Etsy News Blog

The “Who” of Handmade

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

In March, I wrote a post explaining the kinds of items we allow to be listed in our handmade categories. That post focused mainly on the “how” aspect of defining handmade. Several members joined the discussion in a related forum thread, and one key point I took away from participating in that conversation was a desire from members to better understand the “who” aspect of handmade on Etsy. In the past several days, we’ve seen that request echoed by many more in the community.

Our mission has always included a desire to bring the human element back to commerce. Since Etsy began in 2005, “handmade” has more specifically meant “handmade by the seller.” In Etsy’s earliest days, “the seller” often meant one person — an artisan — who did everything herself, from sourcing materials, to design, to production, to shop management and customer service, to order fulfillment. Over time, as the marketplace grew and individual shops became more successful, we came to better understand the realities of Etsy shops as businesses. For some shops, remaining a one-person operation has been the right approach. For other shops, the business opportunity grew to involve more people — either within the business or from outside. “The seller” is more now accurately referred to as “the shop,” meaning all the people within the business, not just a singular shop owner.

In 2007, the first official version of the DOs & DON’Ts was established to clearly outline the rules for the marketplace and the community. We took care to include a set of rules for shops that involve multiple people, and a set of rules for shops that rely on some form of outside assistance. Over time, those policies evolved into Multiple people using a single account (collective shops) and Production assistance in the DOs & DON’Ts. Those current forms have been in place since 2009, and our internal interpretations of those policies have also been consistent since then. Nothing has changed recently in these areas; however, we have made major investments in building out the team, tools, and review process in the past year. Our Marketplace Integrity and Trust and Safety teams have grown greatly along with the community, conducting extensive reviews of cases that may violate our policies, as recently profiled in The Wall Street Journal.

Etsy is a diverse marketplace made up of many types and sizes of shops. Some shops involve multiple people who work together at the place of business to make items, promote the shop, provide customer service and fulfill orders. Our policy for multiple people within a shop is intended to accommodate businesses that chose to bring people in to the business in order to grow. Etsy’s rules allow for: shops in which more than one person have a hand in creating items collaboratively; shops in which individuals wholly create their own items but sell them together under one brand; and (in limited circumstances) shops in which one person helps an artisan run their shop because the artisan is personally unable. We also understand that shops often involve people who don’t have a hand in physically making the products, but who are vital for other aspects of running the business, like accounting or order fulfillment. Our use of the word “collective” in the policy has been unintentionally misleading; that’s a word that carries certain connotations that may be counter to the reality of the policy. Etsy does not restrict the formalities of the relationships between people within a business; they may be family members without a formal agreement, they may be equal partners, or one may be the employer and others employees.

The production assistance policy, on the other hand, is intended to accommodate shops that look outward for help to grow their business. Some steps of production may be cost prohibitive for a very small business to take on internally, or the processes may require special equipment. These rules allow a shop to have a limited portion of the item’s production done by someone (or a business) outside their own shop. As noted in the policy, the majority share of creating the item still must be done within the shop for the items to be considered handmade on Etsy; only a limited aspect of production can be done by a third party. Some examples of production assistance include: printing the seller’s original artwork, metal casting from the seller’s original mold, or kiln firing the seller’s handcrafted ceramic work.

In all shops, we encourage members to tell their story. If there are multiple people in a shop, the rules require that all people and their roles be described in the bio section of the profile associated with the shop. For shops that entirely create their items in-house (regardless of number of people involved) as well as shops that use production assistance, it’s important to share with shoppers details about making your items. This is what sets your items apart from from every other product in the world. Every shop has real people behind it, and those people have unique stories to tell.

Our policies have grown organically with the creative, passionate community that makes up this marketplace. We know that the lines we’re walking — to protect what makes Etsy special but allow our members’ businesses to flourish — are tricky. We understand that confusion about the rules doesn’t help. This post is just one step toward clarity, and we know we can do more. Over the next several months we plan to roll out some long-discussed changes to clarify policy and to make transparency on shop profiles easier. We appreciate your feedback, and your passionate dedication to Etsy. Please let us know what you think in this forum thread.