For the last few months, we have been incredibly lucky to work with the communities of Rockford, Illinois, and New York City to launch the first pilots of Etsy’s Craft Entrepreneurship program. Now that those pilots have wrapped up, we wanted to share the results and celebrate the talented Etsy sellers who have joined our community.
Nearly a year ago, we started collaborating with Mayor Larry Morrissey of Rockford and the Rockford Etsy Team to create a new type of economic development program. While local economic development is frequently focused on creating new full-time jobs and training residents to fill them, we believed that there was room for an approach that leveraged the community’s existing skills and emphasized supplemental income and entrepreneurship.
The Craft Entrepreneurship Program now includes an in-person class that uses Etsy as a learning lab. In these courses, low-income individuals with craft skills learn how to earn supplemental income selling their handmade items. We partnered with the Housing Authority in Rockford for one pilot class and the Department of Small Business Services in New York City for three pilot classes, and we had a total of 69 participants who opened 22 Etsy shops and made 41 sales on Etsy. Some participants also felt inspired to sell at craft fairs and have generated additional income there as well.
Today we want to introduce you to two students who really blew us away.
A life-long resident of the Bronx, Ingrid joined a knitting circle her freshman year of college and has been giving her creations to family and friends ever since. She signed up for programming at the NYC Department of Small Business Services when she was let go from her job as a mental health therapy aide. Ingrid had heard of Etsy, but felt overwhelmed by the notion of being an entrepreneur; when the invitation came to participate in Craft Entrepreneurship, it seemed like a perfect fit. She opened INGMade and has made seven sales from her collection of knitted headbands and cowls. She wants to add baby accessories and patterns to her shop, refine her photography skills and invest her earnings back into her shop — all while juggling her new full-time job as a counselor.
Her biggest surprise from the program? “How supportive people are of each other in the Etsy community. People [from my class] have kept in touch, favorited my shop, purchased, and shared their tips on how to promote [myself]. People I don’t know convo me on Etsy to tell me that they are from the Bronx, too, and love my product. In the future, I want to support other people as well.”
Bill, 66, has been a woodworker in Rockford for most of his life, shuttering his custom furniture shop about a year and a half ago when the housing market crash dried up demand. Unable to find other work, Bill moved into an apartment under the jurisdiction of the Rockford Housing Authority. Bill loved his craft, especially the feeling of being valued and appreciated that came with making and selling his work, so this was a low point for him. Craft Entrepreneurship appealed to him because it presented an opportunity to use his craft again and succeed on his own terms.
“It’s my chance to have a second time around to do the things that I always wanted to do,” said Bill. Instead of waiting for clients to request custom orders, he created his own designs for frames, tables and coat hook stations. Shopper reaction has been strong and immediate — Bill has sold four items in his Etsy shop, Old Farm Products, and many more at craft fairs over the last three months. He explained the big impact that these sales have had on his confidence and his finances: “I feel like people really enjoy what I’m doing and they all make me feel very special. Now I can pay my bills on time and it’s only getting better. I used to have to borrow money from my son every month and I’m able to pay it on my own now. It’s a good feeling to be able to do it on my own.”
Craft Entrepreneurship participants have told us that the Etsy community is amazingly friendly and supportive and that it plays a big role in their confidence and excitement for what may lie ahead for their businesses. Thank you to our community! Find all of the Craft Entrepreneurship Etsy shops here.
So, what’s next? We’re refining the curriculum based on our learnings and launching additional classes early next year. After that, we’ll follow through on our commitment to roll out the program in more cities and make the program available for any community, anywhere.
We’ll be back with fresh updates in the new year. We’re excited to celebrate the impact that we’ve created so far, and we are looking forward to making an even bigger impact together in 2014.