Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Hong Kong Toy Fair Day 2

Hello Kitty Rings in the Year of the Rat--And Bring Good Luck to the
Toy Industry

It might seem a bit incongruous for a cat to be preparing to celebrate the Year of the Rat, but here she is. Hello Kitty is everywhere in Hong Kong, from stand-alone Sanrio boutiques to boutiques in one of the main department stores, Sogo, to every street vendor. Hello Kitty is very popular here. I resisted buying a piece of Hello Kitty luggage, thinking that the embarrassment of toting it around might be offset by the ease with which it could be spotted on a luggage carousel. In the end, I opted not to get that, but Hello Kitty is featured on all kinds of goods for the New Year. Not only is the character considered cute, but it's also good luck.

And good luck is what the toy industry is going to need this year. Bottom line: Sure, there will be plenty of good toys, but they're going to cost more. According to representatives of toy companies, many factories have been holding down their prices but changes in Chinese labor laws and steadily increasing costs, as well as increased prices for raw materials mean that prices are inevitably going to rise. No one quite knows how much, and it will naturally vary by the product, but it's the talk of the show.

The other major issue that's being talked about is product safety. Of course, there are remaining concerns about this critical issue, and both China and Hong Kong have committed huge resources both to ensuring that the problems of last year are solved and that there is more attention to the safety and quality of toys coming out of the
region. Big signs throughout the city under a program called "Toys to Trust," highlight the regions five decades of making excellent products. And lest you wonder, even with increased testing, that's not what's costing the price increases. Increased testing, depending on the toy, will cost about a penny per piece, according to some
executives here.

The big issue is that we really need a global standard for safety. With every country having different standards and even different retailers have different standards, testing is not as efficient as it might be. The resulting chaos doesn't necessarily result in safer toys. But there is good news coming: The International Council of Toy
Industries is getting close to setting that global standard--and to getting manufacturers and retailers to agree to it. That would mean that kids all around the world would get the highest level of protection.

Now, we need to get our government involved. You can help. Go to https://forms.house.gov/wyr/welcome.shtml and write to your representative. Let him or her know that they can do something meaningful to protect kids and ensure that toys meet the highest standard in the world. You can also educate yourself by going to http://www.toy-icti.org and learn about all the work that's being done to make sure that toys are safe and toy manufacturing adheres to the highest ethical standards in the world.

Tomorrow, we'll look at some of the toys!

- C. Byrne