Tuesday, February 17, 2015

To Etsy, who made like a million dollars off the woman who made like a million dollars on Etsy...

Let me first preface this by saying, I'm a free market kind of gal. I believe in true capitalism (not the crony crap that runs our current economy, mind you) mostly because in a free market, the people choose the winners and losers and if you create something that meets a need then you'll be rewarded justly. It's the only truly free choice for free individuals (off soap box).

So, when I read this recent article about the gal who makes bookoos of money selling on Etsy, I thought...good for her. She deserves to have a thriving business that provides for herself, her family, and the other people that she employs. I believe in small businesses as the engine that should run this country. They are far less likely to get involved in lobbying for govt. policies that favor some and hurt others, and they are far more likely to offer employees some level of autonomy which ultimately creates for a much happier employee. I think it's the American Dream to be your own boss (or at least be close enough to the man up top that you could sit down and drink coffee with him).

That said, I'm here to do the free market thing and tell you that I think that unfortunately, the real enemy of handmade on Etsy is....well, Etsy. I know, "don't bite the hand that feeds you". Unfortunately, a lot of people who used to be fed very well from Etsy are now scrounging around the table of investors and wholesalers and those with the capital to outsource production.

My husband cringed when he heard that Etsy was going public and because I don't understand the stock market very well, he gave me a brief StockMarket 101 entry level course that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Etsy is very different from most publicly traded businesses. Most businesses are in control of overhead/production/sales/advertising and they can balance these things to meet the demands of the market, and therefore their shareholders.

I find it interesting that Etsy (who has got some cajones I might add) chose to go public when they as a company don't DO anything by means of production. Sure, you could say they produce a website, a platform, yadda, yadda. But all of the money coming in and going out of Etsy depends on me and my hardworking artist buddies who trusted Etsy to give them a place where they would only be competing with each other. Artists have always had to compete with cheap international imports, Etsy was the place to go when you wanted to buy quality and connect with the maker and bravo on them for doing such an excellent job...until now.

I'm pretty sure it started with them allowing us to outsource production and I will admit that they tried their darndest to insure that it was done with ethical standards. If you haven't read the application it's here, but I'll just give you some of the highlights that really jumped out at me.

We’d like you to describe:
  • The step-by-step process of designing and creating an item with the help of a manufacturer
    • How you, the seller, developed the concept
    • Your material sourcing and selection
  • And any further role you have in the creation of the item
You should also include images demonstrating your design process. Photos of your original sketches, plans, patterns, prototypes, or any other steps in the development of your designs should be uploaded here. 
We’re particularly interested to see how you communicated your designs or ideas to your manufacturing partner. If you have images of your manufacturer’s facilities and/or the production process, you can share those too.

There's more, but let me wrap it up so you can understand: KNOW your manufacturer, KNOW what kind of labor is being used to create the pieces that you designed, BE TRANSPARENT when it comes to telling your customers about your pieces and where they were made. That one is pretty huge to me because while Etsy wants to know every single detail about your manufacturer, they let you off the hook and provide a "keep my manufacturer private" button that allows you to effectively hide all that info from your customers.

Back to the girl that makes loads of money for....ahem...from Etsy. I was shocked to read this in the article:
Not all the items are entirely handmade by Shaffer’s team—many, like the knitted legwarmers, socks, and gloves, are sourced wholesale from India. "We finish them here, adding lace trimmings and buttons," Shaffer says. The profit margin from such imported items is 65%.

Wha? 65%? Let's do the math....that means that the $28 pair of socks was purchased at a cost to her of roughly $10! Well, sew a button on me, I'm done!

I was also pretty surprised to read this in one of her listings:
This watch we have manufacturing assistance to produce this watch. We simply put the bands onto the watch once you have ordered. We do not make the actual watch face but put our two designed pieces together.

The watch is a costume watch. What does this mean? It means that it MAY not keep the most amazing time as the batteries do seem to die rather quickly. So please know that we will not be able to replace or offer any refunds if the watch is not keeping time. We love it pretty much just for the fashion aspect of it ;)

I'm pretty sure I can get one of those from Target, with MADE IN CHINA stamped on the back label.

