A Feral Future

Right now it seems everything is up in the air and situations change every day.  My online shop is open, and I wanted to let you know about some adjustments I’ll put in place in the coming weeks. My independent online shop, feralstrumpet.co.uk will remain open and orders will go out once a week.

Many of you know about the recent changes at Etsy, the latest of a series that have put pressure on small makers selling on the site.  These have come as the share holders of Etsy stock have demanded deeper profits for themselves. The increase in fees are about to be implemented when all small businesses are struggling to survive.

Etsy’s latest change involves mandatory ad payments “for the lifetime of my shop.” The cost will be steep, and combined with all the other fees and the Value Added Tax charged on these fees, it will amount to at least 25% of each sale that comes through an ad. This will be on top of the free shipping to the USA that Etsy has demanded sellers worldwide must provide if we are to appear in the highly competitive search algorithm on Etsy.

I work with many other small makers and suppliers, trying to keep my sourcing accountable. They are hurting too, and some may go out of business altogether. Right now I’m trying to figure out how best to weather these challenges.

As a customer, I know none of this is your problem. I want to make and source beautiful things that tell a story, and this should be a joy for you to shop on my site. I want people to feel a connection with me as the maker and know that they are supporting a micro business. 

Good old days– this was my first Etsy banner, from almost ten years ago. Maybe some of you remember it!
We will weather this, I promise.

Etsy was once a genuine community of makers. In its rush to please share holders, Etsy management has forgotten who built the site and gave the brand its integrity. Etsy wasn’t always like this; it was not always a public company. I have been selling on the site for nine years, but have been a customer since its inception. I was dreaming about what I would do for my ten year Etsy shop anniversary next March, something I fear will not happen. This is not because of the chaos of COVID-19 but Etsy’s corporate greed, which makes it more heartbreaking. For almost a decade I have been connected with customers and other makers and many have become dear friends. In many ways I and sellers like me have been instrumental in building the trust in the Etsy brand, and now we are treated as expendable. There has been so much outcry about this and always Etsy’s answer is the same dismissive, cut and paste response. When Etsy sent out a bulletin saying how they were supporting makers during these challenging times, its number one offer was the “promise to roll out offsite ads”— something many sellers, perhaps the majority, do not want.

I plan to put my Etsy shop in “holiday (vacation) mode” for the foreseeable future.  I hold out hope that maybe things will change again at Etsy, making it a good place for small makers like myself.  In the meantime, please stick with me through these changes by continuing to come to feralstrumpet.co.uk, my independent shop, even if it is just to browse and look at pretty things. Beauty is useful. As I am always working to make this site the best it can be, I will be unveiling a new and improved shopping experience there very soon! I would love to know the kind of work you like to seeing from me. Let’s go into this new future together.

Celebrating Etsy’s 13th Anniversary


Next week, Etsy is celebrating 13 years of supporting handmade businesses by hosting a site-wide sale, and I’m participating by offering 15% off my entire shop from June 18th-22nd. No coupon is necessary. (Custom orders and made to order designs are not included in the sale).

Good old days– this was my first Etsy banner. Maybe some of you remember it!
One of my first product photos, before I figured out how to use a camera. I still make & sell these Zombie Gnome earrings in my shop!

I’ve had a handmade shop on Etsy for over 8 years of their 13 year history, and before that I was an Etsy customer. Back then, things were small– crafters and artisans offered a few of their wares and there was definitely a feeling of unique, experimental sharing. Many of the shops I visited were like me– making things on their kitchen tables, photographing them with a dinky point-and-shoot camera.

As Etsy grew, many businesses, like mine, grew with the site, and the decision-makers at Etsy seemed to be makers themselves, or  at least understood the unique dilemmas makers face when running a business– Etsy supported us and we blossomed. Many of us were able to support ourselves by selling our work; a truly marvellous thing. I met other shop owners who remain friends to this day and we continue to support each other in myriad ways.  There was a community of sellers sharing knowledge in Etsy Teams, and we celebrated each other’s work by making Treasuries– visual collections of selected pieces that would sometimes be featured on the front page, leading to great exposure for everyone, and a constant source of inspiration and friendship.

The Chartres Labyrinth Necklace is featured in this Solstice Meditation Treasury from 2011. I still offer this necklace design in my shop!
The Folk Reveries Team on Etsy was my favourite.

Of course nothing stays the same. The CEO of Etsy changed, and those of us who made a modest living had to hang on for dear life– despite Etsy’s “Quit Your Day Job” blog posts, those of us who had done just that knew that it harder for us succeed. Etsy had opened its doors to resellers and drop-shipping, and suddenly we had to compete with people who were not making their goods at all but buying them from the 3rd world, often from sweat shops employing child labour.

