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Requiem for an Etsy Shop

Requiem for an Etsy Shop

(Image courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collections)


At a Feminist Circle full of posh academics, I was once asked what I do. “I have a handmade business,” I said. I was proud of my wee Etsy shop, called Feral Strumpet. I earned more peddling jewellery on the internet than at University lecture gigs in the USA. I had a better quality of life than when I was working the soul-deadening job I had in London processing expense reports for an investment bank in the City. My handmade business meant freedom and autonomy, but this academic with a Mulberry handbag dismissed it as “Victorian Piecework.”

What did she know? I was a self-taught metalsmith with a room in my house devoted to my workshop, yet I was also a joke, my vocation an airhead’s ambition. And yet, I had enough business acumen to support myself for over a decade, allowing my husband to quit his job and join me.

Mike, my partner, manning the Feral Strumpet Table at the SF/F Eastercon in Glasgow.

A lot can happen in fourteen years—that’s how long I have had an Etsy shop. I opened the shop after being unemployed for six years—my visa status allowed me to work, but it was difficult to convince a potential British employer of this. I was too educated, too foreign, too sick to work a regular job in the UK. Eventually my CV looked like something a stranded time traveller might put together.

I had a box of broken vintage jewellery, beads and findings and a table in a rented house. I decided I would make jewellery and peddle it on Etsy. This went so well it sustained me, three cats and a man for over a decade. But it’s over now. I won’t bore you with the details. Etsy fees and draconian surveillance have crippled handmade businesses as the company answers to pressure from investors, and I’m just one of thousands who had to flee.

I knew I’d have to shut the Etsy shop sooner or later, but I was so attached to it, so goddamn sentimental. I thought I could outsmart the Etsy Overlords in a Saul Goodman kind of way. For years, I did—bouncing back after many challenges: the algorithm stranglehold on social media, the loss of my European customers after Brexit (a third of my customer base, gone.) The suppliers I worked with for a decade—independent, ethical and small—went out of business. My chronic pain reached critical mass so I paced the work out and taught my partner to make some of the designs. There was the Royal Mail cyber attack and the pandemic, and still I bounced back. Yet now the only way to survive on Etsy is to churn out repeatable designs at low cost or become a reseller of mass produced goods. This is the business model Etsy rewards.

As a disabled person I rely entirely on the gig economy—making jewellery, teaching online workshops writing on Substack, and selling a next book if I can. All require constant promotion and rejection cycles, the antithesis of creative joy.

The Black Hearted Love - the current iteration of my first Feral Strumpet design.

Fourteen years ago, before the online marketplace went public, Etsy was different. My very first sale on Etsy was an pair of Edwardian filigree chandelier earrings I’d refurbished, sold to a dear friend of mine from High School. I’ve sold pieces to strangers whose names I recognised and whose work I have loved—doom metal rock stars, queer poets, feminist screenwriters and even once to Peaky Blinders’ costume designer. I modelled as a pirate queen for the label of a fellow Etsy seller’s perfume. Sellers shared ideas and knowledge and my success is down to the shared grit and resilience of the community of artists on Etsy in those early days.

I’m lucky though that I have had so much excitement and happiness being an Etsy seller, and this will continue on my independent shop, in new and exciting ways. I’m freed up; I’m mourning. Perhaps these two things are inseparable.


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