Local craftinistas take over popular website Etsy
By Sara McKinniss
Etsy. For some, it might sound like a trendy celebrity baby name, but it’s quite the opposite. Etsy.com is an e-commerce website where independent artists and creatives buy and sell handmade goods all across the world. The site launched over six years ago, but is as popular as ever because the economy has forced some to generate income outside of a day job. Artists and resellers gather to sell everything from vintage clothing to handmade postcards. Think of it as a church bazaar or flea market with an emphasis on style and good taste: Etsy is a place where visitors could see non-Starbucks drinking hipsters hanging out with their grandmothers, but they would both be happy.
Etsy has a cult following in the area through a group of individuals who call themselves Handmade Dayton. The website allows teams (similar to Facebook Groups or Google+ Circles) to share and exchange information based on specific criteria members must meet. Handmade Dayton is a group of local Greater Miami Valley artists, crafters, seamstresses and jewelers who all met via the site and now collectively work together to promote their goods.
The group focuses on the importance of buying local from independent organizations and individuals. Dollars spent locally have a greater impact than when spent at mass chain or “big box” stores. When money is spent at large retailers, about only 1/3 of the revenue is reinvested or returned to the community whereas nearly 2/3 is returned with a local company. Those local dollars can sustain small businesses, create a more vibrant economy and create jobs. Handmade Dayton works to ensure that local craftspeople like their members have a greater impact on their community by promoting the purchase of local goods rather than by shopping at larger retailers.
“[Local] small brick and mortar stores give an outlet for creative and handmade local works,” said Heidi Schumacher, team captain for Handmade Dayton. “Local soap makers, jewelry makers, seamstresses and artists don’t flood the market with cheap products no one wants. Nothing they make ends up on the shelves at a discount store or the local Goodwill.”
Because Etsy allows artisans to sell their own goods, in a way it creates jobs for thousands of people across the U.S. Over 150 members are currently active in the Handmade Dayton group alone on Etsy. These members have a variety of skills they employ to sell their goods to customers. When Schumacher, a seamstress, sought out other Dayton natives on Etsy, she came up shorthanded. This inspired her to start the team on the site. Since then, it’s only grown.
“It’s easy to feel alone when you do something solitary like art and sewing, because you do it in your home and you’re not surrounded by people,” said Schumacher. “I felt a need to find someone … who did what I did and actually understood it. I researched Etsy teams and there wasn’t one local to Dayton, so I started it. Our first meeting was on the steps of a local shop. There was so much we all had in common without having similar lives.”
Schumacher herself is a self-proclaimed “clothing artist.” She repurposes vintage lingerie and linens to make tea towels, lace, vintage yarns and thread while experimenting with hand dyeing processes and other design methods. Currently, Schumacher experiments with hand stamped fabrics. In addition to creating new wares, she also resells vintage clothing. She sees Etsy as a platform for those who seek to do what she does.
“An Etsy shop is like [renting] a building and filling it with merchandise for $20,” said Schumacher. “Each listing is only .20, and the process is fairly simple. Just go to Etsy and click on register. It’s an easy place to start selling… set up a profile and get started.”
For many, starting their business on Etsy is only the beginning. Many sellers’ items take off and often land in local stores. The growth and popularity of Etsy in the current economic climate makes the site a good choice for those who want to start their own business. In 2010, Etsy generated over $300 million in revenue alone. The attraction of owning and operating a successful business without a lot of capital is enticing to many. For some, Etsy remains a creative outlet for the stay-at-home parent or the eager entrepreneur. For others, like Schumacher, it’s an opportunity to grow a sustainable business.
“Etsy is essentially a business incubator for me … I would love to have more local exposure,” said Schumacher. “Eventually, I hope to use online selling as a way to jump into ownership of a brick-and-mortar store. My kids are little and I have plans [to grow] in the future. I would love to sell at Urban Handmade, Clash Consignments and Wholly Craft! (Columbus). In the meantime, I just do my best to let others know about these places so they can be there when I’m ready.”
As Schumacher’s business continues to grow, she along with the thousands of other sellers on Etsy, continue to only see the popularity of the site flourish. More importantly though, she hopes to see Handmade Dayton helping local artisans reach their potential.
“I think Etsy is growing because it’s addicting and it’s successful. It’s so much fun to shop there, so it’s rewarding for both buyers and sellers,” said Schumacher. “It wouldn’t be growing without the two working together. [My next goal for Handmade Dayton] is to help [members] find business opportunities. At Handmade Dayton, information is shared and advice is given. I have some other goals for the group … more long-term ideas. I want to keep it friendly, organized and well run.”
For additional information on Handmade Dayton, to become a member or sell goods, visit Etsy.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Sara McKinniss at SaraMcKinniss@DaytonCityPaper.com.