Etsy has had a crisis of identity: the front page is no longer curated by Etsy members via the Treasuries. Long time Etsians have noticed the site looking more and more like eBay. Also since Etsy has gone public on the stock market it must now answer to share holders rather than makers, and this has changed everything.

That time I modelled as Gunpower Gertie for Catrianna of Deep Midnight Perfume Oils on Etsy! (this is an outtake).

I have learned a great deal on this rollercoaster ride with Etsy, but these are the biggest lessons:

  • If you want to survive as a handmade business, create your own website, apart from Etsy. (Mine is at http://www.feralstrumpet.co.uk)
  • Be ready to spend at least half your productive hours creating a business. This involves trying to anticipate Etsy’s continued changes as you think on your feet.
  • Lastly, loyal customers are like gold, and if you have read this far, I know you are one of them. Every day I am filled with gratitude for the customers who continue to return to my shop, year after year. Without you, I wouldn’t be here!

Only So Many Hands: My Thoughts on Etsy’s IPO.

Women knitting socks during WWI.  Handmade still matters.
Women knitting socks during WWI. Handmade still matters.

Etsy’s IPO happened this month- this is not news.  With damning headlines like “Etsy files for Handcrafted IPO,” I’d like to say I was prepared for this. For the last 3 years this transformation of Etsy has been looming. As a seller what does this mean for me? What will I do? I’ve written this blog post hundreds of times in my head, trying to make sense of it before committing it to cyberspace.  It was procrastination born of a sad heart.

Many sellers have already left Etsy– I have been slow to make that decision because I have so many wonderful, loyal customers who simply prefer to shop on Etsy, but I feel I can no longer go on selling happily there. Luckily, I have built an independent shop to replace my Etsy shop– first on Indiemade and now on Shopify, which I’m much happier with than the Etsy platform.  You can see my independent shop at http://feralstrumpet.co.uk.

Chad Dickerson, Etsy's CEO.  Thanks, Chad. I will.
Chad Dickerson, Etsy’s CEO. Thanks, Chad. I will.

Etsy’s initial public offering corresponds with my Etsy shop’s fourth birthday.  Four years is a long time to work at something– it’s BA degree, a wacky high school journey.  An elephant could have two really cute babies in that time.  Those four years were ones of empowerment, creativity, cashflow and community.  I grew from a hobbyist working on my kitchen table to one of Etsy’s “power sellers”.

When I look back at the  countless treasuries on Etsy I made featuring the products of other sellers, I realize what an inspiring place it once was for me and I happily gave back to the seller’s community that continually gave to me.  I’ve coached myriad newbie sellers during the Holiday Bootcamp sessions.  Other wonderful sellers have included me in their treasuries, and have been incredibly supportive team mates– especially the Folk Reveries Team. We traded notes and ideas, ways to make Etsy work for us.  The seller community was real and powerful and the vast majority of members were women.

The people who will be making decisions about Etsy will not be these women. The investors who buy into this are thinking about tech stocks being hot right now, not about who really made Etsy what it is today. A handful of wealthy people (men, I venture) will become even richer through this. Why does this bother me so much? Isn’t this the way the world of business always works?

I’ve written about it before– back in 2012 I discussed the seller protest questioning Etsy’s acceptance of factory made goods, Protesty. Again in 2013 when Etsy allowed manufacturers and drop shipping in the marketplace, I posted The Future of Etsy. Last year I wrote, A Year After the Changes at Etsy, It’s Worse Than We Thought, explaining how the changes have affected me as a seller and buyer.

Part of the problem is that many of the sellers on Etsy are like me, working hard at making things and balancing our books, managing to be profitable despite all odds. We think practically and literally about money.  All this seems old fashioned and two dimensional in the topsy-turvy world of investment, where being unprofitable can still make you money and lots of it and where making money and growing are prioritized above all else.  Etsy as a company still hasn’t turned a profit. Last year its net losses were $15.2 million, more than 15 times greater than its losses in 2o13.  In its filing it even admits, “Our new offerings also may bring us more directly into competition with companies that are better established or have greater resources than we do..” (Read more at Market Watch)  Already, the Etsy search function turns up countless listings for factory-made goods identical to those found on Amazon and Ebay, often from the same sellers that use those platforms in volume.  The individual, genuine artisan is drowned out and the shopper is overwhelmed with the exact products they were trying to avoid.  An unprofitable company whose changes have made it a redundant online marketplace can still go public with a 100 million dollar offering. Of course this wouldn’t make sense to someone like me who is actually trying to run a handmade business.

