Here at The Mary Sue, we love our geeky handmade crafts. So it goes without saying that we love Etsy, where you can buy everything from a TARDIS apron to a hand-embroidered periodic table. But Etsy, which was founded in 2005 as an antithesis to the typical retail experience, giving individual crafters a place to sell unique, hand-crafted items, has hit a roadblock.
It’s just gotten too successful.
At least that’s the case for some of Etsy’s most popular sellers, who often find themselves limited by the site’s original “all-handmade-all-the-time” ethos, which prohibits them from hiring staff so they can fulfill all their orders without having to work round the clock.
Now that more sellers—and, by extension, Etsy itself, which makes 20 cents on each listing and a 3.5 percent cut of each sale—are becoming more and more successful, Etsy is struggling with how to grow as a business without abandoning the crafty spirit that got all those now-successful sellers over there in the first place.
Among the changes to hit the Etsy marketplace is that sellers can now identify as “designers,” allowing them to hire outsiders to help them make their products. In theory, it sounds great—someone bulk orders 25 embroidered Darth Vaders but there’s no way you can finish all of them in time, you can hire some local crafters and give ’em the pattern; the Vaders get finished and you didn’t have to turn down business.
Still, there is the risk that sellers could outsource physical production to a sweatshop due to Etsy’s vaguely worded rules about how hiring outside help should adhere to “community standards.” I personally don’t think the risk is that huge–there are thousands of Etsy sellers, and someone’s going to try it, but the crafting community has a pretty good checks and balances system in place, with crafters blowing the whistle on potential cheaters and Etsy investigating the details.
The only thing that makes me a little sad about Etsy “going pro” is that if it gets too big business-y, the smaller, less-popular crafters might be overshadowed by the full-time sellers with the big revenue and fancy shop-fronts. But to a certain extent that happens anyway, and as long as Etsy makes a concerted effort to encourage individual crafters (as opposed to small businesses that used to be individual crafters), I think it could turn out well.
Hey, as long as I can still peruse the Geekery section in peace, I’m all good.
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