Everywhere I go these days, someone comments on what I’m wearing–my clothes, my jewelry, my handbag.
“Where did you buy that?” they’ll ask, fingering the bead work on the fabric cuff around my wrist. “It’s so different. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Etsy,” I say. “It is the best! You have to check it out.”
For those unfamiliar with the site, I explain that Etsy is home to over 800,000 unique shops selling handmade and vintage items such as clothing, art, furniture, jewelry, photographs, and even food. It is a veritable treasure chest of endless bounty and a snap to navigate.
I’ve known about this online global marketplace for years, but this past January, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to limit my shopping to Etsy as much as possible. I was tired of the mass-produced foreign imports offered by superstores such as Target and Walmart. I also wanted to stand behind my belief that supporting small businesses and the people behind those businesses is the way out of our economic woes.
Using a little mad money that my dad gave me for Christmas, I decided that my first Etsy purchase would be from the shop Zasra. After careful deliberation, I placed an order for a custom-made upcycled skirt. (Upcycling is the process of converting old clothes or discarded items into new and better products.) Owner Andria Wolf contacted me by email asking for style and color preferences, and clarification regarding my measurements. She wanted to make sure I was pleased with my purchase. I couldn’t recall any of the bored checkout clerks at my local Kmart being quite so concerned about my customer satisfaction.
As I waited for my skirt to arrive, I perused the rest of Zasra’s shop. Most shop owners include a brief biographical sketch about their business. I learned from Wolf’s information that Zasra is a mother/daughter collaboration. “I am the mad thrifter, designer, marketer, and my mom is the wicked seamstress!”
Intrigued, I emailed Wolf and asked about her experience as an Etsy shop owner. She wrote that growing up she’d always dreamed of combining her flair for fashion and her mother’s sewing skills into some kind of business “but I never imagined we would end up working together years later.” Zasra is so successful that Wolf and her mother have been able to make it a full-time career. “We work hard and love what we do!!! It is such a blessing,” Wolf wrote.
And that is exactly what painter, carpenter, and photographer Rob Kalin had in mind when he began tinkering with the idea of an online marketplace where he, and artists like himself, could sell their work. In 2005, Kalin, along with Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik, took a gamble and created Etsy. Seven years later, total merchandise sales this year through July were $436.9 million. (Total sales for 2011 were $525.6 million.) Etsy charges shop owners 20 cents per listed item and a 3.5 percent fee on each sold item, which when you add it up, means a lot of leftover profit for a number of small business owners. In our current economic crisis, Etsy.com is a shining star of hope and an online dream maker.
Sales for Selena Henry, owner of the Etsy shop Sewing Seeds By Selena, are on the rise. “My sales have increased over 100% this last year. I have sold four times as much as my previous years and things haven’t slowed down at all!” In 2011, her gross earnings were $2,313. This year, sales through September total $11,000.
But Selena’s success is not due to inflated prices for her merchandise as one might expect from a small cottage industry. Prior to shopping at Etsy, I equated “handmade” and “custom made” with expensive, but I’ve found most items to be very reasonably priced, if not an incredible deal. I purchased a beautifully sewn, custom-made skirt from Selena in the fabric of my choice for a mere $45. Where else can you purchase a skirt made to your measurements for that price?
Another of my favorite Etsy scores are t-shirts from the shop Caustic Threads. I loved the original designs by artist/owner Erica Voges, and purchased one shirt initially to see if I liked the style and sizing. Six t-shirts later, I am still hankering for more. But it wasn’t a crazy splurge by any means. Shirts start at $18, less than what you would pay at a Gap or Old Navy for something everyone else is wearing.
Of course, when I needed some fingerless gloves this past February, it would have been easier and quicker to pick up something cheap at Kmart, but I’m glad I remembered my resolution and instead placed an order with Delirium Kredens, an Etsy shop located in Cracow, Poland. It took three weeks to receive my order by mail and they cost a little more than the cheap superstore version (an additional $6.00 including shipping), but the gloves are so lovely–woven in a fine gray merino wool–that I consider them wearable art.
But don’t let being in a hurry keep you from making an Etsy purchase. When I needed a last-minute birthday gift for a bookstore-owning friend, I did a quick search on Etsy and found a perfect “book” necklace. I contacted the owner of Nico Paper Goods and explained my time crunch. The birthday gift arrived later that week, beautifully wrapped, and with a day to spare.
Even though this year is almost up, I don’t intend to give up my Etsy resolution. In fact, I am hoping to make all my holiday purchases exclusively from Etsy. It will be both economical and a guarantee that my gifts will be one-of-a-kind. But mostly, I want to share in the Etsy magic, and help more businesses born from a passion and a dream become a success.
Below are some other Etsy shops I highly recommend:
Sara Lua Sara Lua creates beautiful and unique handmade jewelry. I purchased a gorgeous, aqua bead necklace with a lovely wooden clasp. I wear it all the time. A friend of mine coveted my necklace so much that I had to buy one for her, in a different color of course.
Lucky Cann I’ve bought two bags from this overseas shop. They are remarkably well made, stylish, and reasonably priced.
Mystic Moons I love the hoop earrings from Mystic Moons and wear mine almost every day. When my daughters got their ears pierced one of their first requests was Mystic Moons hoops.
Although all of my Etsy purchases have been positive, you do have to be a careful shopper. Read the notes from the sellers carefully, and check over the product details before making a purchase. Shop owners rely on positive comments from buyers to promote their businesses so they are more than happy to solve any issues that may arise regarding a purchase.