The Future of Etsy

This is my one-woman workspace.  Chaos is free.
This is my one-woman workspace. Chaos is free.

This is a picture of my workspace. It ain’t pretty, but it’s where pretty things are made. It’s my one woman factory.

Etsy made big news a couple of weeks ago when it announced that factory made goods and drop shipping would now be allowed on the site.  Drop shipping allows for factories to make many of something and send it to a third party to be shipped out.

For many who shop on Etsy to have a clearer connection with the people who make what they wear and use every day, this is going to be confusing. For one-woman businesses who do it all and have built their shops on Etsy and earn their livelihood there, this may be devastating.

What this will mean for small businesses like myself is invisibility, as Etsy’s search becomes flooded with products you can find on Amazon or Ebay. Some are saying Etsy may be bought by Amazon in the future, and there are many changes Etsy has made internally that have already shaped it to be more like Amazon.

While this will mean challenges for me as a seller, if there is anything I have learned in the two and a half years of building my business, anything is possible as long as you have a little mountain goat attitude. It is time to evolve. I’ll be sharing these changes– a new online shop, other online selling communities– as I make these changes.

I have started by creating my own independent online shop.

What I mourn is my experience as a buyer on Etsy.  I could easily find the products of creative hands and get the feel of an individual’s vision, a glimpse of her creative process and in some way engage with this. This could be found easily through Etsy’s internal search engine, which may now be flooded with factory made goods.

Michael Wolf's Photo of a Chinese Factory Worker
Michael Wolf’s Photo of a Chinese Factory Worker

Oddly, as more and more sellers bemoan the “Made in China” goods sold at prices with which small living room operations like myself can’t compete, I have wondered what handmade means, and what I have in common with the workers in these Chinese Factories.

Around the same time Etsy’s CEO made this announcement, I found this photo essay by Michael Wolf of Chinese Factory Workers and the Toys they make.  Now that Etsy is featuring “artists” whose work is made by “interns”, I’m fantasizing about what Etsy’s coverage of selected makers will look like when the factory workers, like the women in Michael Wolf’s photos, get to speak.  It is of course a fantasy.

This is a missed opportunity– rather than Etsy reaching out to international cooperatives that might be working with free trade models and broadening its international focus to bring goods to its conscious, savvy shoppers, it’s totally confusing things and going for profit margins, betraying all the hard working one-person shops who’ve worked hard publicising the site and making Etsy what it is today.

While my hours are sometimes very long, and my callouses are painful, I still don’t have the resources for interns and personal assistants. The new Etsy would like to cater to sellers who outsource the making of their goods because it means more volume and money for them. The decision makers at Etsy are looking a lot like the big businesses insisting on the bottom line, and the creative hands and hearts that originally built the site are ransomed in the process.

The Blackest of Fridays

It’s Black Friday. Don’t go down to the maul. Spend it with me instead, supporting small businesses and handmades.

I never liked Black Friday very much–the crush at the till, the mania for some consumer item I’d never heard of. Initially it was with a pang of guilt that I indulged in this, the blackest of promotions. But then I realized that I actually enjoyed shopping on Etsy and on other small business owned websites for gifts and treats for myself, and I actually started to look for coupons or sales on this day, allowing myself the luxury of a bit of a spree– something I almost never do.  This would not have been possible without the internet, and despite some recent issues on Etsy with resellers, Etsy’s business manuals and the nitty-gritty update emails have been invaluable to me during this very busy time.

It’s black, it’s Friday, and there’s a sale on in my shop— what’s not to love?


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:

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.

Kiss the Goat

Two Satyrs by Reubens

It’s that time again– don your flayed hide and dust off your cat-o-nine-tails. Lupercalia is here!

Decadent blessings to you dear reader!

Many Valentines Dark and Strange in the Etsy Shop

Lucky 13

Beautiful Tattoo Designs by Sarah Antoinette Martin:

Above is a collection of designs by tattoo artist Sarah Anoinette Martin— if you are lucky enough to live in Brooklyn!

Today is Friday the 13th, a day that always felt a bit lucky.  Maybe it’s just the contrarian in me!  Friday is Freya’s day. There are 13 lunar cycles in a year.  13 witches in a traditional coven.  In a baker’s dozen, it means that extra cupcake.

