Etsy’s Growth Problem

It’s tough to be an ambitious crafter.

When I started my bicycle apparel company, BMINUS, back in 2004, I was determined to do everything by myself. What sounded romantic to me on paper quickly became annoying. Finding a place for all those tee-shirts to dry, drying them by hand with an iron, taping up the envelopes, running to the post office, keeping track of the money, figuring out a marketing plan, re-listing stuff on Etsy… It was exciting and I learned a lot. But if I quickly realized the limits of my 1-man show.

BMINUS was never going to be a big thing. I just didn’t have the time, energy, dedication, or business acumen. But if I wanted to grow the business, I could see how I’d need to outsource some steps in the process. Maybe get the tees made by someone else. That would satiate my ambition, but would it still be a DIY/handmade business?

A recent article, Etsy’s Success Gives Rise to Problems of Credibility and Scale {nyt} explores this conundrum handily:

But as stores took off, sellers started to complain that one person could not possibly keep up with the flood of orders. The logical next step, they said, would be to take on investment and hire employees, or outsource the manufacturing, but doing so would run afoul of Etsy’s rules.

Still, Etsy stuck to its ban […] until late 2013, when, under its new chief executive, Chad Dickerson, the site relaxed those standards. The change allowed sellers to hire workers or outsource the production to small-scale manufacturers that met a set of labor and ecological criteria. Almost 30 percent of sellers on Etsy took part in support groups in 2014, according to Etsy’s I.P.O. prospectus, and there are already over 5,000 instances of Etsy sellers outsourcing their manufacturing. The company said 6 percent hired paid help in 2013, the most recent year that statistic was available.

Read the article then check out posts about BMINUS on this blog.

Closing up shop

I’ve slowly started to shut down operations at bminus. There’s a bunch of reasons I’m throwing in the tee; top among them the new job I begin in two weeks. The sale has already begun {etsy}, and will continue until I sell out.

I might continue to make limited edition prints of new designs, but this will be the last time to buy your old favorites like bicycles are for lovers {etsy again} and the bike <3 {also etsy}.

It’s been a fun seven years, and I’ve made good friends and sold things to good people all over the world. So to everyone who’s bought a tee or given me feedback over the past few years: thank you! Now give me your money one last time.

Behind the scenes: New bminus logo

I’ve always wanted to play around with linocuts and woodblock printing {wikipedia}—so I decided to carve a new logo for bminus and apply it like a stamp.  I’m going to use it for tags in the stores I sell things in, and as a scanned digital image for Etsy and our site.

Here’s a look at how I put it together (learning as I go), and a preview of the final product.

It started on paper:

I kept the text in this step simple, because I knew the physical act of carving and inking would add the “grungy” roughness I wanted to end up with.

Next I transferred the text to a piece of tracing paper. Then I flipped the tracing paper over, since a stamped images gets reversed when pressed onto a surface. I went over the text with a sharp pen to transfer the image to my blank plate, then carved out the space around the words.

The blank plate:


The carved plate:

 

Closeup:

Here’s how it turned out: