Since I’ve gotten back to regular blogging, I’ve mentioned a few times that I’ve opened a store on Etsy, the online marketplace for handicrafts and vintage. I’ve also pointed you to products on Etsy that are in line with the conservation values I espouse.
But now I’m going to wring out a full-throated paean to exactly why I think Etsy is so great across so many fronts.
And then, even though I’m not typically one of those product-focused and “check-out-my-living-room-redesign” kind of bloggers, I’m going to add a second blog to my weekly rotation going forward in which I profile an artist or shop on Etsy. I can’t help it — there’s just such amazing work going on on there I’ve got to give it some props.
Don’t worry, you can still count on a Monday morning post about how to NOT spend your money, but rather to do it all yourself (if you can devote the time). And you’ll still get my characteristically scathing swipes at generic, corporate culture in general.
But loving Etsy and being critical of an impersonal industrial system that’s gotten too big for its britches are not incompatible missions.
So here goes, why I love Etsy.
Etsy has almost single-handedly made it possible for roughly three quarters of a million sellers — many of them women — to bring their wares to market, locally, nationally, and internationally. And it boasts about 15 million members worldwide and is doing some $500 million in sales annually!
Yeah, sure eBay has done that too.
But Etsy is target-focused on artisan makers, fine artists, and crafters (along with vintage and supplies) and their mission shows in everything from the stylish way the site looks and operates, to the abundant free marketing and development tools for its sellers.
What this means is that a whole host of people are either able to make Etsy their primary source of income, or a secondary supplemental source, allowing both types of folks more freedom and resilience in a shaky worldwide economy.
What about Buy Local?
There’s a lot to be said for how far the relocalization movement has gone in such a short time. Buying locally and supporting local artisans and entrepreneurs increasingly ranks as a high value for citizens, community members, and consumers.
Fortunately Etsy isn’t in conflict with that. They offer a Shop Local function for sellers and buyers, letting you know who in your community is selling vintage and handmade goods or supplies online. So if you’re a hardcore Buy Local purist, you can just enter your zip and find your local Etsy connection.
In the meantime, the concept of buying local can sometimes muddy the waters of what it means to support your neighbors’ endeavors.
In my own neck of the woods I’ve committed to two buying missions. One is to get a minimum of $50 in local food per week from my local farmers markets, farm stores, wineries and breweries. (Local restaurants are in a separate category for me.)
My family is also registered in the 3/$50 program, committed to spending a minimum of $50 at 3 local businesses per month (or as I say, some combination therein).
And that’s great.
But for me it remains troublesome that so much of what my locally-owned “independent” stores offer is not locally made. Instead, it’s the same cheap, often plastic, mass-produced goods from China and other nearly slave labor manufacturing countries that you can buy at Walmart, but at a higher price.
What’s becoming increasingly important for me is not simply to buy industrial products from mom & pop shops down the street, but to buy hand-manufactured goods from truly independent producers and entrepreneurs.
To that end, local has to be competitive for me. I’ll always chose local first, but only when it’s also a good value. Otherwise, I don’t feel guilty about looking at regional and national sellers.
Like other local buyers, I’m troubled by shipping and its impact on fuel use, pollution, and global warming. But I try to draw the line at domestic goods. I’d rather ship a few hundred or couple thousand miles than 12,000 miles from China. If that’s protectionist, then color me guilty.
Using their head, hands, hearts
What I love about the slew of original artists and practicing artisans on Etsy, too, is that they are creating things with their hands, mostly, or at least in close relationship to their hands. Even those shops that churn out a fair amount of inventory, or even employ several workers, are not in an impersonal assembly line where a machine does 95% off the work.
For an energy buff like me, this is huge, because it remains my belief that these are the jobs of the future as the fossil fuel economy nears its inevitable end, broadly speaking.
Because their work also comes directly from passions within themselves, what artisans create in their studios and then sell on Etsy is work that’s intimately connected to their hearts — to who they want to be in the world, what they want to say and do as individuals, and in alignment with their values, whether that’s being sustainable, working from home/home studio, expressing themselves and their ideas, disentangling from the industrial economy, upcycling or whatever else.
And they have to use their heads. Being smart businesspeople is a good portion of entrepreneurship.
Sure, any one of them could have their own e-commerce websites, and some do. But Etsy makes it a hub that can amplify the ability to sell.
One friend recently voiced a concern to me that being on Etsy just makes you one of hundreds of thousands — how can buyers really find you?
But don’t be fooled. Having a stand alone e-commerce website also makes you one of hundreds of thousands — or hundreds of millions, really. You still have to position your site (or Etsy shop) with good keyword searches, renewed content, social media connections, and e-marketing.
I used to have an organic baby shop that was an e-commerce stand alone. For my money, I infinitely prefer Etsy.
Etsy works for you
And Etsy is easy to use. For 20 cents, a listing stays up for 4 months, is easily renewable, and incurs no other fees until it sells. Buyers can check out with a credit card or their PayPal account and the fees to the seller are reasonable. All this helps those sellers who wish to avoid the costs of building and maintaining a website to take advantage of a first class selling venue.
Etsy also provides tons of marketing insight, blogs, podcasts, and “labs” (not to mention in-person events and venues) to learn, connect, grow as a business, and prosper. All of that alone is worth the small fees and percentage paid to sell items.
One final thing about the individual sellers. Many have found themselves in the fortunate position of being job creators. They’re either hiring a small number of other artisans and manufacturing workers to help in production of their own original goods, or hiring support staff to do listings, mail out work, etc.
Whether this is big or small amounts of work isn’t important. What is important is that there’s pick-up work to be found in interesting local, artisanal work settings which is a sign of success in the real small-scale entrepreneurial world.
Round and round it goes again
And then there’s the vintage category.
For a conservationist like me, there’s nothing better than re-use. An item that’s twenty years old or older (Etsy’s requirement to claim that an item is “vintage”) has a lot of embodied energy in it. If it still has use value — whether in a purposeful way or decoratively (or both) — then reusing an older item instead of buying something new means minimizing your carbon impact.
Many vintage sellers on Etsy offer more than one venue — brick and mortar, craft shows, a consignment booth in an antique mall, in-home shows — in addition to Etsy, showing that resourcefulness and added opportunities matter.
Local sales are again, great. But opening your business up to a worldwide venue — even if it’s only as an online place to showcase your brick and mortar — can mean many, many more times the sales, especially to markets that pay substantially more than the local market may be willing to support.
In the end, I see Etsy as great for buyers, sure. You’ve got a world of amazing shopping encompassing centuries of goods and fresh and up-to-the minute one-of-a-kind products along with the ability to directly support worker-owned initiatives.
So I hope you’ll book mark the site and look there as often as anywhere else for goods this holiday season and beyond.
But the win-win is that for artisans, pickers and suppliers alike there’s a place to sell work that is deeply supported by the Etsy platform team while providing a place to connect with other entrepreneurs all in a marketplace that has a sleek, contemporary look and feel.
I’m loving running my Etsy shop, LindsaysList, and shopping from others as well. I think you will, too.
Happy Holiday Hunting Season!
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List