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).


  1. I agree with you here Marcie, I am a little disappointed as to where Etsy is heading. I too am careful who I buy from on there. I have a shop on there selling my beaded jewellery and it's fine for me for now, but in future I may consider moving from there onto a different platform.

  2. Good Post Marcie! I'm a lurker here on your blog and have been since you began blogging. I admired your work from the beginning. Etsy used to be my Go To place to buy unique quality items for myself and gifts that I was proud to give. Often I see an item there I absolutely love...then look at the seller who is in Hong Kong or some other place that mass produces junk. I still search Etsy for that special item, but only buy after researching the owner of the shop.

    To that lady who made bookoo bucks. Well, yes, good for her.. I passed her by.

  3. I used to purchase handbags, scarves, journals etc. from sellers on Etsy. But now I just purchase artisan beads (from artists I am familiar with) because it is way too time consuming to sort through millions of listings, trying to figure out what is handmade and what is mass produced. Etsy's vision of a handmade marketplace was lost the second the founder sold it. I miss the original Etsy.

  4. I have to tell you that I have been avoiding reading anything about what is happening at ETSY mostly because I don't understand. I totally understand now and I thank you for that!!!