Submitted by Danny Smith
We all remember in the late ’90s when Ebay took off as a very popular way to auction off your stuff. You could sell just about anything on Ebay, as long as it was legal in general; from a piece of toast with the image of Jesus burnt on, to a steering wheel from a vintage car. Ebay got people addicted to shopping for the bizarre and the obscure while doing online business with other Regular Average Joes all over the country. As a result, a lot of self-starters grew adept at utilizing the language of professionals. It seems that Etsy, the hip crafting site, evolved from an era of Ebay.
Etsy is not an auction site like Ebay, but I think some of its success stems from a culture that got used to and comfortable with, conducting commerce without any particular business degree or capital. Through trial and error, regular moms and dads and college kids could get better and better at arranging their product for the display picture and at writing appealing /thorough descriptions, tagging the merchandise with the effective labels, customer relations and marketing discounts. Subsequently, all those skills transferred over to specialized craftshop sites that have become part of a thriving DIY/recycle culture.
Etsy is more specialized than a garage sale/auction site, it developed as its own niche. There are rules: you aren’t supposed to sell anything that has been mass produced (unless it’s vintage). On Etsy, you can sell your own crafts, or you can alter the mass produced items as long as it’s made into something uniquely its own. You can also sell food specialities, like jars of jam in a rustic trunk to display at a wedding, as well as beeswax candles, goatmilk soaps, natural perfume oils and herbal salves. Many of the sellers really go-to-town with innovating the packaging and gift wrapping to bring the customers an ideal experience–an experience rich with details that will keep them coming back.
Another perk of the evolution to Etsy, is that not only can you have a list of your favorite sellers or shops (like you can on Ebay) but you can also create groups based on themes or topics that want to network together, or name your favorites list and then share the link. You can have a wishlist comprised of seasonal items, or say– an eclectic list of baby hats, valentine-items-for-men, or all-things-turquoise.
Etsy boasts of around 800,000 members, which can mean that with all that growing popularity, the quality stuff is all mixed up with hucksters that try to get away with breaking the rules, selling quirky overseas trinkets that are sweatshop made. The only way to weed the bad apples out is for customers themselves to report a shop. Also, with the huge popularity, you get a lot of inexperienced crafters trying to imitate good ideas they steal from others and try to execute, with varying degrees of shoddiness. Always read the fine print of a seller’s policy as well as customer ratings before you commit to buy.
You may have also heard of the website Regretsy. Born as a response, Regretsy pokes fun at irony in the item descriptions, as well as amusing errors, boldly pretentious over-the-top accessories, or simply really cheap or shoddy little things that are theatrically marketed on Etsy (like a twee whimsical fairy story to sell a tiny bottle of glitter at an inflated price). Some shops prosper by the publicity they get from Regretsy, and others get mad and their angry letters are also savored on Regretsy for their silly errors and amateur legal slurs.
I wouldn’t say that Regretsy has any serious animosity towards the craft community, and you can easily be a fan of both. By it’s very existence, Regretsy shows that it finds the crafting community intriguing and addictive to browse, it just likes to have some fun with anyone who takes themselves too seriously or inflates the worth of something like a bottle of glitter to the heights of artistic achievement.
The point is, a popular crafting site is a great opportunity for those who have a real love and skill for homemade design and creative upcycling. Vendors that formerly might have to haul their wares to craftshows, fairgrounds, church bizarres, and flea markets, can now supplement their income with a shop they can manage from home with only a small percentage going to the website that hosts the shop. It also allows artisans in geographically isolated places to bring their work to a larger demographic with ease, as well as being an effective income for elderly artists or the physically disabled looking to thrive from the comfort of their own office or workshop. For stay at home/work from home moms and dads, the benefits of not having to travel are quite obvious.
This past August, Mom Audience featured an Etsy shopfront from one of our fans. The awesome hat in the feature picture of this article is an example from that same crafter, owner of Little Bugaboos. I personally loved the baby pumpkin hat so much I just had to ask if she could make the hat in adult sizes so I can get one. Good news–Little Bugaboos gladly welcomes custom orders.
If you decide to start your own homemade craft business, please let me know so I can check it out and share it on Mom Audience. I think it’s a great thing to try, even if you are new to crafting. You can work on your own time, only handle the orders at the pace you’re comfortable with, you strengthen your brain with creativity and life-long learning that staves off Alzheimer’s. The icing on the cake is that most people find crafting relaxing and therapeutic, so you can save a bundle on Prozac and Xanax. Just be careful not to make a faux pas that will land you unwillingly featured on Regretsy.