The sizing police of children’s clothes
The big news in children’s wear is that the CPSC has recalled sleepwear from Sage Creek Organics for violations of the federal flammability standard due to sizing. Yes, sizing. The recalled garments don’t meet the “tight-fitting” sizing requirements -which you can find here. [The pdf is easier reading, there's also an overview of the regulations.]
For the uninitiated, children’s sleepwear sizes are regulated because tighter fitting pajamas reduce the likelihood of burns. But there are a lot of problems associated with regulating sizes; for example, which standards are being used?
A cursory analysis of the CPSC’s sizing standard suggests the agency has followed the ASTM guidelines (D-6192*) in spite of myriad complaints from manufacturers that the CPSC sizing is too small and I’m inclined to agree for several reasons. For one thing, there are many problems with the data set; it’s very old, circa the 1920’s. There is a newer data set (the CS151-50, my entries on it are here and here) which is itself dated but still closer to reflecting the increased girth and height of kids today. Comparisons are difficult but here’s a chart comparing chest girth of the three which explains why I suspect the CPSC is using the ASTM data set. [The regulations published in the Federal Register describe but do not specifically cite a now withdrawn standard (D-5826), saying it was based on an anthropometric survey conducted in 1977 so I'm confused that its results mirror data from the D-6192 (09). ]
In the chart at right, I’ve compared weight of three sizes (2-4, I had to limit the sample or I’d be at this all day). This chart is different because the CPSC doesn’t provide weight guidelines but since they’ve followed the ASTM standard, we can guess those weights would apply. I’ve also added data from the Center for Disease Control (2000). You know, the folks who are in charge of this stuff? They weigh and measure kids across the country which is how doctors end up with those handy charts to assure parents their kids are growing normally. You can get the data set to compare for yourself (11 MB pdf download). Anyway, the last line of this chart shows the weights that Sage Creek Organics uses to design their sizing.
The summary conclusion is that Sage Creek is certainly “guilty” of failing to size their products according to CPSC guidelines which are literally, about 90 years old. Albeit guilty, I’m not convinced they’re the ones we should take out behind the shed. Sage Creek has sized well -responsibly even- within the spread shown by the CDC.
There are other problems with regulating sizes like this. Based on weight, there is a large spread of naturally occurring sizes of kids. Obviously CPSC sizes to the 50th percentile but what of the other 50% who are smaller and larger? Sure, parents can buy a size larger or smaller but this introduces other problems, particularly for the rapidly increasing segment of obese kids. For them to find pajamas to fit their girth, the garments will be inordinately long which presents dangers all its own. Say a sleeve dangles and catches fire. Or the kid trips fleeing a burning building because the crotch depth is entirely too long or even trips on his too-long pant legs. The CPSC doesn’t have a standard for plus size kids (plus size activists should be up in arms over this health and safety issue).
So what does all this mean? Well, it means that if you make kid’s clothes, you should stay away from kid’s sleepwear unless you can afford to develop two entirely different sets of patterns, prototypes, fit models etc to cover the range of differing sizes between sleepwear and daily wear. You also risk confusing your customers. Your customers know they buy X size for their kid in your regular clothes but they won’t realize that the sizing of your pajamas will be different because they’re regulated by the government. Knowing how these things go these days, moms will pillory you for sizing inconsistently or being too cheap, you know, trying to save a buck by reducing fabric use in the garments.
And what it means for the CPSC is that they really need to update the regulations to hit the new mean. They also need to add a sizing designation for plus sized kids.
*Re: ASTM D-6192. This is the data set for girls sizes 2-20. There is no data set for boys in this age category. Previously, children’s sizes were grouped together in D-5826 but the standard was withdrawn in 2009.