Etsy brands itself as the “global handmade and vintage marketplace”. It’s a proud label with years of artisan and handcrafted goods on which to rely. However, the Etsy model has, over the years, changed dramatically, and the platform is turning its back on the individual artist.
From its birth in 2005 as a handmade heaven, Etsy has its roots in the ideal of successful individual artisans. But from the addition of suppliers and vintage re-sellers, the use of Kissmetrics (a malicious tracking cookie), to it’s support of Ecological Malibu in 2011, the individual craftsman or woman has fallen from the good graces of Etsy executives, and the consensus among individual shop owners became one of negativity, regret and betrayal: “The more you make, the more you matter.”
This week, Etsy again has turned its back to the artisans upon which their handmade ideology is built by releasing the following announcement, indicating a definition of “handmade” clearly contradictory to that most socially understood and accepted. Etsy states: “In our diverse marketplace, handmade can’t mean a single method or process. Instead, it’s about these three principles: Authorship, Responsibility and Transparency.” The methods and processes they include to mean “handmade” are, to name a few, drop shipping, over-seas manufacturing and collaborations. Eli Goodman (Etsy Admin) states: “In looking at the sellers that really embodied the spirit of what we want Etsy to be, there was no one production process that unified them – some made everything from scratch, some had help in their shops, and some used outside production assistance. Thus, we settled on a definition of handmade (based) more around the values these sellers embodied, as opposed to the methods of production that they used. We chose not to change to some other term because we called Etsy a marketplace for handmade things, and the sellers who have formed our community identify themselves as handmade sellers. ”
The problem is, however, the community who identifies themselves as handmade sellers do not, necessarily, identify with Etsy’s new definition of handmade. A definition which would, in theory, grant Martha Stewart a place in the platform. These guidelines not only encourage outsourcing, but also mass-production, which does not embody the care and attention to detail a handmade philosophy encourages or supports.
I realize Etsy is a business before it’s a platform and, as a business, their goal is to make money and make more of it. I don’t begrudge them their desire to succeed and improve their financial portfolios. I want more money. You want more money. We all want more money. However, with their “transparency” model, I would like to see a clarification in their branding that relies not on a misleading handmade ideology they no longer support, but on an “Indie Business” platform, which better represents the direction in which they are moving.
As a one-woman show, I used to believe Etsy was a platform that valued the individual more than the big profits of a collaborative unit or mass-production practice (among which the individual is hopelessly lost). Their branding suggests they do. Their new guidelines suggest something entirely different. Will the customer know the difference between an individually owned and operated artisan business and their multi-owner, big business, mass-production counterparts? Not always.
One day I would love to see a platform dedicated to the definition of handmade as most would define it. In which one owner makes each product. I don’t expect a knitter to shear her own sheep and spin her own yarn. But I do expect she design her garments, gather and combine the materials necessary to create the design, and to package and ship those products directly to the customer. This, to me, is the definition of handmade. I can buy a knitted scarf at the local Dollar Tree, but I wont get the handmade experience and quality except directly from the artist.
Now, to be fair, an artist is still an artist, even while employing staff, mass-producing designs or drop-shipping their product. But the product is no longer handmade. At least, not by the most acceptable definition. Otherwise, Old Navy is handmade. Someone somewhere is making it, right?
I am happy to see a small business become a big business. I am happy to see a one-woman show become a show of many working together for a common goal. I applaud that level of dedication and success. With that said, I also believe these businesses should then move from the platforms dedicated to the handmade philosophy and carry their business onwards and upwards with websites or platforms geared towards a more expansive business model. There are many out there.
And now Etsy is clearly one of them.