day was important not just for these select attendees, but for the industry. There are hundreds of thousands of handcrafted soap and cosmetic small business owners in the United States alone. This industry has a majority of women-owned businesses and supports a bigger dream of artistic creation, quality products and a sustainable future. Handcrafted soap and cosmetic products are made by the hands of hard working individuals who are equal parts entrepreneur, artist, chemist and perfumer. These small business owners are our neighbors and friends, they are providing the promise of better quality products that make you feel amazing while supporting our communities and building local economies.

Would you like to learn more about the advocacy efforts of the Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild? Stay up to date by visiting https://www.soapguild.org/handcrafters/advocacy/overview.php for information about what we are doing and what we have done in the past.

Legislation: Update on Advocacy Efforts

On April 20th, Senators Diane Feinstein (CA) and Susan Collins (ME) introduced S. 1014, The Personal Care Products Safety Act. The bill was drafted to update The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 and was intending to give the FDA more funding and oversight over the cosmetic industry.

As many of you know, the HSCG has been involved in legislative advocacy at the Federal level since 2008, when it first became known that Congress was interested in updating the current regulations that govern the cosmetic industry. Since 2010, our association has been under contract with a DC Advocate who acts on our behalf and with us to represent the interests of the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry. We frequently attend meetings with members of Congress to raise awareness about the HSCG, the industry and the businesses that make it up. At every meeting we try to share samples of handcrafted soap and cosmetics.

In the fall of 2014, we became aware that Senator Feinstein (D-CA) was interested in introducing a bill aimed at updating current cosmetic regulations. We subsequently had numerous in person and phone meetings with staff from both Senators Feinstein and Collins offices to go over the bill language and to provide information on the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry.

Chairman Vitter sends “Dear Colleague” letter

We have had numerous meetings with the Chair of the Senate Small Business Committee. Chairman Vitter felt so strongly about our issues that he wrote a “Dear Colleague” letter which was sent to the HELP Committee Chairmen, Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member, Patty Murray, as well as to the bill sponsors, Senator Feinstein and Senator Collins. The text of this letter is below (or you can view it here):

 

Dear Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Murray, Sen. Feinstein, and Sen. Collins:

While I applaud efforts to update The Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act of 1938 to protect consumers and streamline industry compliance, I am concerned that the Personal Care Products Safety Act (S. 1014) does not contain adequate small business protections and would redefine the definition of small businesses unfavorably. This would negatively affect a handmade cosmetic industry comprised largely of women-owned microbusinesses with 1-3 employees. As chairman of the Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I have the responsibility to ensure that we do not saddle small businesses with unnecessary regulations and requirements that could make an already-challenging regulatory environment even more burdensome.

My primary concern is that the legislation would require every business with more than $100,000 in gross annual sales to register their facility and report their ingredientsto the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The “facilities” specified in the bill are often in the owner’s personal residence. In addition, businesses with more than $500,000 in gross annual sales would be required to pay the FDA an annual user fee. Both of these requirements are overly burdensome to the approximately 250,000 small business enterprisesthat operate in this market space and employ more than 700,000 people, including 4,081 businesses in Louisiana and 24,593 businesses in California, for example. These small businesses rely on the ability to change and make custom formulationsto stay competitive. Given the great number of small handcrafted cosmetic manufacturers in the United States, this legislation would cause disproportionate harm to the class with less than one percent of the cosmetic market share. Finally, under Section 3 of the Small Business Act, the Small Business Administration (SBA) is tasked with using its expertise and the best available data to establish business size  standards that reflect the differing characteristics of various industries and to consider other factors deemed relevant by the Administrator. Under the most recent SBA size standard guidelines, manufacturers of soap and other detergents are defined as those businesses containing 1,000 or fewer employees. This bill would create ill advised, arbitrary definitions that would cause confusion and harm to small business owners.

For the above-referenced reasons, I oppose this legislation in its current form, and would need to see substantial modifications and improvements to the relevant provisions before agreeing to support it. Thank you for your consideration.

The handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry in the United States is made up of over 300,000 small and emerging businesses in all fifty states. A large portion of these businesses are women-owned and operated and they produce safe soap and cosmetics. The HSCG supports safe cosmetics and helps to educate the membership and the industry n the current regulations governing cosmetics. We feel strongly that any new legislation aimed at updating the current regulations must take into consideration these small and emerging businesses and provide adequate provisions for them to be able to continue to thrive and be assets to their communities and local economies.

Chairman Vitter’s letter and his support of our industry and small businesses is a great stride forward for our legislative advocacy. The HSCG, along with our DC Advocate, Debra Carnahan of Carnahan Global Consulting, will continue to meet with Members of Congress to make them aware of how this legislation, if passed, would adversely affect the small businesses of the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry.

We will continue to keep you updated on any news; in the meantime, you can visit our page, What We Are Doing, to learn more about the HSCG and advocacy efforts.

FDA Responds to PO Box Petition

In August of 2012, the HSCG wrote a Citizen Petition to the FDA – Department of Health & Human Services, regarding the use of a PO Box in the place of a street address on a cosmetic label.  We did this mainly for the safety of the small businesses that make up the handcrafted soap and cosmetic industry as many of them operate out of their primary residence.   In February of 2013, we received an interim response from FDA stating that they were still reviewing the request and had not reached a decision.  The original petition as well as the supporting documentation can be viewed online at regulations.gov.

In November of 2014, we decided to send in a supplement letter to the petition to update FDA with our new name (the association changed from The Handcrafted Soapmakers Guild to The Handcrafted Soap & Cosmetic Guild in February of 2013) and our significant increase in membership (182% since the first petition).  We again requested that a PO Box be allowed in the place of a street address on a cosmetic label.

We received a final response letter from FDA denying our request to change the current regulation.  You can read the full letter here.

Even though the request was denied and the regulation will not change, there was some clarification on what constitutes a “telephone or city directory”.  You need to pay close attention to this…

Under current regulation, the business name and address (full street address) of the person or business responsible for the product must be on every cosmetic label.  The business address must include the street address, city, state and the ZIP code unless the business is listed in a current city or telephone directory under the business name.  In the response letter from FDA dated November 14, 2014, they defined “city directory or current telephone directory” as both print AND online and that either would satisfy the option under the current regulation if the street address is not listed on a cosmetic label.  They further offer the following examples of acceptable online directories that are “no cost or nominal cost” annually:

What this means for a small handcrafted soap and cosmetic business is that in order to meet the requirement under the regulation, to omit your street address, you would only need to list your business in one of these directories annually.  It would be important to keep the listing up to date with current information.

On the one hand, we were disappointed that a PO Box was not accepted but it was nice to see that the FDA is taking advantage of the non-traditional directory options offered by the internet.  On the whole, this is great news for our industry.