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Carter's tagless rashes update: Company admits some clothing

from:newsauthor:admintime:2016-01-07

By Jeremiah | October 12, 2009
 
Adlanna, in her Fall 07 Carter's onesie. Photo from the blog carter's Tagless nightmares.
The tagless labels in Carter's infant and toddler clothing have been identified as the cause of rashes among infants that range from mild discomfort to weeks-long, "earlobes to ankles" rashes that are very unpleasant to look at let alone imagine our own children suffering through. Carter's ongoing position has been that the problem affects only a small percentage of wearers; that reactions to the company's clothing are confined to their Fall 07 line, for which they have been processing refunds in the hundreds and even thousands of dollars from worried parents for almost a year, no receipt required; and that they strive to produce products that meet the most stringent quality and safety standards possible. While it's impossible for us to quantify the number of children who have suffered from a reaction, an argument against the second claim from Kristen O'Donnell (one of the several frustrated parents who have also taken their story to the TV news offered some unexpected insight into the third claim as well.
 
Both Carter's Senior Director of Consumer Affairs Janell Cleveland and CEO Michael Casey told ZRecs in October 2008 that they had switched to new Öko-Tex certified Avery-Dennison labels for their Spring 09 line. We trust Öko-Tex certification - it's a rigorous testing standard that proves that a material is free of all kinds of potentially harmful and irritating stuff, including not only phthalates and formaldehyde, but potentially irritating dyes and heavy metals. It is expensive, exhaustive, and constantly evolving. To us, this meant that Carter's had found a way to definitively end whatever exposure was causing whatever portion of their customers to break out in irritating rashes and, on occasion, dangerous secondary infections.
 
But then, several weeks ago, we got an email from Kristen because, she said, her son Jack had developed full-body rashes that persisted for a month from Carter's clothing, but had never been exposed to their Fall 07 line. When we followed up with her on the phone, things got even more interesting.
 
Kristen told us that a Carter's representative had stated to her that although she wasn't at liberty to name Carter's label suppliers, the company currently gets its labels from four different ones - Avery-Dennison was just one of them. We followed up with Carter's directly, because customer service reps say a lot of crazy things. Janell Cleveland herself told us that yes, in fact, they do use four different suppliers.
 
"You said you had switched to Avery-Dennison's ECO Heat Transfer Labels," I said. "That's what we wrote."
 
Yes, Cleveland said, they had - from the other Avery-Dennison labels. But that was just for those labels - they still used three other U.S.-based suppliers.
 
Let me interject here with the text that appears on Carter's website, in the "Message from Carter's " the company published to inform consumers about issues with their tagless labels.
 
What is in the Fall 2007 labels?
We purchase the tag-less labels directly from multiple U.S.-based label suppliers. The suppliers are aware of our quality and safety standards and have provided us with third-party test results that indicate that the labels are in compliance with all existing safety and quality standards. The label contains the standard ink formulation used by many companies on literally billions of garments in the United States. The label is applied by means of a standard screen transfer, similar to an iron-on screen print, the same type of technology used for many years and on many types of garments. The specific ingredients and relative percentages of the ink formula for the label vary depending on the colors and style of the particular label, but it is our understanding from the manufacturers that it is generally the same type of ink that has been used on clothing for many years ranging from children's clothing to adult intimate apparel.
 
It appears that a very small percentage of children can be allergic to one or more ingredients in the labels. The solid, rather than stenciled, background on the Fall 2007 labels appears to have produced a more pronounced and noticeable reaction among those children who are most allergic to the ink. For stylistic reasons, Carter¡¯s has switched back to the smaller labels for our Spring and Fall 2008 line.
 
Starting with the Spring 2009 line, we changed to new Halo-Free ECO Heat Transfer labels that meet Öko-Tex 100 Class 1 requirements. These requirements serve as the ¡°gold standard¡± for international testing and certification for textile manufacturing to ensure that textile products are free from harmful levels of more than 100 substances that are known to be detrimental to human health. The certification is voluntary, is conducted by independent third-party laboratories, and requires annual testing to remain valid. The new labels are made up of water-based inks, are PVC-free and contain no Azo dyes, no formaldehyde, heavy metals or vinyl products. Additional information about the new labels can be found online at Avery Dennison¡¯s (our primary supplier of labels) Web site or at the Öko-Tex 100 Web site.
 
 
Please reread the first sentence, and then that last paragraph again, and firm up, for yourself, what that means. Now, back to me and Janell:
 
Me: "Are those other three suppliers' labels Öko-Tex certified?"
 