Here's the deal: There is nothing inherently wrong with sourcing materials from overseas (unless of course the labor conditions are atrocious). I can rattle off a list of places that I myself shop at where my shirts, jeans, shoes, scarves, dishware and home goods are probably made overseas and then brought here.

But C'MON ETSY! These places were never meant to both exist in your buffet of listings! Money corrupts and I'm pretty sure that the little "cha-ching" that you hear on your Etsy app was the only sound running through the minds of Etsy's CEO's when they made their recent decisions. I know I'm not the only one who feels this and I'm certainly not the only one who's expressed their opinion about it. Will it change? Probably not.

BUT, like I said, I believe in the free market, and the power of the consumer to drive it. So, what can I do? I can choose to be VERY selective when I use Etsy. To make sure that if I can't tell clearly WHO made the product, HOW they made it, or WHERE it was made, I'm not buying. 
EXCEPTION (at least for me): If they outsource using someone located in the U.S. whose name is clearly labeled and listed and the relationship between the two is clearly defined. (Is it so wrong for me to ask that Etsy make sellers FOLLOW THEIR OWN RULES!?) 
Of course, if I do happen to find such a shop, on Etsy, I think my first order of business will be to find out if they have a Big Cartel or alternative site and spend my money there. 

Is Etsy going to see a mass exodus? No. Ya' know why? They've done a great job of advertising their site as a place to get good stuff. Am I going to leave? No. Ya' know why? It's currently the only place where my items could potentially be found, especially when I don't have enough time or $ to start my own website.

Last but not least, we can talk to each other. If you know of a great shop on Etsy that meets the above requirement, please tell someone you know, and if they ask you where you got your necklace/tie/purse/mug, make it a point to remember the name of the shop, not just "I got it on Etsy!"

It's sad that it's come to this point with Etsy. If they really had cajones, they'd go back to their roots and stand for the community of artists who gave them their success in the first place. The truth is that one day they'll overstep their bounds and someone else will open Alterna-Etsy, and they'll be obsolete because they refused to do what they promised to in the beginning.

Until then, it's up to us to be conscious and cautious consumers and unfortunately we have to do that now in the one marketplace that promised us we wouldn't.

As for the girl, making bookoos of money? I'm glad she's doing so well, and I hope that her dream of being a household name gets fulfilled. It'd be cool to see somebody who got their start on Etsy with a line of brick and mortars that's filled to the brim with cool stuff. But, if she's not producing each and every piece of what she's making, then she doesn't belong on Etsy. (Well, the old Etsy).

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My Armor, My Shield

"Write what you know."
This is the advice they gave me in high school when we started the creative writing portion of my high school English class.
I'm proud of these silver shields.
I feel like I know them.
They take me back to Sir Gawain, to Arthur and Lancelot. I feel like I'm watching Ladyhawk again or Joan of Arc. More recently, I'm reading Tolkien, or T.H.White, or George R. Martin.
I didn't live in medieval Europe, but that day that we walked through Westminster Abbey, I felt like I could have.
This ring was the first born of the collection. The sword represents justice, and also honor while the antlers represent strength.
The aventurine is rose cut, so as you're wielding that sword, you'll see a bit of flash as the stone catches the light.

The cut out sword is also on the inside of the band, a hidden detail that only you will see.
The Moon and the Stag came next, the moon representing serenity. I like the beautiful combination of strength and serenity represented by the two images together. I chose the dark lapis to float above the moon.
And included the moon on the band.


These are two smaller rings inspired by the heater shields and sporting small rose cut stones.
This ring has the sash or bend, to signify protection and the amethyst.

This one is a simple double heater shield with a smoky quartz.
Two shields to keep with you always.

All rings, currently in the shop.
And to those of you following this journey of mine who've left me a comment or a note of encouragement, whether here, or Facebook, or Instagram.
Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.
I know I can't always respond, but I do read and it means so much. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Do I have what it takes to be me?

