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The Etsy Economy Comes to Life at the Reimagine Manufacturing Summit

Nov 9, 2015

by Emily Smith

Etsy.com handmade and vintage goods

At Etsy, we’re committed to helping our sellers achieve their business goals on their own terms and to creating an Etsy Economy together. For some sellers, that means working with manufacturing partners who are aligned with our values and policies. Last month was an exciting one for manufacturing at Etsy. Not only did we announce the launch of the new Etsy Manufacturing marketplace, but we also hosted our second annual Reimagine Manufacturing Summit in Brooklyn, bringing together nearly 150 Etsy sellers, manufacturers, producers, retailers and policy and government officials from around the globe to reimagine manufacturing for today’s makers.

Since we evolved our policies to allow sellers to scale with approved partnerships, we’ve been expanding our efforts to advocate for our sellers and like-minded manufacturers to reimagine manufacturing. Last year we hosted the summit for the first time, and we learned more about the manufacturing needs of the Etsy community. Over the past year, we’ve expanded our work to support sellers on their manufacturing journey with various educational resources. Most recently, we launched a new marketplace, Etsy Manufacturing, to address Etsy designers’ challenges in finding a manufacturing partner. This year, the manufacturers at Reimagine Manufacturing were not only participants, they were recognized Etsy community members who could bring their perspectives and relationships to the table.

Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson kicked off the day, highlighting why Etsy Manufacturing is a crucial part of the Etsy Economy and why Etsy wants to help enable creative entrepreneurs to scale production through responsible partnerships.

Etsy sellers Anthony Becker from Wake The Tree, Milly Itzhak from Hunter and Co. Designs, Geeta Patel from LUCA Jewelry, and Alyssa Zygmunt from Brooklyn Rehab shared their manufacturing journeys with the summit attendees. Some key takeaways:

  • For Anthony, the challenge was finding “someone who could do exactly what I wanted in the time frame I wanted, in small enough quantities” and ensuring consistent quality.
  • Milly partnered with a small laser engraving company in the Midwest whom she has developed a rewarding, personal relationship with. “I think of manufacturing as a modern tool to accomplish things that would not have been possible previously. It is manufacturing but it is not mass production. With today’s technology, I am able to produce one of a kind, custom made items efficiently. Partnering with a manufacturer also enables me to spend more time designing than on physical production.”
  • Geeta and her assistant, Jacob, make all the beautiful jewelry in her shop. While she’s been interested to work with a manufacturing partner, she’s had difficulty finding the right one, especially locally. “I’d love to work with people right here, who I can get on a bus to and just meet,” says Geeta. Manufacturing “allows you to become what you should be, the creative force in your business.”
  • To Alyssa, reimagining manufacturing means personalizing it, and she’s also interested in being a manufacturer herself. “I’ve build up this expertise and material. I’d be willing to share that with others, teach them how to fire, and then have access to someone else’s equipment and expertise. I’d like to be a manufacturer.”
Manufacturers share their perspective on a panel at Reimagine Manufacturing.

Manufacturers share their perspective on a panel at Reimagine Manufacturing.

Throughout the day, showing the human faces involved in manufacturing was a running theme. A panel discussion with manufacturers shed some light on their stories as well:

  • Greg Falkner from Carrera Casting, whose company has been owned by the same three partners who started it 40 years ago, noted that he’s seeing an increase in the number of smaller, one-person independent designers coming to them for help. “People find us when they’re utterly exhausted — when they’ve tried doing it all themselves and that hasn’t worked, and they’ve tried outsourcing everything and that hasn’t worked either,” he says. “We have a nice comfy chair and we say ‘it’s going to be alright.’”
  • Etsy Manufacturing Advisory Board member Susan Matteucci from Southwest Creations Collaborative, whose mission is to create jobs with a living wage for local women, talked about the importance of customer relationships. “Partnership really matters to us. You’re entering a relationship. We don’t make our own product, so we get absorbed in the customer’s products, helping make their dream come true.”
  • Etsy Manufacturing Advisory Board member Alexandra Ferguson from alexandra ferguson shared her unique perspective as an Etsy seller and an Etsy manufacturer. To Alexandra, reimagining manufacturing means “rebuilding excitement and energy in the manufacturing industry — showing young people entering the workforce that making something with your hands is a really cool job.”
  • Patrick Deem from Voodoo Manufacturing, a five-person 3D printing services start-up, said one of their biggest challenges was finding personnel with the technical skills required for 3D printing. He’s also thrilled to help designers. “Designers can get some of their life back and focus on what they do best — the creative side of things.”
Manufacturers share their perspective on a panel at Reimagine Manufacturing.

Manufacturers share their perspective on a panel at Reimagine Manufacturing.

Through participant lightning talks the group explored what it means to be “local” with presentations from Detroit’s Ponyride, the UK startup Open Desk, the Chattanooga Library, and the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office. Each speaker offered a unique approach to community-based making that challenged traditional ideas of what can be done at the local level.

In smaller breakout brainstorming groups, participants exchanged ideas, each pulling from their own unique experience, be it as a seller, policy maker, technologist, academic, economic development practitioner, sustainability advocate, or manufacturer. Common themes included workforce development, sustainable pricing, and how to rebrand a new era of localized production. “I thought I was the only one with these issues,” one manufacturer commented. “We’re all in our own corners of the world thinking about the same things.”

Small-scale manufacturing is on the rise, as advances in technology and an increased focus on sustainability spur innovation in the industry. Convening the many diverse voices and faces in this space reinforced the power of new connections to create and grow a people-centered economy. We’re dedicated to showing the human side of this too often opaque industry, and we’re looking forward to continuing to reimagine manufacturing and build an Etsy Economy with our community of sellers, manufacturers, retailers and shoppers.