Thursday, May 3, 2012

Why I'm not protesting Etsy over what "handmade" means

I guess now that I have my own etsy blog I can yammer on about ANY etsy topic I want, without caring about whether I'm talking too much about etsy. That's a nice feature, huh?

So I haven't weighed in yet on the handmade controversy but I wanted to say something because it's an issue I feel strongly enough. This week a lot of people complained that Etsy wasn't doing enough to make sure the items sold on etsy matched up what etsy claims to be ("Your place to buy and sell all things handmade, vintage, and supplies"). Regretsy, a site I love for other reasons, accused Etsy of putting a shop on the front page that doesn't actually make anything by hand but instead resells products made overseas by a wholesale company. Etsy investigated on their own, and said that the shop meets their terms of service.

The controversy I see is that NONE of us make everything by hand, and Etsy allows you to "get help" with the things you do... artists don't have to make their own prints to sell prints, a sewing type like me doesn't have to grow her own cotton and die her own fabric. I can buy fabric from wal-mart if I want, roll it in a big glue ball and call it my creation. It's handmade!

I have my own definition of handmade, and in the contest website I'm up front about it... I don't think digital downloads are handmade. I don't think a single store-bought charm looped through a string with a clasp is handmade. So in the contest, I reserve the right to remove those items... although I usually don't, because they usually don't win anyway. No harm done. And, well, I guess that's how I feel about everything on the internet. Maybe it's doesn't meet MY definition. Maybe it's not something I'd buy. But I am not the queen of the internet so who cares?

Etsy has been accused of not shutting down resellers fast enough, yet there are plenty of shops being shut down... just read Energy Shop's story of being accused of drop-shipping to get what I mean. And so when you say "Etsy isn't doing enough", be careful what you wish for. If Etsy's reseller radar becomes more sensitive, more shops will trip it. Then your shop might trip it. Is that what you want?

I always ask the same questions in politics too: there are people who are okay with starving kids if they can have a welfare system that no one could possibly freeload off of. That's impossible, guys. The only way to have a freeloader-proof system is to have no system at all.

When someone buys a bag from my shop they know what they're getting. They are NOT getting a bag made from hand-spun fibers sheared from my animals and woven in my basement. They ARE getting a bag that's my own design, modified from some tutorials and lessons from family of course. I buy the fabric at a store, cut the fabric into rectangles that I measure myself and sew them to commercially-available zippers using my sewing machine in my house. It fits my definition of handmade, and if someone buys from me it must fit their definition too.

There are also shoppers who'll buy a $3 necklace that looks a lot like one from a store. They can see that the etsy shop has 3000 sales and 500 items in stock. We can all call that shop out or report it or ask Etsy to take it down, but the bottom line is that those shoppers know what they're getting. They're not kidding themselves about it being handmade. Those are not my customers! So who cares?

In the debates and accusation, I've seen a lot of elitism... people calling themselves artisians above the rest. I've seen a lot of racism... as if no artists live overseas? I've seen a lot of classism... "I have a studio in my house so obviously I'm an artist, you people who do this to scrape by, who won't markup your wares to hundreds of dollars, should not be in my same marketplace". And really I think that's where a lot of this handmade debate is coming from. We all want to set the bar at ourselves, we all think Etsy should see why I am different and special.

Etsy is what it is, it's not magic, it doesn't exist to make you happy. And this week, amid all the craziness, they're sticking with their policies. That's good! I think we should follow the example and stick to our shops, and making them better, and keep finding the items that we're interested in. Let capitalism do the talking, and buy from the shops that you know sell handmade. I will not participate in any protest against Etsy because I don't like the roots of it, or what it's asking for. I do not want to make Etsy a police state. The frenzy needs to end.


  1. Very well said. I am also not closing my shop or putting up a hand avatar in support of protest. I do understand why people are upset, but I don't think that this protest will solve the problem. Glad to see someone else saying it too!

  2. Thanks for saying what is on my mind. I will not be closing my shop in protest. I think all this negative publicity is not doing any of us any good. But then again, if lots and lots of people shut down their shops there will be that many more who will visit mine.