Two weeks ago (has it been that long?!) I took my husband's zippy red hatchback up the road to Fuquay-Varina and held court with her majesty, Jessica Jordan of Rosy Revolver fame.
She taught me to set one stone on top of another, changed my creative life with a little thing called Prips Flux (oh, and the miter jig) and showed me a myriad of other techniques to take my metal smithing to the next level.
The whole experience boosted my confidence and encouraged me to take what I had learned and make it mine. I hold on to this sentiment fiercely as I have watched in the past two years as trends have trickled into the jewelry industry only to be overworked to the point of please...kill it before it dies.
I've also watched as perfectly good and talented budding artists have chained themselves to these trends, even stooping so low as to copy...yes, I said the "c" word...copy the work of other artists in an attempt to cash in on not only the popularity of the trend, but also the artist whom they have copied.
It's depressing really.
I found an artist on Etsy last week who was literally copying the work of another Etsy artist (albeit, with slightly different bells and whistles) and I couldn't help but ask myself if her sentiments were really hers. Who did it first? Who sawed out that first dang deer with antlers...AH!! There, I said it. (Of course, these artists aren't to blame for the gluttonous amount of antlers on the market, no, for that...I blame Anthropologie.)
I was acutely aware of this the whole time I was with Jessica last week.
She has a style that is all her own, it comes from the life she's led, the books she's read, the family she's loved, the places she's been and a million other influences that are uniquely hers.
That being said,
I would like to explain my style, the inspiration and influence that drove me to saw out...wait for it...antlers! (AH!!)
For this, you'll have to come with me to middle school.
I had a history teacher, Mr. Bender, that made everything about history seem amazing. He had lived most of his life in Scotland and having been steeped in medieval history, he passed that love along to me....he didn't mean to I don't think, but excitement is infectious.
I had never read Le Morte d'Arthur but we did in his class and I'll never forget watching this actress with black curly frizzy hair portraying Guinevere on the tv and me thinking, "That's me!!"
Of course, one fairy tale naturally leads to another and after that my library trips mostly consisted of wizards and knights and ladies with bell sleeves, but also hobbits and dwarves and dragons. Oh, and Knights Templar and the Holy Grail with a bit of chivalry thrown in.
So you see, last week after I made these:

The itch was still there to capture the imagination of that little girl who painted her room with blood red walls and cut up calendars by Edmund Blair Leighton to hang above her bed.
So I turned to antlers, but I also turned to imagery. I remember Mr. Bender talking about the Coat of Arms, the heraldic symbols used by medieval knights and families to represent themselves and their proudest moments.
Each image meant something, each moon, each sword, each laurel, each fleur-de-lis said something to your foe or friend that did not need words.
With my heart and hands, I'm creating a collection, a legitimate assemblage of an idea that has been blossoming in my heart since I was a girl fueled by the people I've known, the books I've read, and the cities I've visited (there is nothing like a jaunt through the Tower of London to make you want bell sleeves).

It started with the midi rings and it's continuing here:
The antlers of the stag represent strength and fortitude.
The moon represents serenity.
The sword, justice and honor.
They are mindfully combined to mean something for the wearer about the wearer and they are only the first in a series of pieces, all with meanings drawn from traditions that are centuries old.
I'm working when I can and I hope to show you everything in the coming week.
In the meantime, I hope you have what it takes to be you, I know I'm working with heart and hands to be me.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Midi Medieval Buckler Rings

We went and saw the final installment of the Hobbit the other day.
May I just say, Tolkien is one of the few authors that I truly admire. The world he has created feels so real, and it did for me long before Peter Jackson made it so.
Inspired by that film, I created these:

I'm calling them Buckler Rings. The Buckler was a small, round shield that could be hung from the belt and was most often used in hand-to-hand combat.
Medieval Heraldic images are sawn from even tinier shield shapes and soldered onto the hammered copper. The bands are riveted on. I wanted the ring to look beat up and weathered, as if it had been dug from an Arthurian archaeology site so there's plenty of texture and a dark patina.
The Tree symbol in this form, with branches and bare trunk represents growth and new life, a starting over.

