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.

Planet Money Makes a T-shirt

NPR Planet Money T-Shirt

NPR’s Planet Money is tracing the manufacturing process of a t-shirt from the very beginning.

It all started with a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $half million.

They met garment workers, sea captains, customs officials and cotton farmers along the way.

Check out video from their journey, listen to the podcast and watch Alex Blumberg (whose voice This American Life listeners will recognize) on Colbert.

Beyond the merits of the story itself, this is a great case study for story-telling across media, and the power of a story to sell a product. I’m not particularly keen on the design, but the more I follow their journey, the more I want it.

Marc Hummel’s Bike-Loving Designs

Pub: Free People blog

Date: October 2009

Abstract: Interview about bminus with Free People.


FREE PEOPLE: why did you start b minus designs?
MARC: my friend leah and i came up with the idea for the “bicycles are for lovers” design while goofing around in our dorm rooms our freshman year of college. our school was in a fairly rural part of new jersey, and we both thought tandem bicycles were the coolest things on the planet. we decided to use our design to launch a t-shirt company that would eventually buy us our very own tandem!

Read more: Marc Hummel‘s Bike-Loving Designs.

Marc Hummel

Marc Hummel Is Making the Grade

Pub: South Philly Review

Date: June 2010

Abstract: An article about Marc Hummel’s bicycle apparel company, bminus.


It was more of like we liked making projects together, there was a lot of creative energy there. We were having fun doing it and we wanted to be distracted from our schoolwork, and it was kind of good distraction for us,” Hummel said of his collaboration with Cipolla. [‘b minus’] was something to devote our time to, on accident, but something else would have happened anyway.

Read more: Marc Hummel is making the grade.

Marc Hummel

Philadelphia Designer Marc Hummel Peddles Cycle-Centric Gear

Pub: The Examiner.

Date: June 2010.

Abstract: An article about bminus, Marc Hummel’s apparel company.


Writing is the best way to express yourself,” the 25-year-old Hummel says. “I like seeing what the kids can do. It’s powerful. I know that the writing skills in our city aren’t very good, so it lifts me up when I see the kids working on their projects and accomplishing something.”

Read more: Philadelphia Designer Marc Hummel Peddles Cycle-Centric Gear.

Marc Hummel