Etsy : Is it on the slippery slope from handmade to manufacture?

audratextilestudio.etsy.com - textile ring

audratextilestudio.etsy.com – textile ring

 {all images are linked to their respective shops}

There has been been a debate raging ever since Etsy decided to change its policies on what constituted ‘handmade’ late last year. Those policies now allow designers and makers to outsource a substantial amount of what they do to manufacturers.

On the surface, that means that Etsy sellers who are struggling to keep up with demand can use outside help in order to grow their businesses beyond the kitchen table and the spare room. It means they can pass on the time-consuming and fiddly bits of what they do, leaving them with more time to put their efforts into the areas they’re good at and doing what they love doing, giving them the space to breathe and move forward. On the surface, it means designers and makers now have unlimited potential for success.

Those who agree with the change suggest that it’s unfair for Etsy to remain fixed in their outlook and therefore curtail the growth of these businesses. As Julie suggests in this Facebook discussion; “As a small business owner, I try to figure out the best ways to adapt to growth and I think Etsy is just doing the same. Are they really expected to start turning away sellers once they reach a certain level of “success”? “

 

willowynn.etsy.com - embroidered owl

willowynn.etsy.com – embroidered owl

 

On the flipside is the argument by some that Etsy, who has championed the handmade movement around the world since its inception in 2005 and has grown its own business by focusing on that key fact, is no longer that champion, but instead has become just another part of the capitalist machine – a dollar-hungry wolf dressed up in hand-spun sheep’s clothing. Many sellers are bitter about the changes, and say that it opens the floodgates for cheap, factory-made goods; they say that Etsy is turning itself into a second eBay.

The problems raised are several; not only is there the potential for Etsy to mislead or misrepresent who and what they are, there is also the problem of visibility for smaller sellers – their product gets swamped in a sea of factory-made. Buyers confronted with too much choice might either not consider the method of production, or if they do, simply get frustrated and click away.

Some sellers consider that Etsy’s change of policy ends up pitting successful sellers against factories. Helen, commenting on this article on wired.com says “I don’t buy it. Instead of solving a problem Etsy has had since the beginning – keeping factory made items off their site – they seem to be embracing it under the guise of solving another problem – helping people who have “outgrown” them.”

 

gumcrackkids.etsy.com - 3 crochet bottles

gumcrackkids.etsy.com – 3 crochet bottles

 

Which brings up yet another issue that Etsy has had from pretty much the get-go – sneaky factories and resellers posing as handmade businesses. This has ALWAYS been an issue, and one that always will be, as long as there are unscrupulous people in the world out for a quick buck. Is the change of policy going to alter that in any way?

I think we need to get a bit up close and personal with the new Etsy Guidelines to find the answers.

 

Everything on Etsy must be Handmade, Vintage, or a Craft Supply.

Handmade items are designed and created by the shops that sell them. Because transparency matters on Etsy, we ask sellers to list shop members and share information about manufacturers involved in creating their items. Reselling an item you were not involved in creating is not allowed in our handmade category. “

They also expect that you will –

Maintain a Transparent Shop.

People come to Etsy to buy unique goods directly from artists, artisans, and curators. Make sure that your items are allowed to be sold on Etsy and that you are representing yourself, your business, and your items accurately.”

Among the conditions of selling, they expect that sellers will –

  • “Only list items in your shop that are for sale and fall into one of our three categories (handmade, vintage, or craft supplies). 
  • Items must be accurately represented in listings and listing photos. 
  • Respect the intellectual property of others. If you feel someone has violated your copyright, you can report it to Etsy.
  • For sellers of Handmade items:
    • Do not resell items in our Handmade category.
    • Describe every person involved in the making of an item in your shop. 
    • If you work with an outside manufacturer to make items that you have designed, we ask that you share additional information with Etsy and share information about the manufacturers you work with on your shop and listings. We also expect that you choose ethical manufacturing partners.”

That last condition will most obviously exclude goods that might be handmade, but is produced by cheap, foreign and possibly even child-labour.

 

All of that seems pretty clear to me.

 

If all the sellers in the Etsy marketplace were ethical and honest, Etsy wouldn’t have a problem. Would they?

 

Now while we’re about it, I also take issue on the quality of what many of those same, complaining, small-time sellers pass off as “handmade”. Like all the folk with a pair of pliers and a box of beads who call themselves “jewellers”. Did they make those beads? Nuh-uh. Did they make the clasp? No sir-eee. Could they identify the working properties of different metals, and shape, solder and polish them? Hmmmmm….
(more of my thoughts on quality and skill here).

That aside, there have also been issues surrounding those who manufacture items with the new technologies – 3D printing is the obvious example. High quality prints are not available to the home-based designer; they have to outsource to companies like Shapeways. The new guidelines recognise and incorporate those technologies.

