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.

The Art of Handmade Paper

What’s the value of paper in the twenty first century? What’s the value of making paper by hand in 2012?

As papermaker Timothy Barrett sees it:

“Sometimes I worry about what a weird thing it is to be preoccupied with paper when there’s so much trouble in the world… but then I think of how our whole culture is knitted together by paper, and it makes a kind of sense.

The profile brings together lots of important issues as we move from paper to screens:

Barrett’s work has been driven by the notion that good materials, worked by hand, transmit their power in ways that the products of less painstaking manufacture can’t. “I have to believe that the eye and the hand take it all in, even when we’re not aware of it,” he said. There’s a poignancy to his work, given that paper’s long role as the repository of cultural memory and accomplishment is being usurped by swift technological change.

From Can a Papermaker Help to Save Civilization? {new york times}.