Rural, Female and Two Million Strong: Like Etsy, Like Me.

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.

I am able to live on the North Sea, thanks in part to my Etsy shop.

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.

How an Etsy Seller Spends her Time. From the Etsy 2019 Seller Census.

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.

Women and girls making artificial flowers. Image from the New York Public Library Digital Collections.

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. 

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!