To celebrate, I’m holding a one day sale in my Etsy Shop— everything is 13% off.  Use coupon code FRIDAY13.

Lucky Cat Earrings by Feral Strumpet on Etsy. All profits from these go to the RSPCA.

The Ivory Bangle Woman

The Ivory Bangle Woman of York, reconstructed from her remains.

The Ivory Bangle Woman, so called because of the jewelry she was buried with, was seemingly one of the wealthiest women in Eboracum, or Roman York.  Archaeologists have recently proved that she was African.

Glass jug from Cologne, buried with the Ivory Bangle Woman of York.

Where Rome was, so was the world.  (The Mediterranean, North Africa and Europe, at least.) In Roman York, one did not have to be from one tribe or another– one could be Roman despite being born elsewhere.  It is difficult to imagine this in modern Yorkshire,  where ideas of what is British can often seem quite narrow.  But these ancient streets were once full of people from many different places– and they were not just slaves or men hired to be laborers or soldiers.  The modern tourist trade here may give us a glimpse of this diversity, but a migrant is not a tourist. (Though I’m often mistaken for the later, despite living in England for over seven years now, but I digress.)

As an immigrant, you become a paradox, of two places at once, and none but another  such stranger can understand this way of being.

I wonder at this woman, far from her first home in the sun.  What did she make of this green island, her new home?  She died here, accumulated wealth and was loved. Her grave goods on display in the Yorkshire Museum have fascinated me.  The beautiful objects, 16 centuries old, are simple, elegant and evoke the mixture of who she was. A perfect blue glass bottle from the workshops in Cologne and two bangles: one of African ivory– the other, Whitby Jet.

Eboracum: Glass earrings inspired by the grave goods of the Ivory Bangle Woman.

The First Four Months: Adventures of an Etsy Seller

Flower Face, Blodeuwedd Rosary Necklace by Feral Strumpet on Etsy

I found myself in a little village in North Yorkshire, after living in London for six years. My fledgling career as a massage therapist suddenly stalled as all my clients were still in London and I knew no one and had no way to build up the business again through word-of-mouth. After working for myself as a therapist I knew I couldn’t work in an office again. Could I start another business and would it be viable? What lessons could I bring from my massage practice to a new venture?

I had long been an Etsy shopper. Whenever I needed anything I would check Etsy first, preferring to buy from an individual maker. Plus, artisans on Etsy usually had unique and wonderful solutions and options. I began to think, what if I sold things I made on Etsy? Friends had often commented that I should sell the jewelry made, but I thought no one would pay me for such things.

I was wrong! It is four months into this journey and already Etsy has helped me make my first mortgage payment. I have found not only a wonderful customer base of friends, internet acquaintances and most amazingly, strangers who have found my shop. But I have also been surrounded by supportive fellow-makers and shop owners. When you wake up in the morning and set up your tasks for they day, they form a kind of virtual team, giving you high fives and thumbs up with messages and “likes” as well as team discussions. They also pose a constant source of inspiration when you see what they’ve been up to. Working alone in my little studio can get lonely and isolating, so having these creative fellows about has made a huge difference.

Four months is a bit of an arbitrary anniversary, except that listings on Etsy go in four month cycles. Everything I listed from that first cycle, save one necklace, has sold. I’ve celebrated by reassessing my business plan and goals for the shop. I’ve gotten serious and invested in branded packaging as well as rethinking things like sales and ongoing promotions (Look for a brand new sale section in the shop coming soon!) Also, I bought a new tool– a Xuron needle nose pliers to replace my little pliers I’ve had for the last quarter of a century. My old pliers were giving out, giving me blisters and the spring was totally gone.

But they had sentimental value. I bought them at the Laguna Beach Bead shop, back in high school. The shop owner (I believe her name is Peggy) was the first person to teach me how to make jewelry. She did it for free, and always took an interest in what I was making. My teen years were difficult– I don’t know if she knew how much she helped me by giving me these skills and being present in my life in that way. This is another reason why local businesses are worth supporting over mega stores! Would I have known someone like her if the only shops left where Michaels and HobbyCraft? I like to think I’m keeping the cycle going on Etsy, building the micro economy and making beautiful things.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me thus far– here’s to the next leg of the adventure!