Sunday, July 26, 2009

The myth of Etsy

(Sorry for not posting in a while - I had a wicked case of writer's block/not giving a crap)

I went to the Renegade Craft Fair last week and was astounded by how talented and creative the crafters were. This wasn't one of those hideous craft fairs where the average exhibitor is 65 and makes her living carving and painting "Gone Fishin" signs. The people at this fair were all pretty much in their 20s and 30s, and were uniformly witty, trendy, and unbelievably talented. My crappy crocheted hats I have at home seemed laughable in contrast to the screen-printed cashmere sweaters, quirky t-bone steak earrings, and cupcakes adorned with handlebar mustaches.

Being at the fair reminded me of this article on double X about Etsy, the online boutique for crafters and independent artisans to sell their stuff. The article explains how Etsy seems like a great way for crafters to make money, but how most people don't make even remotely enough to earn a living. This doesn't surprise me, as I originally learned how to crochet and knit with the intention of making things and selling them. The problem with this idea however, is that your hourly wage ends up being miniscule. If I make a good looking hat, which can take, at my speediest, 4 hours, I need to sell that hat for about $30 to even make minimum wage. The unfortunate reality however, is that a hand-crocheted hat probably won't sell for $30 - it'll probably sell for $15 or $20. And who wants to make minimum wage anyway? With my masters degree, my opportunity costs are very high if I pursue crocheting as a career.

The other thrust of the double X article is that Etsy was founded by three men (who no doubt make a nice living off all those hard-working crafters), but the site is by and large used by women. The article asks, "If the site is such a great way for anyone to market handmade goods online, then why is it such a female ghetto?" The author goes on to say that men are likely immune to the allure of combining meaningful work with parenting, and are better able to evaluate the site in terms of its economic merit. I find this claim slightly offensive, since it would only take a woman 3 seconds of basic arithmetic to figure out that you can't live off of crocheting wages, so to say that men can grasp this concept and women can't is troubling. But maybe it's true and women are deluding themselves en masse. I'm sure Etsy is making bank through this recession though, as more women are laid off and try crafting as a way to earn income.

My solution is that all these talented women need to form a collective, rent out brick and mortar stores, and start a national chain of hand-made stuff. Then they'd benefit from economies of scale, a unified brand, and face-to-face exposure to customers. The problem of wages would still persist, and would maybe cause some crafters to outsource production, but I see this as the only way to make any real money off of crafts.


  1. great blog you were clogged but now you blogged

  2. why dont you help start it? put your mba to good use AND help others (which would inevitably help yourself)

    ps- nice writing.