Etsy’s Evil Turn

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.

etsy

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.

yarn

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.

handmade

Whose hands are the manufacturing these goods? Sweatshop labour or child labor?

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.

4 cents

Sweatshop pay…for a day….a month… or perhaps a year….for making “unique and handmade” goods.

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 about page

One wonders how they can honestly have this printed on the Etsy site.

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.

true artisans burned by etsy

True craftsmen and artists burned by Etsy’s new policy.

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.

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30 thoughts on “Etsy’s Evil Turn

  1. Thanks so much for this Blog post. I couldn’t agree with you more. What a sham! I wonder if many Etsy shop owners who are true artist, artisans and craftspersons have taken the time to think through this policy. I would think they would be reconsidering their affiliation.

  2. I have an Etsy shop …. it is only a presence as I have not sold anything, but like you am concerned that it is becoming the sale yard of mass produced goods. A news item I read today even states unless you can mass produce an item it is not worth selling or listing on Etsy as not only do you have to make the product it has to be photographed and you need to write a blurb and upload it all, very time consuming and if you make all your goods as OOAK or one of, you spend more time at the computer than actually doing your chosen work!

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Reading the article made my decision for me. I will be only posting items on my own website as I have control. I actually feel that my best hope with products are markets and events where I can talk to the consumer, explain what I do, and make them understand why handmade is valuable. I may not sell as much, but I will still have my principles, and that is more important than a wad of cash.

      You are 100% right with the time consuming aspect. I spent 4 hours one afternoon shooting pieces and still had to prep them for online. Then life got in the way and the files are still waiting. It is more fun to create than do “paperwork”.

  3. You echo my very concerns. But, as an Etsy seller for two years, i already knew I could not compete. Just waiting for a new site to truly do it RIGHT!! Thanks for your concern and insight, and trust me, most of us are being as vocal as we can in protest.

    • Thank you for your comment.

      Vocal is good. Perhaps if more people blog and hit the social media sites online the voice of the true craftsman will amplify.

      • The general consensus is that Etsy made these changes at the urging of it’s board of directors and stock holders. These changes were started in 2011, right about the same time Etsy started veering away from their original format. They are in the business of making money, not supporting the interests of their sellers OR buyers. We have many forums on Etsy where we have voiced these concerns and received a nice reply from the powers that be. The constant theme is “Yes, we have a lot to improve” and “no we don’t care if you like it or not”. Bogging is great, but I think all it would achieve is to encourage shoppers to look elsewhere, which does not help either….it’s a lose, lose. Sadly, I have tried a few other sites, ArtFire for one, but they are not up to speed with support and have their own issues for sellers. Ebay might be swamped with commercial goods, but they are light years ahead with technology. So, for now, I am sticking with Etsy….hesitantly. There still is no better option that I can find.

      • Interesting input. The fact that they use the term “handmade” is a lie, or false advertising . At the very least they should be forced to come clean with what they are now about.

        McDonalds can’t sell a burger made of horsemeat and call it 100% beef, why should etsy sell things made in a factory and call them “handmade”.

        Clearly Etsy has somehow bullied their sellers to believe if they dare speak out about the policy they will just lose their sellers and their business. Nice. This is not criticizing you personally at all, just criticizing big business for the bullies they are and the lack of principles they have. Bully the cottage industry….bet that makes them feel big.

        I hope some of this cheap imported mass manufactured crap comes back to get to haunt them. Unfortunately usually innocents get hurt. What will it take…. a factory fire, children enslaved for cheap labor, kids hurt with lead or other poisonous materials in products? It is going to happen. This is worse than usual big business because of the upfront lie; it indicates the quality of low-life we are dealing with, and that is not just the Etsy corp. but also the sellers who have pushed for this change. If these sellers have businesses that are booming they could have certainly set up traditionally, walked away from Etsy, and lost the “handmade” angle, but instead they are scamming the buying public with their “handmade” claim.

        I ran this little tidbit past a few Etsy buyers yesterday, and even before they read the post they were disgusted. You are right, Etsy will lose buyers, but buyers deserve honesty and anyone who hides the truth to make a buck is as bad as the corporation that made these changes.

        Being afraid to voice a problem has been a problem throughout history. Vocal is good. I will leave you with one little thought. Think of how history would have been different if people had been more vocal starting around 1938….but it was easier to believe Chamberlain’s “Peace in our time.” Vocal is important. Vocal can stop a lot of bad things from happening in business, in social situations, in politics.

