The future of shopping is now
Sacramento DIY designers and crafters use Web sites like Etsy to change the way we buy
As a founding member of the now-defunct craft collective the Ironing Maidens, I completely understand how much work it takes to make, market and peddle homemade DIY creations. I also know how badass it feels to have someone covet something you’ve created.
Back in 2004, I formed the Ironing Maidens along with several other craft-minded friends. We were excited, energetic and ready to tackle the local craft-fair circuit. Unfortunately for the Maidens, the time and energy the craft shows demand eventually bled our creative juices.
Now, only six years later, the do-it-yourself community has it easy—I’m so not bitter!—thanks to an online site championing their wares. It’s called Etsy, and if you’re not familiar with the online global marketplace, where users buy and sell unique homemade wares, it’s time to get acquainted.
The site, which launched in June 2005, offers its 3.5 million DIY crafters the ability to search more than 5 million homemade and vintage items. Clothing, accessories, paper products, art, children’s items, housewares—if it can be made, chances are you can find it. Hell, you can even find sellers hawking supplies for making all of the above—you know, should you decide to get crafty yourself.
The site has opened many doors for do-it-yourselfers, and as such more and more people are bringing their unique creations to the masses—including some very talented locals.
Marty Masek sells homemade wallets and messenger bags out of her Etsy store, Marty May. Masek’s creations are silk-screened with original designs, and each prototype is test-driven, which ensures that her items are high-quality.
Etsy provided Masek national attention. “I’m in Cuffs [Urban Apparel], but I also have consignment in Needles & Pens in San Francisco, Oak in Boston, Young Blood [Gallery and Boutique] in Atlanta and Wholly Craft in Columbus, Ohio—they all contacted me through Etsy,” she explained.
Jennifer Witte, another local full-time Etsy seller, runs two Etsy stores: Round Trip, which focuses on up-cycled—meaning vintage products that have been altered in some way to be given a new life—handbags and luggage; and We Think We Can, a store specializing in vintage home goods. For whatever reason, Witte’s goods tend to be most popular in Australia and Texas.
“I can’t tell you how exciting it is to wake up every morning and click on my shop and see what and where I’m shipping that day,” remarked Witte.
Both Witte and Masek have been crafting for as long as they can remember. Now, they earn a sustainable income from their shops.
Valerie Scagliola began selling her custom paper products under the handle Le Petit Papetier less than three months ago, but the idea came to her while getting married in 2006.
“I just loved planning my own wedding, and as my friends started getting married, they’d ask me if I’d do their wedding invitations, too,” she said.
Scagliola spends her free time designing, printing and packaging custom-made wedding invitations, save-the-dates, place cards, menus and programs. Currently working for Sutter Health, Scagliola uses Le Petite Papetier as her creative outlet, but hopes that eventually her shop will become a full-time gig.
So, I know you’re all feeling inspired to open your own Etsy shop. You’re probably seeing visions of a life spent kicking it in your pajamas in front of a MacBook Pro. Hold your horses. Before you rush off and open your own Etsy store, remember, it’s not as easy as it looks. And the site’s increasing popularity means the competition is stiffer than ever.
Witte doesn’t complain about the site’s growth. She believes Etsy has increased her sales and isn’t afraid of a little rivalry. “There’s a lot of competition, but a lot of people don’t stick with it,” Witte said. “They don’t realize you have to go out and find the product; you have to clean it, paint it and seal it. Then you have to take pictures, list it and write a description. Then, when people buy it, you have to package it, take it to the post office, ship it. … If you’re not very dedicated, then you’re not going to be able to succeed.”
As a one-woman operation, Masek’s Etsy shop keeps her busy. “I want to do this to be creative, and to offer an alternative to the imported goods made in sweatshops that are really so bad for people, the environment and the world,” she explained.
Witte has a similar view. “When I look at the big picture … it’s about giving power back to the people,” Witte said. “I would much rather buy something that has been carefully crafted by a real human rather than pull some mass-produced item off a shelf.”
Etsy’s human-to-human shopping approach opens direct lines of communication between creator and consumer. Abi Crouch, a local seller operating under the handle Monkey Tree Creations, really enjoys the personal connections that Etsy allows.
“I think one of the best things about Etsy is all of the cool people that I have had the opportunity to ‘meet’ and create for,” explained Crouch, who specializes in handmade plush toys.
Crouch has been creating for as long as she can remember, but only started selling on Etsy a year ago. Like Scagliola, she hopes that eventually her shop will become her primary source of income. Witte and Masek, who are already able to be fully supported by their shops, say it is a dream come true.
“The fact that I can make a living doing what I love amazes me every day,” Witte beamed.
I personally didn’t join Etsy until August 2008, and since then, I’ve only been a buyer. During that time, I’ve made several purchases under my handle, Trendybitch, but have had nothing but positive experiences with sellers; most go out of their way to ensure a pleasant experience for both parties. Overall, it’s been quite inspiring.
Heck, maybe one of these days the Ironing Maidens will regroup, this time with one kick-ass Etsy store?