The outline of the antlers represents strength and fortitude.

Finally, the Fleur-de-lis, while being the Royal symbol of France, also signifies purity or loyalty.

The best part?
They're Midis. So when you wear them, they have this definite armor-esque quality that will have you reaching for your sword and shield.

In the shop, here.
Fare thee well, my good ladies. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014


 I know I haven't been around much, but I've had a great Holiday season so far!
I've been working like a busy bee packing up and shipping out orders and I've also been spending a lot of time with the family just hanging out and enjoying the season.
Also, my head has been buzzing with new ideas for laminate this season, so to celebrate, I'm having a flash sale!
For the next 24 hours I'm offering HALF off any laminate piece in my shop!
Use the code RECYCLED50 and get 50% off feathers, birdies, bangles, even the wrap bracelets!
I know it's too late for it to get here for Christmas, but it's definitely not too late to snag some components for your magazine submissions for the upcoming year and also treat yourself with a slightly belated stocking stuffer!
I hope you have a wonderful holiday and my next post will definitely be a show and tell of what my family received for Christmas! (obviously, can't show that yet!)

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sweet Potato Casserole and Cranberry Sauce

 I have to cook both tomorrow.
I really should have cooked them today, but I didn't, so...
In the meantime, I put a bunch of stocking stuffers...also known as birdies and feathers...in the shop!
I've also got a few different colors of ball chain in stock so you can mix and match.
I made these collages as just a sample, but there are a bunch more colors and textures in there.
I've been feeling much better lately.
Trying to gain back some of the weight I lost in the hospital and on the nausea meds (they called them antibiotics) and also trying to work in some exercise.
It's been six weeks so I'm also lifting baby again...some.
I'm still finding myself really tired in the evenings and even though I have a bunch of new designs in mind, I've been slow to get out there and create.
I'm pretty excited about all the North Carolina love in the shop also!
I hope you have a great Thanksgiving if you're stateside and maybe even if you're not!
Have a great week either way and if you're planning on doing any shopping this weekend, remember that the 29th is Small Business Saturday.
Support local and small businesses as much and as often as you can!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rise Above

 We are weighed down here; held to Earth by the force of Gravity that pulls on bone and sinew.

We shed pounds to lighten the load on knees and hips that take the brunt of the force, but what about the weight that can't be shed on a treadmill?

What about the force that pulls on heart and soul, the weight that's just as heavy but totally unexpected. The sickness, the job loss, the end of a relationship. This weight is just as real, just as heavy but can't be lifted as easily.

It requires something more. It requires the deep determination of a bird flapping its wings, lifting itself off the ground in defiance of gravity. Every sinew, every tendon, hollow bones, soft feathers, working in unison to rise above the forces holding the bird...holding us...to the ground.

It has been over a month since I've written anything here.
On October 11th, I went into the E.R. with stomach pain and ended up down an organ. The appendectomy was flawless, but a week later I was doubled over with a hematoma in my abdomen. Back into the hospital for a drain and a week of IV antibiotics. Went home with the drain, after another procedure to insert a larger tube. The drain removal turned into another infection...
It seems so painless to sum up an entire month into a few sentences, but I've never been in the hospital (besides giving birth) and the weight of the past month was some of the heaviest that I've ever experienced.
Being sick is so much more than physical and pain in your body wears on your heart. CT scans and IV's and drawing blood and not sleeping because nurses are taking vitals every two hours.
Not being home with your baby and being unable to do even the most simple household chores when you are home. Relying on another person to wash your hair and help you clean your body. It's a humbling, scary, tiring, trying, and overwhelming experience and it's just been in the past few days that I've felt human again.
I made this series of bangles before this all started, but looking at them today, holding them in my hands and turning them to catch the light, I studied the wings I had cut with my saw, the tension I had tried to capture in copper and I felt like I was rising above, much like the birds.
12 gauge copper bangles, hand cut birds riveted to armor-like plates.
The whole bangle hammered and patinated with tiny turquoise dangles for movement and sound.
There are four of these in small, medium and large sizes and they are HERE.
Rise Above.