Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What Would You Do?

Suppose you had reason to believe that a yarn from a reputable manufacturer was mis-labelled as to fiber content. Suppose the inaccuracy was in a direction that would likely diminish the perceived value of the yarn. Suppose it was, no matter what the fiber content, a good-quality yarn: soft, easy-care, good stitch definition, good pattern support. A yarn that sold fairly well--not your best-selling yarn, but not your worst. (Oh, by the way--in this dream, you own a yarn shop.)

Now imagine that someone brings it to your attention that it's illegal to sell inaccurately-labelled yarn. Not just illegal like someone could sue you because they felt they'd overpaid since the yarn isn't "really" cashmere, but illegal like the government could fine you $5,000 for each skein sold.

What would you do? Sell it without labels, as "mystery yarn"? (Not strictly legal: yarn must be labelled for fiber content, weight, etc.)

Throw it in the dumpster out back? (Seems an awful waste: it's still good yarn.)

Donate it to the next worthy charity that comes knocking? (It's not suitable for all purposes.)

Take it home and add it to your private stash? (There's a space issue. We're talking about a significant amount of inventory. And do you want to knit at the same gauge for five years after you retire?)

Leave it on the shelves, on the grounds that experts are still debating whose fiber-content tests are more accurate? (Strictly speaking, it seems that you're liable even if nothing's been "proven" in court, as long as you had reasonable cause to suspect.)

Require each customer who purchases the yarn to sign a waiver of their right to sue, should the yarn prove not to be the stuff they thought it was? (Again, we're not just talking about civil suits; the long arm of the law could still come after you.)

In case you're wondering: yes, there are two ways in which the supplier could have assumed the responsibility for the situation: by providing a very specific legal warranty that the yarn is in fact accurately labelled, or by acknowledging that the yarn is not accurately labelled and providing replacement labels indicating the true fiber content. Let's assume for the moment that neither of these bail-outs from the supplier is forthcoming.

The really unfortunate thing* about this is that it's still good yarn no matter what its contents. But there doesn't seem any way to continue to make it available to customers without exposing the seller to potentially disastrous consequences.

So what would you do?

[*Note: I'd almost written "The tragedy about this is . . . " But then I thought better of it: this isn't a tragedy in any way, this is just some combination of greed, dishonesty, and pettiness. And one reason it's all going to go so badly--and stay tuned; believe me, it's going to go badly--is because so many people are going to behave as if 3% or 5% or 7% cashmere in a yarn, or not, is the equivalent of the Watergate coverup.]


Barbara-Kay said...

How about if YOU relable it? Do you know what the content is? Place a lable sticker on it, and sell it for what you believe it to be discounted to.

Carol said...

Well, that's the kicker, isn't it? Unless you pay for some lab to test it, you don't really know exactly what the content is.

Crazy Colorado Knitter said...

can you post it back to the manufacturer? Explain to them that you're not legally able to sell this yarn until the issue is worked out?

Sherry W said...

You would think your distributor would somehow 'recall' the offending skeins.

Molly said...

I've heard about this, though I won't "out" the yarn in question.

Frankly, I have trouble trusting the source of the information. My instinct (NB: I'm not an LYSO) would be to send a sample - or better yet, several - to the testing agency, assuming the profit (or loss) on the current inventory would make up the cost of testing.

Better to know, one way or the other; whatever you decide, this will likely have an impact on your relationship with the distributor and the label.

Laritza said...

There is more to the story. We are paying prime money for the yarn we get here in the USA. I know for a fact that we are higher prices than the rest of the world for the same or similar yarn. The problem with mislabeling is not only that we are not getting what we are paying for, the big problem has to do with allergies. What if a person is allergic to some specific fiber and then what? I have not ever seen or heard of anyone having an anaphylactic shock due to fiber but I do know of severe and not nice allergic reactions. So.......if it is happening we should put a stop to it. My 2 cents.

Mari said...

I have also heard the rumblings and agree with Molly about finding out one way or the other. there has been a huge mistake made and it shouldn't be up to you our your shop to have to pay the consquences for the manufacturer's mistake.

You could send it back to your distributor, and ask for a refund stating that you are not willing to accept the possible liability issues by selling this yarn now that you have been made aware of the implications.

If the distributor is unwilling to take it back, i would go up the food chain until you find a way to cover yourself on the potential ick of the liability.

unfortunately because of this yarn manufacturers across the board may have to adopt a testing for fiber content policy, which eventually will get passed down to you and then the consumer.

they should have rejected it from the mill in the first place instead of accepting an "inferior" product.

Lisa M. said...

Good ideas all, but:

Having the yarn tested is very expensive--and since several players in this drama have already done so, and reported conflicting results, it's not likely to resolve anything.

Thus far, the manufacturer has expressed no willingness to take the yarn back. They maintain that the yarn isn't "broken," so they're under no obligation to fix it.

In this particular case, there's little risk of an allergic reaction, since the debate is over the proportions of the fiber content (or, at an extreme, whether a particular fiber is present or not). No one has found any sign of any fiber not mentioned on the label.

What else have you got?

catspaw said...

