Etsy recently published its biannual census, summarising its community of two million sellers. The difference this year is that rather than focusing on the US only, this census is global. Etsy asserts that their mission is to humanise business and to strengthen communities. Before reading the census, I was skeptical.
Though I have had a fraught relationship with Etsy for the 9 years I have had a shop on the marketplace, I was moved to see that the census really did represent me and my business model, and that I could proudly say that I stood with many other Etsy sellers as a woman-owned and operated business that has become a dream come true.
87% of sellers on Etsy identify as women– Etsy allows a flexible scale for new businesses, allowing women to experiment with possibilities. The census also points out that women perform 3/4 of all unpaid care work– meaning that the flexible business model Etsy provides is well suited to women who keep the world turning with their care and kindness.
Etsy allows me freedom to make a living despite surviving with multiple chronic illnesses (arthritis, clinical depression and severe asthma) which prevent me from holding a regular 9 to 5 job. Though there was no data in the census on those Etsy sellers with disabling health conditions, it would be interesting to have this included in the future.
Many Etsy sellers are also located in rural communities, like me. My particular rural community is depressed financially and my business couldn’t survive with only a local audience, yet having a successful international Etsy shop means that my business is one small step in revitalising this local economy. I’m sure this is a similar story for many rural Etsy sellers.
80% of Etsy sellers are microbusinesses, or one-person endeavours, and almost all are run from home. For the first seven years of my Etsy shop I did everything myself. When my business grew beyond what I could handle alone, I was able to hire my partner to help me run things.
Often people think that running an Etsy shop means you are making pretty things all day, but really that’s only half the story– literally. This pie graph from the census is a good reminder of everything that goes into a successful shop.
Many sellers use Etsy as their sole source of income while about half use it as a “side hustle.” Any business owner has to have nerves of steel to withstand the ups and downs, but this is particularly true for a very small business like an Etsy shop.
Once at a Feminist support group, my business was dismissed as being akin to “Victorian piece work”. Those words have given me much to think on. What makes my business different from the consumptive embroidering hankies by candlelight? The difference is that I make all the decisions– focusing on integrity, imagination and responding to my customers’ colourful lives. I have a fine quality of life. This census captures this business model nicely.
It is heartening to see that many Etsy sellers, like myself, are not only able to reinvest in their business but are also able to save. For me, being able to put a bit of money away for the future is a first, though I have worked for others in regular employment for over a quarter of a century before starting my Etsy shop. This was perhaps the most sobering realisation reading the census and considering my current business.
I have wondered in the past if Etsy truly understands its sellers, and there are some aspects that still make me guess at this. Many of the changes to the mechanics of selling seemingly prioritise factory made goods, and 24% of sellers use outside manufacturing. Etsy has changed from being about truly handmade work to a small business marketplace. I hope that this clear picture will enable Etsy to make better decisions supporting its sellers, while I long, quixotically, for a return to the handmade marketplace it once was.