Just imagine: you’ve designed the perfect product, found the right supplier, negotiated a purchase agreement, and begun marketing to your target audience. Production is finally complete, and your goods have been shipped right on schedule. Everything is going perfectly to plan until — WHAM! Your entire entire product line is denied entry at the port by US Customs for lack of required labeling. Or worse, your order does make it through customs, only for you to be slammed with tens of thousands of dollars in fines for violating federal labeling regulations.
Don’t let this nightmare become your reality. Whether you plan on importing into the US, Europe or Australia, labeling is a serious and strictly regulated matter that requires specific attention from the importer. And because Western labeling regulations are so much more complex than in China, it’s unwise to leave this important aspect of production entirely up to your supplier. After all, it’s the importers and sellers who are held legally responsible for improper labeling, not the overseas manufacturers!
In this series, we’ll offer broad overviews of product labeling regulations in the United States, Europe and Australia. Please note that although this is a good place to start learning about label laws, this guide is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional legal advice.
Labeling in the U.S.
Consumer product labels in the United States are governed by a series of federal and sometimes state regulations. Enforcement of various labeling regulations is spread out among several different government agencies, including the Federal Trade Commission, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, and many more. For this reason, there isn’t one single law or even government agency that covers labels for all products. Finding all the laws that pertain to your product, not to mention following them, takes a bit of digging.
For our purposes, the most commonly dealt with labeling requirements are the ones set out by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA).
The Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates safety label requirements for thousands of different kinds of products. If you are unsure as to which federal agency regulates the labeling for your product, it’s best to check with the CPSC first. Here, you can search the CPSC database of products over which it has jurisdiction and read the specific statutes that pertain to your product. But keep in mind that multiple laws may apply to a single product, especially if your product is marketed to or intended for use by children, or if your product is or contains a substance that could be considered hazardous.
If you don’t see your product in the CPSC database, next try searching through this database of products types not regulated by the CPSC.
The Food and Drug Administration regulates food, cosmetics, medicine and medical equipment. FDA guides for labeling food products can be read here, and generally deal with nutritional information, ingredients, allergen warnings and net quantity. Guides for labeling cosmetic products can be found here.
For clothing and apparel labels, head over to that section of the Office of Textiles and Apparel website. Generally, labels on clothing and textiles sold in the US must display the following:
- trade name of manufacturer or importer
- country of origin
- fiber content
- care instructions
Once you’ve got an idea of what your labels need to say, it’s time to design it and send it to your supplier. You’ll want to include both a graphical representation of your label as well as the following information:
- Text and layout
- Size of the label
- Material (adhesive or printed on the product)
- Pantone colors
Make sure to include this as part of your purchase agreement. If it’s not agreed to in writing by both you and your supplier, you’re at risk of the same customs nightmare you just spent all that time designing your label to avoid!