My LYS had the same problem with the offending yarn. The owner decided to sell it off cheap, explaining in detail why. It may be that someone is getting a heckuva deal, but the owner wasn't comfortable with selling something that might not be what it purports. She is extremely unhappy with the company.

Sherry W said...

How about posting a little notice on the shelves where the yarn is sold?

Mari said...

maybe selling it off cheap to get it out of your shop could be the answer, but you still now are going to continue to wonder if all the yarns from this company are going to have this issue.

Maybe posting a disclosure/disclaimer notice when selling the yarn is the least offensive way to deal with this.

In the greater scheme of things, how many knitters are really going to cause a stink over 3 or 5% of a fiber or 9 or 12% of a fiber. If you like the yarn, if you like the results, then that shouldn't matter. If you are going for "keeping up with the jones because" it has this fiber or that, then you probably aren't going to buy the yarn with such a low percentage of the fiber.

Carol said...

The problem is that there is a statute which says if you sell yarn without an accurate label, you can get fined some ridiculous amount per ball. So if you sell it in any form, you are taking on the risk of those fines. If you sell it as mystery yarn, it has no label and you're liable. If you sell it and the content is different from what the label says, you're liable too. I bet there is room for some standard of deviation from the label (e.g. if the label says 75% wool and there's 73% or 78%) but if it says 75% wool and there's no wool in it, or only a tiny amount, you're screwed.

Knittah said...

Is there a LYSO association or something? Some industry group that provide guidance on whether it is "safe" to sell the yarn? And outing the yarn might be a good idea, so we as consumers know what we're getting into. I certainly don't want to support a manufacturer who is unwilling to fix such a problem.

Knittah said...

Another thought: isn't there an implied warranty from the supplier that the labelling is accurate? I mean, the law could not reasonably expect every LYSO to test every line of yarn they carry to verify the labelling is correct. Seems to me that if Rosie's was sued, then suing up the chain to the supplier and manufacturer to indemnify you would be in order. Of course, that begs the question of whether you want to risk being sued in the first place.

Is there any legal barrier to giving the stuff away to customers as a shopper's bonus or something? Although that still leaves you with a loss for what you paid for the stock.

Aimee said...

Can you get advice from a lawyer to find out whether or not you can just post a sign by the yarn (or slap another sticker on the label) that says "the content of this yarn is disputed"? If not, it seems like you might just have to take a loss on it.

Lisa M. said...

There's no formal trade association for LYSOs; the closest thing, The National Needlework Association, also represents manufacturers, distributors, sales reps, etc.

The LYS's protection is supposed to be in requesting, every year, a warranty for each and every yarn from each and every supplier, attesting that the yarn is what it represents itself to be. Rosie's price list has 300+ yarns on it, and bookkeeping is not our best thing.

In a less litigious world, all of these good-faith efforts (removing or altering labels, posting warnings or disclaimers by the shelf) would be perfectly reasonable choices. Who, after all, would try to hold the shop responsible, when there's a manufacturer and/or a distributor out there? But it seems unwise to trust that everyone will behave reasonably, and I'd rather not be sued than have to defend myself (no matter how justly) or turn around and sue someone else.

Stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

You have to wonder about the motivation. Follow the money. The guy that approached our LYS wanted $50 for the results of his lab tests. Now, seriously, I don't think he's going to get rich by extorting $50 from yarn shops. What's *really* driving this?

Knitty Delicious said...

How about willing it to your favorite podcasters to figure out what to do with it...we promise we won't tell...or sure

Erica said...

Not knowing what particular yarn is in question here, is it possible that it could be used as materials for workshops or classes? If so, customers would be paying for the lesson and not necessarily the yarn. Right? Just an idea...

Anonymous said...

What's really sounding wrong here is that it seems to play out this way:
1) Yarn Distributors sell LYS Questionable Product.
2) Product becomes known to be Questionable; Litigous Customers could nail LYS for $5G/skein.
3) YD says, no harm done, "not broken", won't reclaim QP.
4) LYS could go under entirely (or be badly hurt) by litigation.
5) YD's indifference could put LYS out of business without responsibility.

Is that it? - Underlying question, who is responsible (accountable) for mis-labelled yarns, under the law?

LA Hoge said...

Hey, Lisa, I think you're safe as long as we have the Republicans to whale on, and that might be some time yet. Then you could have a potlatch for the yarn, in which it is shameful to offer less than what is offered. Let the courts gnaw on that awhile. Love, LA

Cindy said...

I purchased some of the offending yarns at a LYS while visiting another city in early September. At the time the owner explained the controversy to me completely and sold it to me at 40% off, and since I had worked with the yarn previously and liked it, I took it and was thrilled. In my opinion, the only other thing she could have done to cover her butt would have been to put an unremoveable sticker on the label somehow indicating the cashmere content may be incorrect. But I'm no lawyer.

Barb said...

I just received a sale flyer from Footprints, a Birkenstock retailer in Kansas. They advertise a "technical" sock at 70% off. Why: "the only reason they are on sale is that the label on the sock has the wrong contents listed." Does the same law apply to garments that applies to yarn?