Etsy dilemmas- from handmade to ‘one size fits all’?
September 29, 2012
I just read an excellent article about Etsty on the latest BrushBuzz newsletter. I won’t go into the details (it is long but worth a read), but the gist is that as sellers get more successful, they outgrow the Etsy profile- ‘independent handmade’. And some leave to develop their product for production- letting others do the making.
Etsy is therefore looking at reforming their policy to allow people to be designers only and farm out the production work.
Obviously there are inherent dangers in finding others to produce your product – once profit becomes a motive, the jump to employing third world sweatshops isn’t a large one.
Additionally, Etsy wares will soon be available in shopping malls and other brick and mortar stores. Interesting……..
Actually the issue I want to address here isn’t about Etsy policy as much as it is about the intent of creators. I’m not against having a successful business selling your art, I know that for many this is rewarding. I’m mainly concerned about what happens to the transformative power of art when business values take over.
What I see happening with Etsy saddens me, because I thought Etsy was part of a wider movement to democratise art by eliminating the gatekeepers; and to make handmade goods carrying the qualities of care, craftsmanship, community and honest values available to as many people as possible. The values any honest craftsman or woman’s life stand for are about the dedication and discipline it takes to make things that take time, that invest each object with a story, that are individual, made with attention to detail, to high standards of workmanship, are sustainable, are unique, are authentic. There is a transformative process that goes on when you follow through an idea from start to finish by yourself. Anyone involved with hands-on creative work will attest to its healing qualities, and it starts with the maker and ripples out with the object as it passes hands.
Etsy was founded as a model of the small scale ‘making and doing’ culture, the antidote to the ‘sit back and be told’ culture. David Gauntlett, in his book, ‘Making is connecting’, introduces this idea of the makers and doers who reject sitting passively in front of TV consuming mass produced media. They think for themselves, seek opportunities for creativity, social connections and personal growth. He says that the resurgence of interest in the crafts culture is a product of this. Creativity isn’t just about knitted hats and sweet videos, but it is an absolutely critical and political issue. People are choosing to make something themselves (or look at online art markets like Etsy for one of a kind objects made by independent craftspeople) rather than just consume what is on offer from the big suppliers. He feels that this leads to a whole new perspective and potentially a political shift in how we deal with the world. Industrial tools are predictable, planned , trivial and conservative. In speaking about alternatives to the industrial commercial complex, he said,
A future happier society will emerge though diverse, non-centralized creative acts.
We need to develop small local approaches focused on people’s needs rather than big bureaucratic operations which end up feeding themselves.
Will Etsy go the way of many small businesses that started with ideals and end up ‘feeding itself’? These are my thoughts as Etsy, which could have been a powerful model for alternatives to impersonally consuming mass produced stuff, contemplates jumping in to the existing commercial mindset.
What a pity.