As for manufacturing, we will use a small to mid-sized, audited factory in China that meets international standards (by surprise audits) and only makes plush toys that meet or exceed the standards of US and European markets. The size of the factory is important, because big factories don't care about small orders and small companies. At same time, we will not use an untested factory just because they are small.
We had considered using trusted manufacturers from the dog-toy industry that we previously worked with, but it proved too much trouble due to the different standards and customs requirements between dog and human toys. Simply put, a factory needs to pick a specialty to make compliance easier. We are considering several small factories that specialize in meeting US/European standards, we have one picked out but no contracts are signed.
We are not doing this alone, we have a Chinese-speaking, US citizen, US-based agent we have worked with for years who regularly visits factories. I, myself, have visited factories in the past, and if this order is big enough to justify it, I will go again (I have my passport and "permission" from China, and I can provide backers with photos!) With specialized, small factories, every production line produces toys to code. There is no line of substandard products to get mixed up.
There's actually very little testing required of plush toys without paint, plastic, metal or moving parts. I've been in touch with some 3rd party testing agencies that could do further testing beyond what's required by law. Much of the problems in China at the major toy companies came from undisclosed subcontractors hired by very large factories to cut corners. Our contract will specify no subcontractors. Most sources of lead in toys comes from paints. Forge of Honor's toys use dyed fabrics, not painted fabrics. The eyes are embroidered and not plastic.
You can see a list of CPSC recalled toys here: http://bit.ly/toyrecalls . There have been very few plush toys recalled over the years. Those that have been recalled are for choking hazards for 0-3 aged toys, magnets, plastic and metal parts that become choking hazards. And lead paint on plastic parts such as plastic faces. We will remain vigilant, but textile-only plush toys are one of the safer toys to make!
If we have a very large order (much larger than our $18,000 goal), we will have some negotiating power, and we will query factories as to who can give us the best chance of delivery by Christmas.