Etsy vs Amazon in the Battle of the Handmade Market

Why I’m Sticking with Etsy, the Reigning Champion

There’s not an online seller of indie craft who isn’t intrigued by the announcement that Amazon.com will be entering the market for handmade items, particular those that frequent the forums at Etsy, who’ve been discussing the lurking competitor daily.

For the most part, sellers are excited at the prospect; many feel Etsy betrayed them when the company relaxed it’s definition of handmade to include factory made products. Like myself, they are distraught, if not disgusted, at having to now compete head to head with factory-produced items which always undercut on price and can often be found at malls and street fairs across the country. Personally, I don’t think the person who chooses a brightly colored plastic bubble necklace

Selection from Etsy Search on "Bubble Necklaces"

Selection from Etsy Search on “Bubble Necklaces”

is the same customer who would want one of my beaded pieces

A necklace from the Talisman Too Collection

A necklace from the Talisman Too Collection

but I can see how this affects many others. My beaded jewelry shop would probably suffer more at the hands of these imported goods if my goods could be found in searches, but I am not fooling myself to believe that even the massive influx of these cheap goods is the reason my items don’t rank highly. There are thousands of “blue beaded earrings” on the venue, and a large percentage of them are genuinely designed and constructed in the minds and by the hands of people in their home studios, just like me.

Nonetheless, I’m under no delusion that a move to Amazon will solve my dilemma. In fact, I may be helped by the behemoth, once the disgruntled and starry-eyed Etsyians make their move to the newly launched platform.

A small seller like myself simply won’t be able to jump through the hoops that will be required at Amazon, once they have populated their community with hopeful selling residents. Right now, the vague outlines of their program seem almost comforting to the casual observer. Sellers must have less than twenty employees or be part of a collective with under one hundred members, but many people don’t seem to realize that China abounds with factories employing numbers that are well within the “collective” range, particularly when the products being produced rely on hand work, such as intricately embroidered or crocheted goods.

Amazon promises handmade sellers a respite on fees that can bite deeply into one’s overhead, but I wonder if most sellers aren’t employing their reading comprehension skills. Specifically, the lowered fee structure is only temporary, and this has been stated outright. Suggestions of a more “small-seller friendly” fee structure have been hinted at, but certainly not promised, an important distinction. The statement’s been nicely framed, lulling the gullible into believing that this beastly creature(the definition of an amazon, after all) will nurture their growth like a kind motherly type, saving them from  the cruel feudal hardships they feel they’ve suffered under the reign of Etsy.

The issue, as I see it, is that once a person puts the amount of time needed to build out their shop, develop linkbacks and all the other efforts that go into online selling, they will be heavily invested in the venue, and the idea that they might have to abandon the project will certainly bring on feelings nausea. They will hold on, struggling to work harder, and many will fail, while hungry-for-revenue Amazon swallows and burps. I’ve experienced something like this with my ClimbAddict shop, part of which is housed on the print-on-demand venue CafePress, where the Terms of Use I accepted upon arrival in 2006 have been changed nearly as frequently as one changes their bedsheets. I won’t go into those details, but suffice it to say that many, many sellers who once cheered and supported the company now write venomously about the cut-throat tactics they’ve endured. Why will Amazon, with it’s voracious appetite, behave differently?

I like the idea for Handmade at Amazon, but I believe they are counting on naive entrepreneurs to flock en mass to the cozy nest they have created, partly out of some vindictive desire to claw at Etsy’s foundation. Perhaps it is because some of the factories and importers which have been part of Amazon’s selling base found it lucrative to move to Etsy during the relaxed-guidelines transition?. When the harsh winds of reality blow the loose straws away from the nest, I feel many a former Etsyian will have been devoured and excreted like a compressed owl pellets

September 2015 New In Shop for Talisman Studios

I went on a bit of a buying binge recently.  The stars were aligned and gorgeous antique buttons seemed to show up wherever I looked, from my cache of “buttons in waiting”(pieces I have not gotten around to stringing and photographing) to online shopping venues and a pure “Wow!” moment at a local antiques store.

Here are a few of the new designs, but it’s only a selection! Pop over to Talisman Studios to see everything available.  Hopefully you’ll find just the right ponytail holder to wrap up your hair when you do.

Vintage Black Bakelite Buttons

Gorgeous Chunky Black Bakelite Buttons with Scalloped Edges

Metal Ponytail Holder Tulips Vintage Button Jewelry

Shaped Metal Button from the 1940’s, now an elastic band for your ponytail! Hand-Crafted with Quality Work.

Gunmetal Glass Vintage Button Ponytail Holder

Gunmetal Gray Vintage Glass Czech Buttons, Paired as a Ponytail Wrap

When My Etsy and Real Life Universes Collide

The Colliding Spiral Galaxies of Arp 274

These are galaxies, and not universes, but you get the idea, right? Photo Credit: “The Colliding Spiral Galaxies of Arp 274” from NASA.gov

People often see their online life as an insular experience. They usually don’t know the people whose comments they read in discussion forums, and they don’t expect to ever meet the bloggers behind the stories that appear on their social media feeds. When by chance they find themselves face to face, in real life, with someone they share a common online denominator with, the experience can be accompanied by unexpected feelings. Usually it’s one of pleasant surprise, but on occasion embarrassment, and even shame(if the participants had engaged in acerbic debate online). Almost always there is at least a small element of having made contact with a sentient being from somewhere beyond our world, as if we were a crew member on the starship Enterprise having an interaction with a holographic version of someone via the teleport.