 

keymandesign.etsy.com - mira handmade shoes with violin keys

keymandesign.etsy.com – mira handmade shoes with violin keys

 

There have been some enlightening comments in these discussions. Are all the complaints coming from the small-fry of the Etsy world?

From Dennisse in the Facebook discussion: “I also feel that most people that sell their stuff on Etsy don’t have a business mindset and that means that they limit themselves. They’re creators and designers but for the most part, clueless about the entrepreneur world.”

And this from Dana in the same discussion : “I look at Etsy as a starting place- as you grow and build your brand, it’s time to put on your big girl pants and get your own website. Don’t just hang around forever and overstay your welcome. It’s not that hard to establish your own website, store, and customer base. Why would anyone want to hang around where they have to share the customers that they work so hard to get anyhow?”

But I think Allison hit the nail on the head with this comment : “It’s not a question of should. Etsy is a business, not a service. Though many of us may have once thought we were in some kind of visionary partnership, we were much mistaken. Etsy has consistently changed its terms and its product after it has been purchased by the users. A seller opens a shop, lists items, and expects the payment for listings to provide a consistent shopfront from day to day but this isn’t the reality. Etsy does what it wants, when it wants, for as long as it wants, for whom it wants. Any conversation about what Etsy should do, as if Etsy were a democracy, an online platform of, by, and for the community, is wasted breath.”

 

No, Etsy is not a democracy, it is a business.
They evolve and change as they grow, just like any business.

 

Etsy sellers need to take that on board. If they’re not open to change, then maybe they should get out. And perhaps Etsy simply has a marketing problem here. Or an administration problem.

If, as Chad Dickerson (Etsy CEO) says, ” The one-person shop is still the heart of Etsy” (1), then maybe they need to put more resources into monitoring what’s happening under their banner, to ensure that their promise of “handmade” rings true.

 

artesserae.etsy.com - marguerite ear studs

artesserae.etsy.com – marguerite ear studs

 

Whatever its current problems, it’s still a strong and thriving place. It’s a fabulous intro and business training ground to so many creative people with big ideas and few resources. I for one have learnt massive amounts from the experiences I’ve had and friendships I’ve made (and still have!) over the past five years.

 

There’s no straight forward answer, but I will stand up and say, I still believe in Etsy. Do you?

Or do you think I’m just being a Pollyanna?

Julie X

 

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10 Responses to “Etsy : Is it on the slippery slope from handmade to manufacture?”

  1. Jess

    Julie – I agree with you COMPLETELY. Resellers are still not allowed. You still have to prove you are the designer. Etsy is a platform. Etsy has always sold supplies and vintage – do we handmade sellers complain about that? No – it’s part of the site. The ‘swamping’ of ‘non-handmade’ stuff was always happening, and these new guidelines don’t make that any more ‘okay’ than it was before. Etsy is a brilliant place to have a presence for your handmade business – but you should never have an ‘Etsy business’ – it should be one string in your bow, not all of them.

    Reply
    • tractorgirl

      Bravo Jess! So well put. Etsy is a great place, but it’s not the entire universe of handmade. Expand your horizons, try lots of things and figure out what works for YOU!!

      Reply
  2. Stephanie

    First of all thank you for the feature, Julie!
    The problem you approached is a subject to evening filling discussions with lot of controversy involved and hard to answer in just one sentence.
    Etsy is a business, yes, but the philosophy behind it was to create a platform for crafters and artisans – and therefore the targeted audience was craft lovers with a more conscientious consumer behavior.
    With the guidelines altered Etsy is swamped with unethical businesses that sell products for a price that an artisan cannot compete with and shouldn’t – a good artisan stands out for quality and originality .
    But this evolution scares off customers as well as shops to other platforms that are popping up to imitate Etsy …
    All in all a business is a business, artisan or not, it is a struggle and a headache and a constant learning process with hardly any weekends and it is definitely not the dream Etsy is selling you! – But it is a great tool to get things going for someone with almost no budget and knowledge, they even serve you the principals of online selling on a platter.
    At the end of the day we have to live with the changes Etsy makes and concentrate on making the best of it or move on.
    Thanks for the great article, surely kept my mind spinning. 🙂

    Reply
    • tractorgirl

      Thanks Stephanie, your comments are most thought-provoking! Perhaps it’s a good thing that Etsy is, in a roundabout fashion, allowing other platforms like Zibbet, Madeit, Uncommon Goods and daWanda to grow as small business owners search for alternatives when they decide that Etsy is no longer suitable.

      I think that’s a key point – makers and designers need to be entrepreneurial and figure out what’s best for THEM. If they don’t, they’ll never get anywhere.

      Reply
    • tractorgirl

      Thanks Margeaux. It’s certainly an interesting question, and one that you can only answer for yourself. I know some people maintain a presence on Etsy, even though it’s not their primary source of income for their handmade business – it still has benefits in getting them noticed.

      Love your work 🙂

      Reply

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