Imagine going into labor during Hurricane Sandy and giving birth in a Manhattan hospital smack dab in the middle of a blackout. That’s exactly what happened to one of Kim Baise’s clients, who commissioned the mobile maker to commemorate the experience and her new daughter. “We both agreed that little Frankie had a momentous introduction into the world and needed a mobile to tell her story,” Baise says. The result is a poignant and playful piece that features a floating taxi, a wet cat, and an uprooted tree fashioned from papier-mache. It’s just one of the many special, one-of-a-kind mobiles that she has made.
Baise is part of a growing contingent of Etsy sellers who collaborate with clients to create unique and meaningful pieces. In fact, with Etsy’s wealth of makers you can customize just about anything your heart desires, whether it’s a necklace charm made from a mold of your dog’s nose or felted dolls made to look just like your family. And that’s only the beginning. Plenty of Etsy sellers offer one-of-a-kind variations on products they sell, and many will work with you to create an entirely original piece. Of course, every maker’s process is different, but a wide array of Etsy folk are open to custom work; all you have to do is dream it up.
Like Baise’s mobile, a new baby inspired Amanda McCorkle’s custom work as well. “When I had my daughter Ada, I wanted to create a birth announcement that was as unique and rad as I knew she would be,” the graphic designer says. A search turned up mostly pre-designed templates, so McCorkle shifted the focus of her design studio, ColorQuarry, to creating custom letterpressed goods including birth announcements and wedding invitations. “There’s something about a customized piece of artwork that reflects these most important times in your life in a way no store-bought card could do,” she says.
It’s a sentiment that’s familiar to Virginia Rufener-Angus. The artist and photographer creates gorgeous custom family trees, integrating her clients’ photos into intricate branch patterns. And while creating family trees might seem like custom work by nature, Rufener-Agnes explains what makes her pieces truly special: she can create wholly unique trees, highlighting any familial relationships a client desires versus templates with pre-determined spaces for kids, parents, grandparents, etc. “That’s not the way families work anymore,” she says. “Same sex marriage? You can’t do that on 90 percent of family tree templates. If you call them family, I can put them on a tree.”
Receiving something unique to your experiences and wants is one of the coolest things about custom craft. But it doesn’t have to be tangible. Get in touch with Briar Winters, who makes natural face and body products for her shop Marble & Milkweed, and you could end up with your own signature fragrance. Winters began integrating custom work into her business because of customer requests. “I often have clients who fall for the texture of the balms and butters in the shop, but they’d like to personalize the scent with something they are particularly attached to, or coordinate with other products they regularly use,” she says. “There can be a lot of nostalgia involved, too. People will want to try to recreate a scent from their past with a modern twist.” And because Winters is behind every step of her product-making process, custom work is a flexibility she can afford that’s often difficult to find in the realm of beauty and fragrance products.
The flexibility of making such special items can be quite a bit of work, however. “We did custom because we didn’t know any better,” Jerod Lazan says with a laugh about the furniture company Mortise & Tenon he runs with his partner, Maite. Now it’s the backbone of their business. Using reclaimed wood to create tables, chairs, dressers, and nightstands, Mortise & Tenon allow their customers to not only choose specific sizes and finishes, but to also create just about anything they can imagine. “There’s a certain type of customer who’s comfortable with thinking out of the box, and who’s comfortable waiting,” Lazan says. “We’re certainly not about immediate gratification.”
Of course, that’s one of the greatest appeals of custom work — it makes you realize that there is a person behind the product you’re receiving, who used their own two hands to make something you’ll enjoy for many years to come. It revives an appreciation for craftsmanship that’s been lost in recent decades. “I think when people buy custom, they treat the experience differently,” Lazan says. “They have to spend time, have to take a risk. They have an idea of what they’re looking for and they’re coming to us, trusting us to create it. It’s an emotional connection.” As mobile maker Kim Baise puts it, “People should surround themselves with art that makes their heart happy. Custom work is a wonderful way to create something exciting and special.”
What’s the most incredible custom item you’ve seen on Etsy? We’re fascinated by Melissa Schmidt’s incredible “Slices of Life” necklace that captures mini versions of family photos in glass bubbles, but we’d love to hear about your finds. Share them in the comments!