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Etsy Hosts a Summit to Re-Imagine Manufacturing

Oct 31, 2014

by Dana Mauriello handmade and vintage goods

As Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson mentioned in his recent blog post, our goal is to build an Etsy Economy that values the people who design and make goods, is transparent about how they are made, and connects the people who make, sell and buy them. We want to help our sellers start, responsibly scale, and enjoy their creative businesses, and we know from a recent survey of Etsy sellers — New Opportunities for US Manufacturing: Partnering With Independent Creative Businesses — that more than half (55%) of those surveyed partner or would consider partnering with manufacturers.

To that end, we gathered more than 50 thought leaders — including small-scale manufacturers, policy makers, Etsy sellers, and others — to envision new models of responsible manufacturing for Etsy sellers at the Re-Imagine Manufacturing summit earlier this month. The summit was held at Industry City, a historical manufacturing district in Brooklyn, NY, which is also home to the production facilities of multiple Etsy sellers, including Alexandra Ferguson.

Etsy sellers TM1985, EarthSeaWarrior, FritzandFraulein, LanaStepulApparel, and HomeIntoHaven shared their perspectives. Photo by Colin Miller.

Etsy sellers TM1985, EarthSeaWarrior, FritzandFraulein, LanaStepulApparel, and HomeIntoHaven share their perspectives. Photo by Colin Miller.

At the summit, we learned more about what really matters to Etsy sellers as they consider how they’d like to grow their businesses. Key takeaways included the following:

  • Designers and manufacturers welcome help in forming relationships. A panel of Etsy sellers shared their challenges of working with manufacturers. Several said that they wanted to work with small, responsible, local manufacturing partners, and that they would benefit from assistance in finding and establishing effective working relationships with those partners.
  • Designers need new education as they scale production. We also heard from sellers, manufacturers, and boutiques that designers need more specific education on how to work with manufacturing partners, particularly with pricing and financing. Many local economic development centers already provide helpful education and support for businesses looking to grow, and we want to help other entities understand the needs of and how they can better serve the Etsy community.
  • “Responsible manufacturing” is difficult to define. At the summit, we realized that defining “responsible manufacturing” is no small feat. While we were inspired by what some of the attendees are doing to make manufacturing responsible, it was clear that there is no singular  definition of “responsible manufacturing.” These are complex, entangled issues with which we all struggle, and we at Etsy are committed to helping our sellers scale their businesses in a way that’s consistent with both their values and ours.
  • New models of manufacturing require supportive public policy. We invited participants from local government entities, including mayor’s offices, libraries, and economic development centers, to re-imagine manufacturing because we believe that they can help serve urban maker communities and create new models of manufacturing in cities. Great public policy lays the groundwork for developing these new models — for example, smart land use policies allow for the building of manufacturing spaces and proper metrics for economic development centers allow for robust micro- manufacturing education.
  • “Manufacturing” is not a dirty word. Katerina Bakunina, co-owner of LanaStepulApparel, a growing women’s apparel business she founded with her mother, participated in the event and put it simply when she said: “We’ve discovered that manufacturing does not have a good image, but the reality is that manufacturing is so much more diverse and exciting than what people seem to know or imagine. I was excited by the diversity of viewpoints at the event and the possibility of industry, government, media, and community partnerships.”

Attendees listened to presentations. Photo by Colin Miller.

Attendees listen to presentations. Photo by Colin Miller.

Introducing the Etsy Manufacturing Advisory Board

After hearing directly from our sellers about their need for greater support, we’re excited to announce the creation of the Etsy Manufacturing Advisory Board, which met for the first time during the Re-Imagine Manufacturing summit. Composed of eight experts with diverse experience from the non-profit, academic, and business worlds, the board will advise us as we process the ideas from the summit and work to create an Etsy Economy. They’ll help us understand best practices without being limited by existing solutions and push us to have the biggest influence possible. Each expert was chosen because they align with our values, has a proven track record of innovating in the manufacturing space, and has a genuine desire to help our seller community thrive.

Meet the Board:

Alexandra Ferguson — Owner, Alexandra Ferguson
Alexandra is a successful Etsy seller who created a small factory to handle her own production and produce for others in Industry City, Brooklyn.

Susan Matteucci — Executive Director, Southwest Creations
Susan leads Southwest Creations, a social venture that does contract manufacturing out of Albuquerque, NM, and is setting an industry standard on small-batch, responsible production.

Adam Friedman — Executive Director, Pratt Center for Community Development
Adam works with local communities and individual manufacturers to promote sustainable practices, affordable space and local purchasing.

Michael Mandel — Economist, Progressive Policy Institute
Michael is an economist who studies and researches the economic impact of the maker economy.

Denise Taschereau — CEO and Co-Founder, Fairware
Denise leads FairWare, which helps companies source, create, and evaluate responsibly-made promotional goods.

Bridget Russo — Marketing Director, Shinola
Bridget creates marketing campaigns for “Built in Detroit” brand Shinola that powerfully convey the importance of manufacturing to help re-build a city and create community.

Heather Franzese — Executive Director, Good World Solutions
Heather leads the social enterprise behind Labor Link, an award-winning mobile technology platform that improves factory conditions by enabling workers to give direct feedback.

Laura Gitman — Vice President NY Office, BSR
Laura is a sustainability advisor with deep experience in manufacturing and supply chain challenges and trends.

Smaller discussion groups brainstormed solutions. Photo by Colin Miller.

Smaller discussion groups brainstorm solutions. Photo by Colin Miller.