If you’re a lover of all things handmade, you may have noticed a little less selection when browsing Etsy this week. Then again, given how crowded Etsy has become, you may have noticed no difference at all.
Etsy, you see, has recently raised their costs to sellers. As a result, some Etsy sellers have decided to go on strike from April 11-18th. The fee increase is the latest in a series of moves Etsy made that have angered sellers to no end. I’ve been an Etsy seller since 2008, back when the company was in its infancy. While Etsy once served as my main source of income, I’ve since been treated more like a commodity than a collaborator, and have seen my revenue drop drastically as Etsy has relaxed their definition of handmade and allowed resellers of mass-produced imports to dominate their platform. Should there be any confusion, let me clarify; Etsy is no longer a handmade marketplace, it’s your one-stop shop for mass-produced imported goods. That’s a damning accusation, I know, but I don’t expect you to take my word for it. Instead, I’d like to offer some proof.
Take this handsome ring, for example. It’s listed as a handmade item from a very reputable seller, and has been purchased by many satisfied customers. It could be mere coincidence, then, that this far more affordable ring appears to be identical. Of course, this ring is also identical. Oh, and so is this ring, for that matter, and it’s even cheaper. You get where this is going. I could show you dozens, possibly hundreds of identical rings, or I could show you where most of these sellers probably source their products. (If any of these links are broken or any of these items are taken down, could someone do me the courtesy of letting me know? There’s no shortage of alternatives.)
What does this mean for independent artists, artisans, and craftspeople like me who make their items by hand? It means getting found on a platform like Etsy is now next to impossible, and it means sales for many artists, artisans, and craftspeople have plummeted. In 2013, when Etsy was a little more strict in their definition of handmade, I sold nearly $40,000 US worth of handmade goods on the platform. The party didn’t last long. As per Wikipedia’s Etsy page; “On October 1, 2013, Etsy changed its policy to allow sellers to outsource production to third parties and factories and to use shipping or fulfillment services. The new rules allow products to be labeled "handmade" as long as the original idea for that item—or its "authorship" as C.E.O. Dickerson says—comes from its respective seller.” In 2014 my Etsy sales dropped to $25,000 US. I’d struggle to maintain that number for a few years before it began to waver, ultimately dropping to a low of just below $5,000 in 2019, this still in pre-pandemic days. My own online store has since become my main platform, but getting found on the internet is a full time job in and of itself, and I work other jobs so that I can pay my rent and feed myself.
So what can you do to help me and independent artists, artisans, and craftspeople like me? A lot, actually. If you find something on Etsy you love, do a bit of digging. Odds are the seller has their own online platform, and it may take little more than a few mouse clicks to find it through their social media profiles. When purchasing any given item, to confirm the item you’re looking at is actually hand made or unique try searching for the item’s name or description, or running a Google image search. Finally, if you’ve found something you love and can’t find it anywhere outside of Etsy, try reaching out to the seller and asking if they’d like you to make your purchase in any particular way. These few steps can make the handmade experience a lot more sustainable for everyone, and can help ensure that people are still motivated to make things by hand and share them with the world.