I came across this little news tidbit on the internet last night. An insignificant little news story dated October 1, 2013 on www.bloomberg.com discussing how “Etsy sellers can now use factories for handmade goods”. My first reaction was disgust, my second was “I am not surprised”.
This morning as I reread the story I felt I just had to comment on this situation.
Now to begin with, I must say I am NOT a seller on Etsy. I have in fact spent the last six months researching their site trying to decide whether to launch an online store with them or not. I have spent hundreds of hours trying to figure out whether selling with them would be a benefit or detrimental. Clearly, after reading this article, “detrimental” is what the outcome would be if I was to set up a shop on Etsy.
Before I launch into why I feel having an online store with Etsy would be detrimental, I want to discuss why I feel so strongly about this turn of events. I am an artist and craftsman, and being involved in this type of pursuit I also follow the endeavors and careers of other artists, craftsmen and artisans. These are good, hardworking and highly skilled people who believe in fine craftsmanship and producing unique product by hand. Many in this same group of people have shops on Etsy, they have worked hard to create their online businesses, they have put their faith and trust in Etsy, and now they are about to be screwed over royally by that same company……Etsy.
“Why are craftsmen about to be screwed over royally?” you may ask. Or you may ask “Why would selling on Etsy be detrimental?” Well pull up a chair and I will present the situation in as a concise a manner as possible. True craftsmen, artisans and artists produce pieces they are proud of. They spend time planning out their projects, they choose the best materials to use, some choose to make products that put little strain on the earth, and they make their products by HAND. Yes indeed, a real live person makes the product. Making products by HAND takes time. Choosing quality materials or materials kind to the earth costs money. A truly handcrafted item will cost more to produce. What Etsy has done in their latest move has essentially taken true craftspeople and artists and made them compete with cheap mass-produced crap produced on foreign shores. Think about it, how can a mom in Ohio knitting hand spun, hand knit scarves from wool from her own sheep possibly compete with “hand-crafted ” scarves rolling off the factory machines in Vietnam. She can’t. Her Etsy shop is doomed.
When you Google search Etsy this is the description that comes up “Buy and sell handmade or vintage items, art and supplies on Etsy, the world’s most vibrant handmade marketplace.” however digging into the “Help” page on their website they state: “Handmade items are designed and created by the shops that sell them. Because transparency is paramount on Etsy, we ask sellers to publicly list all members of their shops and, if pre-approved, any manufacturers involved in creating their items.” The article talks of this up coming “new policy”, however reading the fine print it seems having “manufacturers” has been going on for quite sometime.
But beyond fine print, or even the Etsy website, a little snooping around the internet told the story months ago. A few months ago I was researching the price point on Etsy for a product similar to one I was working on. The product, working as fast as one can against a stop watch, takes 50 minutes to complete (I know, I timed it one night….however one could never produce consistently at that speed, but it gave me a base for how long it took to complete the product). A similar product was selling on Etsy for $2.00 USD. Warning bells went off in my head so I visited the shop owner’s website, which linked me through to their blog in which a recent post talked about how they had just shipped off a thousand of these items to a shop somewhere in the U.S.A……yes 1,000. Now let’s do the math, they are selling them for $2.00 each but they take 50 minutes to make by hand at breakneck speed. They are shipping out 1000 units, which if handmade would have taken 833.33 hours to produce, or 104.16 eight hour work days, or 20.83 five day work weeks…..to make $2000 USD (obviously not all profit). Clearly these items are not being “handmade”…….or at least not being “handmade” by any North American or any human being living above the poverty line……anywhere.
So we have already established that it is impossible to compete at a price point with goods that are obviously mass-produced, however lets continue to examine his new policy brought forth by Etsy. In the story on www.bloomberg.com it is stated that “Etsy will try to ensure that goods sold on the site still meet its definition of “handmade.”” So if one is to assume a “handmade” item is actually made by “hand”, whose hands are making them? Are we to assume Etsy is perhaps endorsing sweatshop manufacturing and child labor? That is the ONLY way that an item that takes 50 minutes to manufacture can be sold retail for $2.00. Remember that to sell retail for $2.00 the Etsy seller is taking into account all the labour, materials, shipping and any taxes and other business operating costs in that figure…..PLUS PROFIT. What is the person making this item by hand actually receiving as pay…..perhaps 4 cents….I don’t know….but it sure isn’t much.
Now if Etsy protest that they do not endorse sweatshop manufacturing and child labor, what is the other option….only one…..that they are LYING to the consumer. Nice. The only other way items could be made en-mass and cheaply is by a machine. Etsy flies behind the slogan of “Buy and sell handmade or vintage items, art and supplies on Etsy, the world’s most vibrant handmade marketplace.” So if it isn’t a sweatshop it is a lie and the products are made by machine which means “handmade ” is all a lie.
We get to pick which wonderful quality of production Etsy shops will now choose to use….. sweatshop manufacturing and child labor…..or machine manufactured (a lie if one believes an item is “handmade”). What a choice. Pretty much the new policy of Etsy means you are now shopping online for the same products you buy at Wal-Mart but they are lying to the consumer as to how the products are “handmade”.
Etsy also proudly states on their “About” page that “Etsy is a marketplace where people around the world connect to buy and sell unique goods. Our mission is to re-imagine commerce in ways that build a more fulfilling and lasting world.”. Seriously, how can mass-produced items be “unique”? How can sweatshop production “build a more fulfilling and lasting world.”? Honestly.
Etsy’s new policy is so harmful it is not even funny. It will continue to misrepresent itself as a company providing “handmade” items. Lying to consumers who think they are supporting true craftspeople. Cheating consumers who think they are truly buying handmade items. Robbing actual craftsmen of a living as they will not be able to compete at a price point, while the cheap products are being misrepresented as unique and handmade. Etsy holds NO value for TRUE craftsmen, artisans or artists. Etsy is a tragic company.
I feel lucky that I held off setting up an Etsy shop. Sometimes procrastination pays off. I do, however worry for the future of those who honestly make handmade products and have Etsy stores. How will they compete on price point? How will they ever be believed by a consumer that they ACTUALLY MAKE THEIR PRODUCT? This latest move is a complete devaluation of the true artist, the true artisan and the true craftsperson.
I hope the sellers and customers will take a stand on this latest policy. I hope they will become vocal and out the company for the fraud they are. “Handmade” goods are made by hand not machines, and sweatshops are not acceptable.
I value true artists.
I value true artisans.
I value true craftspeople.
I hope others will also support these people who honestly make their product by hand, and shun the frauds under the new Etsy policy who will manufacture their products en-mass through machine or sweatshops.