Tech crunch gets detailed about the IPO an explains,  “In this regard, Etsy is outright compelling. Historically it has spent 40-70 percent less [on marketing] on a percentage basis than their competitors, while realizing similar, if not greater, growth rates than other marketplaces.” Guess why? The sellers, the visionary single moms, creative living-room risk-takers, the blister-fingered craftspeople did the legwork, got the word out on behalf of their shops and their fellow sellers. Etsy didn’t have to spend a dime.  Etsy introduced an ad in the UK in 2014, perhaps as an experiment? It was too little, too late.

It’s ironic that my last blog post gave 5 reason to bail on the day job culture, the first on being the ability to be The CEO of your life. I talked about my past life processing expense reports for Goldman Sachs and realizing  how perverse it was that I was now chained to someone else’s priorities to make money no matter what, to grow like some malignancy that uses up everything in its path.  Now, Goldman Sachs has underwritten Etsy’s IPO. I simply can no longer pretend this isn’t going to affect me.  Sometimes you have to be bold, and make choices based on what is right, what you feel in your gut.  As the CEO of my own life, I get to decide what my business stands for, and who I answer to.

I read my horoscope on March 20th– it was the Spring Equinox, power charged with a full eclipse and a super moon.  I look to Rob Brezsny, in times like this as on the whole I don’t believe in horoscopes, but I believe in him.

 “You have recently been to the mountaintop, at least metaphorically. Right? You wandered out to the high frontier and ruminated on the state of your fate from the most expansive vista you could find…Here’s what I suggest: Start building a new framework or structure or system that will incorporate all that you’ve learned during your break. “

I’d just returned from the Arctic Circle where I was caught in a storm at sea, had a drink in an Ice Hotel and went to the place of my ancestors in Lofoten. During that time away from my shop I made peace with being small and making changes so I can still feel good about what I do. Rob, as usual, was spot on.

Huffington Post has an interesting article about how to make seller’s happy– I’m cynical enough to think Etsy won’t be instituting these changes any time soon. I think years ago they stopped seeing sellers for who they really were, and wanted to court a new kind of mega-sellers who weren’t makers at all.  Alex Moazed writes, “…the company’s culture and value proposition places a natural limit on its growth. There are only but so many hands to make and sell handmade goods.” Maybe that’s the issue. I am OK being small. I am good with my two hands, making things one at a time without interns or a factory.  And this way of working is good to me.  That’s enough.

The Most-Read Posts of 2014

Before I began selling my wares, I used this blog to write about my adventures around the UK and my London fascinations. It’s interesting to see that some of those posts are still being read and explored, while my posts about the difficult changes at Etsy have garnered many comments and visits from fellow artists and handmade supporters/shoppers alike.  This is an end of year peek at my most popular posts in 2014– a bit late!

Mother Red Cap or the Crone of Camden:

Beneath the history dusted off for tourists in ghost walks and Tower of London grotesques, the spurned of London persist in collective memory.  We will never really know their truth, and this is even more so with women’s stories…(read more)

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

The Future of Etsy: 

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…(read more)

Mabon Tree of Life in progress-- curling up the hammered tendrils
Mabon Tree of Life in progress– curling up the hammered tendrils

A Year After the Changes at Etsy, it’s Worse Than We Thought:

What has essentially happened is this: Etsy used to be like a lovely little beach where you could go and find interesting little stones.  Combing through the sand was fun, with many delightful surprises: a shell here, a piece of beach glass there.  And then one day the authorities decided to use it as a dump, piling up plastic junk. You could still go there looking for little stones and shells, but you would have to wade through tons of refuse to find the treasures…(read more)

The White Rose of York:

Every place has its symbol that defines it, captures its genius loci.

In London I worked in the City for a spell– one of the darker times in my life. I would often look to the guardian of that place– the pizzled dragon with its heraldic erection, and wonder.   To survive the alienation and everyday struggle I would often call on dark things to help me.  They were always there, waiting.

What a contrast now to find the sigil of this city, York, to be a white, five petaled mandala.  I fell in love with it when I first saw it…(read more)

Inside the hollow hill of the Fairy Knowe, Orkney.
Inside the hollow hill of the Fairy Knowe, Orkney.

On Your Knees, Pilgrim:

The creep of Fairy Knowe is 18 feet long– I scampered in and found the darkness warm– the shadows ocher colored. Inside was a feeling of safety, and wild information there for the taking, if one were to crawl further into one of the rooms…(read more)