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.
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.
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.
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.