The Checkout

Why won't drawstrings go away?

Yesterday, Brents-Riordan Inc. LLC, of Shreveport, La., recalled 7,400 hooded youth sweatshirts and jackets because the hoods have drawstrings that pose a strangulation hazard.

The recall was noteworthy for a few reasons. For starters, the drawstring violation has become a staple of recall alerts, despite the fact that there is an 11-year old voluntary standard that instructs manufacturers not to use drawstrings in the neck area of children's outerwear and to make sure drawstrings at the waist are of a certain length, have no toggles or knots, and are sewn in the back so they can't move.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission has guidelines along those lines for manufacturers. And at least two states, Wisconsin and New York, have made the standard mandatory.

Seems easy enough to follow, right?

Manufacturers and retailers, however, don't seem to be getting the message. Since April 1, 2007, there have been 17 recalls of more than 190,000 units of children's clothing because they had drawstrings in the hood or waist. The manufacturers and retailers involved include major name brands such as Gap, Old Navy, Nordstrom's, Sears and Kmart.

In these 17 cases, no injuries were reported, but there have been quite a few in the past. From January 1985 through January 1999, the CPSC received reports of 22 deaths and 48 non-fatal entanglement incidents involving drawstrings on children's clothing.

Out of curiousity, I called Gap, Inc., which owns Gap and Old Navy, Sears Holdings, which owns Sears and Kmart, and Nordstrom to ask why they have trouble meeting this seemingly straightforward safety standard.

Gap spokesman Bill Chandler said as a policy, the company requires suppliers to test all apparel in independent labs that are chosen by Gap to ensure their products meet all safety standards, including the drawstring one. The two cases involving Old Navy and Gap Outlet were the result of human error, he said.

Sears spokeswoman Kimberly Freely declined to comment.

Nordstrom spokesman Michael Boyd said his company too requires manufacturers to meet safety standards including the voluntary drawstring standard. The company is looking into how the items that were later recalled made it onto the store floor. "We do take the issue of product safety very seriously," he said.

The CPSC can take action if it sees voluntary standards being flouted. But, as we all know, the agency currently faces certain limitations, owing to an absence of quorum. This situation is not likely to change until Congress finishes work on product safety reform legislation and the president signs it into law. The commission, however, delegated enforcement powers to the compliance staff before quorum expired in February. So the agency's hands are not completely tied. Perhaps with its recent influx of new cash, the agency will be emboldened to act?

Guess we'll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, the CPSC recommends that you remove any drawstrings in the hood or neck area of your children's jackets, sweaters and sweatshirts.

If you spot clothing you think may be a hazard, be sure to notify the retailer and the CPSC. In 2006, a lawyer for Consumers Union spotted children's sweatshirts with drawstrings while on vacation. Her tip to the CPSC lead to a recall.

By Annys Shin |  April 3, 2008; 6:23 AM ET Recalls
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

To clarify my description above, the Nordstrom hoodies reached the stores and were being sold until they were pulled for the recall. I received an E-mail from someone saying they thought I was saying the hoodies were recalled before they even reached the stores. That's not what I was trying to say. Hope that clears it up.

Posted by: Annys | April 3, 2008 11:57 AM

They probably won't go away because they aren't dangerous and they are handy at tightening things. The nanny state isn't going to change that, so designers can be forgiven for adding them to cloths since people seem to like them.

Posted by: Boston | April 3, 2008 2:39 PM

I was very surprised to see that they still make baby bibs with ties. The tie bibs are usually the cheaper ones sold in packs, whereas the ones with snaps or velcro are usually sold individually and are more expensive.

Posted by: di | April 5, 2008 10:59 AM

Want to say they aren't dengerous to the families of the 22 children when died from entaglement? That is, their children strangled to death when their drawstring was caught in something. And those 48 non-fatal, you can bet they were serious. At least serious enough for a hospital visit b/c otherwise it wouldn't be in the CPSC stats.

Posted by: Hey Boston | April 8, 2008 10:43 AM

I'm sure if you tabulated all the things all babies died from over a course of a 14 year period draw strings would be around 50,000th on the list. Companies don't do these restrictions because they improve safety, they do them to shield themselves from lawsuits. Deaths 'involving' drawstrings doesn't particularly mean they where hung or strangled by drawstrings either. Limiting design and increasing costs to provide a false sense of security is a waste of time, not to mention government resources.

Posted by: Boston, MA | April 8, 2008 2:35 PM

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