No, Cleveland said, but "we hold all of our label suppliers up to the same high standards."
 
"But you're not," I said. "You're not holding them to the Öko-Tex standard, which is a third-party standard that tests and demonstrates that materials are free of the items on their list. So you may be holding them to some standard, but you aren't holding them to as high a standard."
 
"We wouldn't describe it that way," Cleveland said.
 
Upon further interrogation, Cleveland stated that "around ninety percent" of Carter's garments used the new Avery-Dennison labels, and thus that same 90% are Öko-Tex certified. Put another way, ten percent of their garments use the same ingredients they did in 2007. Carter's garment labels use less ink than they did in 2007 - this change came with their Spring 2008 line - but examples like Jack's challenge the claim that this has solved the problem. Carter's has never admitted to knowledge of what ingredient in any of their labels was causing reactions among children, and as Carter's has stated repeatedly to us that they have identified no correlation between a particular label vendor, country of origin, or garment type and the rate of infant reactions to their labels, there is, categorically, no defensible position from which to claim that the problem has been eliminated. That's what the Öko-Tex certification was supposed to do, and that, in our opinion, is why they positioned that change front and center, despite the fact that it was not being implemented across their entire line.
 
And that, sadly, is why this story is not yet over for some of the parents who, a full year after our original report on Carter's tagless irritants , buy and put their babies in newly-purchased Carter's clothing.
 
Of course, the story isn't over for Carter's, either. They're in the middle of a class-action lawsuit which, plaintiff's lawyers have been careful to point out, was not filed using language that would confine it to Carter's Fall 07 line. I asked Cleveland about Kristen O'Donnell. "We believe that one of her children may have worn one garment from the Fall 07 line," she said. "Sometimes it's unclear from what the parents have been able to identify what a child has been exposed to, and we believe her child may have worn an item from the Fall 07 line and then garments from the later line. But we believe in our conversations with Kristen we have been able to clear up the situation for her and that she is satisfied with how we have resolved the situation."
 
I followed up with Kristen over email and asked her if this rang true to her.
 
"Carter's has been well aware from the very first moment I spoke with Lisa Schweda in Consumer Affairs that the clothing both of my twins have worn has the new label design, and not the older label," she wrote in a lengthy response. "I am very well aware by now what the label design from the Fall '07 line looks like, and just to be perfectly clear, my children have never worn any clothes with this older label. Simply put, we have never owned and my children have never worn any article of clothing from Carter's that has that distinct older design. I have photographed every piece of Carter's clothing that I owned with close-ups of the labels, and it is quite clear we are only talking about a reaction to the newer 'stenciled' design."
 
Carter's has since agreed to pay Jack's medical expenses, but Kristen isn't finished yet. She wants to know what's in the labels, and it's not because she's idly curious.
 
"I would like Carter's to reveal to me, and the millions of other consumers, which chemicals are being used in their newer labels so that I can work to avoid Jack's future contact with these harmful materials," she wrote to us. "My alternative would be to go on a wild goose chase trying to identify anything Jack may be allergic to through painful and tedious allergy testing, which may not reveal his particular sensitivity; Jack has never had as much as a diaper rash prior to this incident, or afterward."
 
Kristen's desire is no doubt shared by other parents trying to protect their children from further exposures. Our own experience with monitoring chemicals in children's products gives us the nagging feeling that these "reactives" might be canaries in the coal mine - cases of hypersensitivity to chemicals that no one should be exposed to. Every time a commenter writes in that their child was fortunate enough not to have a reaction to Carter's clothing, we have to wonder: Are they really comfortable knowing that their baby was exposed to, and probably absorbed, some of the same ingredients that caused these reactions? Would that comfort level shift at all if the ingredient causing the problems had a name?
 
Kristen was kind enough to send us, at our request, two of the garments she suspected as being likely sources of the irritant for her son Jack. Both of them are clearly post-Fall 07 garments. ZRecs has also purchased three new garments from the Fall 07 line, with tags still attached, from eBay, the place where forgotten merchandise goes for a new lease on life.
 
Our job now is to leverage the expertise of our contacts and of testing labs we could work with to narrow down just what we should be doing with these product samples. Product testing costs money that no individual parent, however concerned, is likely to be able to spare. But what if we pooled it? What if parents - both those who have been directly affected by products like Carter's onesies, through the exposures of their children, and those who simply have an interest in seeing the truth come out - shared the costs of testing?
 
We'll be working up a proposal in the next couple of weeks, and present it to readers for consideration. If you want the testing done, we'll be prepared to make it happen.
 
Categories: Carter's, chemical safety, kid and baby clothes

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