Yesterday, thousands of Etsy shops protested the inclusion of resellers on Etsy by putting their shop on “vacation” or “holiday” mode for a day. The record of silent protesters can be found here: http://protesty.com/
Thanks for the heads up about this from fellow blogger and maker, Nicola Baker. She has written an insightful post about the value of handmade and what it means to be a maker in a world where art and skill has been devalued by cheap labor and the global monoculture. She says, “Handmade art should have value and should be valued, especially at a time when our high streets are, in the main, full of generic shops. Wouldn’t our lives be dull if we all had the same jobs and if our homes were full of the same decorative pieces?” I completely agree.
My experience at Whitby proved to me that I am competing in many markets, in the literal and meta sense, where a race to the bottom determines what sells. Walmart, Primark and Asda and the like have distorted what we mean by value. The handmade movement presents a powerful antidote to slave labour and monoculture by providing consumers with a connection to the objects in their lives, their makers and the process of production. People who embrace handmade are buying fewer things but are opting for objects they will live with and love, eschewing the throwaway bargain culture that dominates the high street.
While the presence of resellers has become a growing problem on Etsy, it was the Etsy Front Page feature of a reseller that instigated this mass protest. I don’t wish to link to her shop, as I feel the amount of publicity this has given to her shop galls me even further. Etsy has shut down myriad shops for transgressions that were minor compared to this seller, who is claiming she runs a “collective” even though she outsources her work and doesn’t make the pieces herself. My guess is the reason Etsy hasn’t shut her down and has left up the feature is that she is a business woman formost, as she claims in the interview, and she probably has a
pretty good lawyer. (Edit– apparently she does have a lawyer who has sent a C&D order to someone who has posted on the Etsy site asking for an explanation of the situation. It just gets worse! To read more on this hilarious yet disturbing development, go to regretsy.)
I would have joined the protest, but I learned of it too late to make it meaningful. It would be great if the Protesty site would actually have an online petition or mailing list about how more sellers could get involved on an ongoing basis, so that the protest lives beyond May 10th. (Edit: There is a petition around this issue, though I am not sure it’s related to Protesty) Also, it would be great if the site could have a list of demands that were put to Etsy about defining its new shop criteria which is causing so much trouble, and explaining the inconsistent enforcement of their rules. The response from the Etsy CEO has been utterly useless to the concerned sellers whose livelihood is at stake. He equates their outcry with a “mob mentality”.
I don’t think Etsy will ever understand how impossible it is for a small maker to compete with a reseller on Etsy. I don’t think they care as long as the reseller is paying for their listings and renewals. What might have been a supportive website spearheading a handmade movement has cashed in our cred, jumped the shark. The handmade credentials of Etsy, created by all the hard working artisans out there with callouses to prove it, can now be used by anyone who can document a few workers and claim their factory is a “collective”.
I love Etsy’s generic support for sellers– their tutorials and emails are very helpful. But when I’ve needed something as an individual, having problems with the site or with non-delivery of an item, Etsy has shut down the conversation at the moment of difficulty. In a way, this parallels Etsy’s response to the reseller front page controversy. Etsy has shut down the comments on the Featured Seller page, moving the discussion to a more private place on the site, so confused and concerned Etsy sellers are talking to each other behind closed doors. Given the recent development and increasing number of stories of Etsy shutting down legit shops overnight without explanation, I am setting up my own online shop to run in tandem with the Etsy one.
It is clear Etsy will not be the one to look out for independent makers. We must do that ourselves but presenting our work the best we can, with all the emotional connections we have to it and trust that our customers will recognize what separates the authentic craftsperson from the opportunist. Shoppers on Etsy must be even more vigilant, and makers must strive to forge connections with our customers so they know who we are and what we stand for.