Small artisan-supporting Etsy works to launch local craftspeople toward profitability.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
The names are the same. So is the retail platform: Etsy. And the result: success.
Monterey County residents Sarah Burns, Sarah Cerney and Sarah Lapp each use Etsy, an increasingly popular online hub that supports artisans around the world, to sell handmade clutches, vintage clothing and fine art paintings, respectively. The site’s mission: to serve its army of microenterprises by challenging consumers to buy more crafty, small-batch goods – and fewer mass-produced items.
“It’s consumerism versus design,” Lapp says.
The website has loads of tools – like vendor support networks, video business tutorials and start-up coaching tips – and its buyers are often more engaged than their eBay brethren because they know they’re buying directly from real people who made it themselves.
“People are pumped up to be buying from an artist-driven site,” Burns says.
While not a household word yet, Etsy is already the largest online market for handmade and vintage goods (vintage being at least 20 years old). This month Etsy became a Certified B Corporation, meaning it’s the type of company that uses commerce to solve social and environmental problems.
“It’s like a LEED or Fair Trade Certification, but for a business,” Etsy editor Michelle Traub blogs. Etsy is among the biggest of a clan that includes Patagonia and Numi Tea.
Salinas’ Burns birthed her business when people in grocery stores began asking her where she got her purses. Given a sewing machine from her grandmother in 2007, she taught herself to sew from YouTube videos and how-to books, developing a line of soft, brightly colored handbags to wear herself. She worked a year to perfect an accessory line, selling them at home parties to her friends and their friends, and to boutiques.
She opened up on Etsy in 2008 under the handle “FallenSparrow,” and within the last two years the benefits of a built-in audience and a community of support have been clear: She has scarcely put her needle down, putting in nights and weekends sewing after her day job at a termite control company she owns with her dad. She’s sold more than 330 handbags. Etsy has been booming too: It sold $63 million in goods in April, after unveiling a new section dedicated to weddings.
Burns also uses Etsy source materials. “I love to search by location; I do that for supplies,” she says. “It’s becoming important to people to buy local.”
Sarah Lapp was “stoked” when she learned she could buy laundry detergent from a person through Etsy: “It’s a necessity, but you know you’re supporting an actual person with it!”
When Lapp started an Etsy “store” for her abstract paintings in 2011, she was selling items within three days. A career fine artist, her Etsy sales make up the majority of her income. No matter how many she sells, though, each piece remains a personal production.
“Some of them are about memories of my grandfather,” she says. “Finishing each painting, it’s like sending someone off to school.”
With its own blog and news editors, artist profiles and friends circles, and teams of sellers who scout events, Etsy replaces some of the support and advice Lapp, a military wife, got while in art school and in college. It also connects her with clients, who may not influence her large, colorful abstract paintings, but spoil her with enthusiasm.
“I’m sometimes to the point now that if someone doesn’t ask me what inspired me, or what the painting is about, I feel like something’s missing,” she says.
Of Etsy’s vintage section’s 2,336,868 listings, 182 of those are out of Monterey, and Cerney, a hostess at Passionfish in Pacific Grove, is able to pass on a hereditary appreciation of things old to people online, where there’s a larger market than Monterey alone. She joined Etsy in 2009 to sell off some of her vintage wares and handmade jewelry, and found that she could make money.
“You have to act like a business owner,” she says, “even though it’s just you.”
She also passes along an allegiance for the popular site, as does Burns. “I really believe what [Etsy] stands for,” she says. “I want to grow as big as I can but stay with Etsy.”
Visit Sarah Burns on Etsy under FallenSparrow, Sarah Cerney at Lildeervintage, and Sarah Lapp at SarahLappArt. Search more Monterey Etsians at www.etsy.com