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Notes From Chad: Creating an Etsy Economy Together

Oct 15, 2014

by Chad Dickerson handmade and vintage goods

It’s been just over a year since we changed our policies to enable Etsy sellers to scale and enjoy their creative businesses in a way that’s consistent with the values we share. I’d like to pause for a moment to give you a sense of how those policy changes are playing out as we work to build an Etsy Economy.

Last year we introduced new guidelines to help sellers who want to hire staff, have someone else ship their goods, or work with outside manufacturing partners. We did this with the needs of the Etsy community in mind, motivated by the desire to help our sellers build and support responsible, independent creative businesses.

As we adjusted our policies, we knew that handmade goods are the heart of Etsy. We believe that “handmade” expresses a set of values: authorship, responsibility, and transparency. To us, authorship means that the idea for the item begins with the Etsy seller. Our sellers are deeply involved in how their items are made, and they take responsibility by being accountable for the entire production process and for their buyers’ experiences. Transparency ensures that the Etsy community knows the story and person behind an item.

When we made these changes, we knew that not everyone would embrace them, but we believed they were essential for Etsy to continue to thrive as a community and platform. The changes sparked a lively dialogue — we are grateful to have such open and spirited exchanges with our community — and we responded with additional clarity about our decisions. A year later, we’re excited to share some examples of the success we’re seeing. We think they’re promising illustrations of what’s possible for Etsy sellers, and we hope you find them as inspirational as we do. First, however, I’d like to share a little more context and detail about our vision and mission.

Our Vision for an Etsy Economy

Today, we’re more dedicated than ever to building an Etsy Economy. That’s synonymous with an economy that values and honors the people who design and make goods, is transparent about the way they are made, and connects the people who make, sell and buy them. It is an economy in which creative entrepreneurs find meaningful work and both global and local markets for their goods. We often say that we want to make the world more like Etsy, and that desire continues to drive our mission to reimagine commerce in ways that build a more lasting and fulfilling world. With a member community of 40 million people and sales over one billion dollars in 2013, consumers have made it clear that they are hungry for thoughtful alternatives to mass commerce and impersonal retail. They want goods with more individuality and meaning.

Our Policy Changes in Action, One Year Later

The desire for authentic goods is empowering sellers like Julie Nolan, who built a successful jewelry business on Etsy. Julie’s best-selling constellation line attracted wholesale orders from the get-go. But with overwhelming daily quotas, Julie found herself enlisting her husband’s off-tour musician friends to drill holes through brass in her drop-clothed kitchen. Julie had been fortunate to create such a popular design, but she felt she had created a monster — there was no escaping the hard slog of her signature process. Through a network of jewelry designers and suppliers, Julie finally discovered her salvation: a veteran-owned, family-run photo etching company a short drive away in Rhode Island. Gerry, Julie’s partner, has been in the business for over 45 years, and she is able to work closely with him to ensure quality control, finishing each piece herself with her lucky polishing machine in her studio.

“My days are no longer cleaning burrs off pieces of metal. I can actually create new things. I can create new collections,” said Julie.

Manufacturing doesn’t have to equal “big” or “foreign” or “mass-produced,” and “factory” doesn’t have to be a dirty word. Any maker can be a manufacturer. We put in place an application and approval process for anyone seeking to grow responsibly on Etsy by partnering with outside manufacturers, and we’ve seen sellers choose production facilities that are in line with their and our values. We created the Responsible Seller Growth team to be thoughtful about helping sellers scale, composed of Maker Specialists who are experts in and passionate about making processes, as well as a sociologist who has studied responsible, community-based economies. This gives us continued hope for the impact that Etsy sellers can have on the manufacturing industry, the economy and our culture — not just in the U.S., but around the world.

I’m proud to say that putting trust in sellers to choose local, responsible and sustainable production facilities has proven to be the right decision. In the last year, we’ve seen many Etsy sellers in addition to Julie Nolan who have discovered new ways to partner with other creative entrepreneurs to grow meaningful, sustainable businesses on Etsy with more flexibility and independence. Sellers who want to scale are choosing outside partners ranging from solo makers to fellow Etsy sellers to established businesses, and 86 percent of manufacturing relationships we’ve approved are with partners in the same country as the designer. Sellers approved to work with manufacturers have consistently told us they want to stay very hands-on in the production process, retaining their authorship and control as they work with partners.

Keeping It Local

We know that location is one of the most important criteria our sellers consider in sourcing manufacturing partners, and time and time again, we’re seeing our sellers choose to partner with local manufacturers. Shana Luther is a case in point. A passionate handbag designer, Shana created a booming business in Brooklyn. But when her success led to an overcrowded studio and she found herself stepping on her cat, she knew it was time to find help with production. Working with a local manufacturer was crucial to her.

“Keeping manufacturing local is something I always sought to do, and it only ensures impeccable quality on all of my designs. I work with local leather craftsmen who take pride in their work, and I spend time with the manufacturer during the production process, seeing firsthand the craftsmanship that goes into each step. I source all materials from U.S.-based vendors and make sure every bag that gets shipped out meets my quality expectations,” said Shana.

Every Seller Matters

As dedicated as we are to our vision of responsible manufacturing and an Etsy Economy, it’s important to note that we are just as dedicated to solo makers who are satisfied with the size of their shops or aren’t ready to scale up. The one-person shop is still the heart of Etsy, and one-of-a-kind items, vintage treasures, and craft supplies all have a place in our marketplace. We want our community to build businesses that they love and enjoy, and we’re always working on ways to support sellers of all kinds.

It’s important to us that items listed on Etsy meet our guidelines for what can be sold regardless of the size of the seller. As always, resold items are not allowed on Etsy. We continue to strengthen the methods we have for tracking and removing unqualified goods so that sellers who create beautiful, unique products can shine.

Where We’re Going

In an Etsy Economy, people come first. We want to help makers source responsible manufacturing at any stage of business growth, and we hope to tap the power of our community to create a global and local distributed production network.

We know our plans are ambitious, and the past year has shown us that it’s possible. This is just the beginning of our work. We’re thrilled by the ways this vision has come to life this year, and excited to continue to help creative business owners flourish on Etsy.