As a rock climber, I have contacted, or been contacted by, other climbers seeking a partner for a day on the rocks. In fact, over the years I have met hundreds of people that way. One climbing friend I have made, Sonya with StoneMetal Designs, also happens to have a shop on Etsy. but I knew her before she opened her shop. So, that’s not the same as when one is going about their day and serendipitously finds themselves talking with someone with whom they tangentially inhabit an online community.

This happened to me recently, while I was talking with a visitor at my place of work(no, not my studio where I work on my jewelry – that would be pretty strange, since I don’t have a studio, and do most of the work in the passenger seat of my van!). Somewhere in the conversation, entrepreneurship came up, and I mentioned that I make beaded jewelry. The visitor, Amy from Amy Kohn Designs, exclaimed “Me too! Do you sell on Etsy?”

Viking Knit Bracelet Amy Kohn Designs

Bracelet by Amy Kohn, with Tutorial to make available – just click the image for information!

Of course we went on for several minutes, discussing the commonalities of doing beadwork and selling via the Etsy platform. Once Amy and her friend were on their way, I shook my head at the sense on incredulity I felt at crossing paths with a woman who happened to be visiting with a friend while on vacation from her home Israel and making the “Etsy Connection.”

Rainbow Beaded Ankle Bracelet

Rainbow Beaded Bracelet, from Shimmer Shimmer

It’s almost a no-brainer to assume that people working in bead shops might also sell on Etsy, but the energy one receives at making the connection is still unique. While I was in Flastaff, Arizona, a few years ago, I walked into a local bead shop and met Carrie Ann from “Shimmer Shimmer” and Sarah from “Patience Sister.” We had fun sharing stories of how our work has evolved, what inspires us, and how we market our wares on Etsy.

Robins Egg Blue Earrings

This pair of earrings was purchased from another Etsy seller who I met while visiting the bead shop she worked in.

At another bead store, this one in Colorado Springs, I met the very cool June Indigo from “Rainbow Unicorn.” June was so kind – she asked me to bring in my samples to look at, and not only did she make a purchase, right there in the shop, but so did one another store visitor who just happened to come in while I had my earrings laid out on display! The purchased put nearly a full tank of gas in my gas-drinking van, which was quite helpful on the 3,000 mile cross country trek.I am sure that most folks who sell their handmade goods through online selling platforms share similar stories. Please comment and tell about yours!

 

 

Vintage Carved Mother of Pearl Button Ponytail Holders

Oriental Fan Pearl Button Ponytail Holder

Detailed Dye Cut Shape and Carving on MOP button circa 1940’s

In my love for antiques, there are sections and subsections. When I discovered the artistry behind vintage sewing buttons, they quickly became a prominent category in my list of “Antiques I Adore.” Discovering the history and techniques used to create the miniature pieces of art was enthralling; learning about the transition from made by hand to that of using modern(for the late 19th century era in which this occurred) machinery to create the buttons provided me with a feeling of both sadness and awed wonder.

I mourned, for the button-maker, their loss of the exclusive use of non-electric hand tools to make the bone and shell buttons which had been the staple of American button industry since it’s inception. But the use of technology allowed for much more than enormous leaps in productivity. Makers of buttons used the new tools (electric motors powering drills, files and other forming machines) to elevate their artistry to a higher level.

Because shell was one of the most widely used button materials at the time, the switch from “made by hand” to “made by hand with machined support” is most easy to see. Before power tools were in use, a button maker made each decorative mark on a button by use of a hand tool, usually a metal file. As can be imagined, the range of embellishments which could be accomplished was fairly limited. Below are a few examples of the type of work a button-maker could produce with such hand-powered tools.

Vintage Pearl Button Earrings

Vintage Mother of Pearl Buttons, Restyled as Earrings. Note the simplicity of etched design, which was created using hand-powered tools.

Antique Mother of Pearl Button as Ponytail Holder

Notice the variation in markings – depth and shape. This work was all done by hand.

Once machine power came into play, workers could create more embellished pieces in a shorter amount of time than they had previously spent with a more simple design.

Creamy White Antique Mother of Pearl Button

Notice the greater amount af cutwork details which were made in this piece. With the use of machine-power, button artisans were able to dedicate more time to embellishment.

Dye-cut machinery later allowed for decorative shapes to be reproduced quickly, and buttons could take on fanciful shapes. Once the basic design had been cut from the shell, an artisan could use engraving and drilling tools to carve away details, adding more dimension to the designs, as seen in the Asian Fan piece at top and also here:

Dye-Cutting machinery allowed for the creation if intricate shaping as shown on the perimeter of this Hibiscus Flower button from the 1940's

Dye-Cutting machinery allowed for the creation if intricate shaping as shown on the perimeter of this Hibiscus Flower button from the 1940’s

My appreciation for this evolution has made Mother of Pearl and other shell buttons one of those subsections within my Adored Antiques classifications, and I hope that you, too, will come to love the beautiful work button artists from the mid 19th to mid 20th centuries have created. It brings me great pleasure to come across such examples in my never-ending quest for antique buttons. That I have been able to restyle them as ponytail holders, in a way which does not damage the button’s integrity, makes me happy. Buttons which may have stayed cached away in boxes and bins are able to again find purpose – to adorn and pique the interest of admirers – as they were originally intended to do.