    • Thank you for your comment. I think this situation would be all the reason anyone would need to not have an Etsy shop. Thank you for taking the time to read the post.

  4. Thank your for this post! I recently opened a shop at shophandmade.com but have not yet sold anything. I was considering Etsy–thinking they have more traffic. After this article, I think I’ll just keep my current shop until such time as I feel ready for a full website.
    I’m sure there are other online store options to research, but in the end it really all comes down to networking and promoting no matter where your cart is parked.

    • Thank you for your comment. Perhaps this post can also create a dialogue so that others can find out about other online options out there. Thank you for sharing the information about shophandmade.com .

  5. I’ve had the same problem with craft fairs in the uk. I grew up in that enviroment and can tell at a glance what’s been made by the vendor and what hasn;t, and the majority of fairs are full of bought in crap. locally to me theres a prestigious big fair called made in yorkshire which is supposed to be well policed, but two years ago I had a cursory look around before going up to one stall holder and comiserating that It must be raher hard for her to be the only silversmith there who was actaully making thier own wares rather than importing them from india.

    I’m going for folksy, which is british and smaller, cos one glance at etsy showed that it was 99% tat. theres a lot of tat on folksy too, but its not bought tat, just badly made, and hte other problem with it is that you compete with people who make things then price them based on how much the materials cost – as long as they pay for the materials they’re happy, even if it took hours to make, because they’re not trying to make a living and don’t realise that thier pricing policy is depriving someone else of a livlihood.

    trouble is most people either genuinely can’t tell the difference or just don’t care

    • Thank you for your comment . This is such a universal problem. I have been watching the items that are sold in touristy areas in the style of shops where one would expect to buy “locally made” items. Once you start looking it is all crappy imports with one selection of handmade, locally made item profiled amongst the rest making a casual customer think it is all local and handmade. Yesterday I saw a woven scarf, badly made, selling for $100 ….. imported from India, right next to the “locally made” sign. At that price point a local weaver would be thrilled to sell their piece, even losing a commission , but the shops prefer cheap imported junk ( and the materials in this item was junk ).

      I wonder if we need to educate people more as to our processes, the time spent, the expertise we apply to our work, but it is hard to make people listen. Also many of us are introverts, so preaching about what we do is not in our personalities. This is quite a large issue; one I will continue to think about.

      • I think the only real way to male a living from handmade is to either go very much down the marketing/publicityroute (like robin wood, whose wife is in marketing. we used to buy wooden bowls from him when he started out, but the bowls we paid a reasonable £15 for would now be £200 cos he’s changed his target market from people who want a bowl to eat from to people who want to own an investment piece by an artist with a “name”) or to somehow franchise – selling prints of your art, for instance, is far more profitable for many artist than selling art itself. It’s very much in the marketing

  6. Very interesting reading. Thanks for sharing this, Deb. What a shame, as I always thought it was a great concept… giving a global shop window to artisan producers. Isn’t it sad that so many enterprises set out with strong, ethical values and get tempted and side-tracked by ‘the bottom line’.

    • Thanks for the viewpoint. I wonder if those who originally started Etsy are the same ones currently involved. That would be interesting to know.

  7. I agree with what you say I have had a shop on ETSY for a while I though it was getting better there for a while I haven’t had to wade threw pages of plastic clocks to find my latest listing for a month or so , I am thinking that will change and your right I can not compete with plastic. I have been looking at other sites and most of them look even worse i would appreciate any suggestions

  8. This is really shocking. Have you come across Folksy? It’s a UK based version of what Etsy used to be. I use it a lot and I’ve never seen anything I thought was not handmade (or priced cheaply) but I don’t know for sure. Thanks for posting.

  9. Great post. I agree about false advertising, you can’t claim “handmade” when it’s not. Class actions will follow. BTW Etsy legal team is the worst (e.g. they allow sales of wet kittens in jars, cats’ paws etc.) and do nothing about it as long as they can make $$. They flex the law with “handmade” too, and consequences will follow.

    • Just wait until they try to trademark “handmade” just like someone attempted to trademark “yoga” a few years ago. That will be the next thing.

  10. Reblogged this on motherhood {honestly} and commented:
    Oh, this is a total bummer! I am an artist, and although I don’t sell my projects, I completely admire those out there who are trying to make a living using their hands. Etsy was a great way for artisans to gather and sell their items and consumers would assume that, by shopping there, they were helping out a small business owner. Ick for outsourcing, Etsy! Come on, man!!

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