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Etsy's New Policy Means Some Items Are 'Handmade In Spirit'

Oct 29, 2013
Originally published on October 30, 2013 7:49 am

Under online marketplace Etsy's new policies, vendors can now use an outside manufacturer to help make their goods.

That is not going down well with some longtime sellers, who are calling the new policies a turnaround from the site's original mission.

"Their moniker is, you know, a place to buy handmade. It doesn't say a place to buy factory-made," says Rae Padulo, a potter who began selling dishes and ornaments on Etsy in 2009.

"There's nothing wrong with factory-made; it's just, that's not what Etsy started out to be," she says. "It started out to be a place where you could get something special, something one-of-a-kind, something made by a human being."

Padulo says Etsy is abandoning makers of handcrafted goods, who, like her, have only one pair of hands.

Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson says the company is still behind lone artisans — they make up most of its 1 million sellers. Still, it wants to support those whose businesses are growing, and under the old rules, that was difficult. Successful vendors were frustrated that they couldn't get enough help with their work.

"We heard from a wedding seller, for example, who said that when wedding season came around she was in a state of mild panic attack because she just reached her limit and was working, you know, 18 hours a day," Dickerson says.

Under the new policy, anyone who wants to work with an outside manufacturer has to apply and be vetted by Etsy, which makes sure the arrangement meets its ethical guidelines.

Alexandra Ferguson started her pillow business on Etsy several years ago working from home. She's since expanded her line to makeup cases made out of organic cotton with recycled felt lettering.

Ferguson's business has tripled in the last two years. She now works out of a small factory in Brooklyn with 11 employees.

Ferguson says she's proud to be creating manufacturing jobs in New York City. "That Etsy is now encouraging and embracing that growth, to say it doesn't matter how many employees you have — you can have 25, you can have 50, you can have 100 — just means we've now been given free rein to hire as much as we need to sustain our growth," she says.

But not all vendors want to grow their businesses like Ferguson did, especially those who were attracted to the site's small-business ethos.

And some of its rivals are hovering, hoping to attract disappointed vendors. Padulo says she's heard from the CEO of a site called Zibbet.

"He sent an email to every account and said, 'I make a commitment: We will only sell handmade items on this site. We will never sell manufactured items,' " Padulo says. "It's music to a lot of sellers' ears, you know?"

Padulo says she's enjoyed being part of Etsy but may close her shop after the holidays.

Dickerson says he hates to lose sellers because of the new policy. But in the eight years that Etsy has been online, the creative world has changed. For example, some sellers are creating jewelry using 3-D printing.

"Those are handmade, I think, in spirit, even though they're designed on a computer and printed," he says.

He says Etsy sellers can now turn their hands to whatever innovation comes next.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Some longtime vendors who sell on the online marketplace Etsy are outraged over new policy changes. They say they say the site has made a turnaround from its original mission. The one million sellers, made up largely of women, were attracted to Etsy's small business ethos, where items had to meet strict criteria to be called handmade.

Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.

ASHLEY MILNE-TYTE, BYLINE: Under Etsy's new policies, you can now use an outside manufacturer to help make your goods. That is not going down well with some sellers. Rae Padulo is a potter who's been selling bowls and ornaments on Etsy since 2009.

RAE PADULO: Their moniker is, you know, a place to buy handmade. It doesn't say a place to buy factory-made. Which, there's nothing wrong with factory-made, it's just that's not what Etsy started out to be. It started out to be a place where you could get something special, something one of a kind, something made by a human being.

MILNE-TYTE: She feels Etsy is abandoning makers of hand-crafted goods, who, like her, only have one pair of hands. But Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson says the company is still behind lone artisans - they make up most of its sellers. Still, it wants to support those whose businesses are growing - and under the old rules, that was difficult.

CHAD DICKERSON: We found at the point of greatest success for these sellers we're hearing frustration. We heard from a wedding seller, for example, who said that when wedding season came around she was in a state of mild panic attack because she had just reached her limit and was working, you know, 18 hours a day.

MILNE-TYTE: Under the new policy anyone who wants to work with an outside manufacturer has to apply and be vetted by Etsy to make sure the arrangement meets its ethical guidelines.

Alexandra Ferguson started her pillow business on Etsy several years ago working from home. She's since expanded her line.

ALEXANDRA FERGUSON: They're little makeup cases made out of 100 percent organic cotton with the recycled felt letters. We say things like XOXO, Love, Hot - when you're putting your makeup on you're looking hot, man.

MILNE-TYTE: Her business has tripled in the last two years. She now works out of a small factory in Brooklyn with 11 employees. One worker cuts felt letters while others sew.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEWING MACHINE)

MILNE-TYTE: Ferguson says she's proud to be creating manufacturing jobs in New York City.

FERGUSON: That Etsy is now encouraging and embracing that growth to say it doesn't matter how may employees you have - you can have 25, you can have 50, you can have 100 - just means we've now been given free reign to hire as much as we need to sustain our growth.

MILNE-TYTE: It costs vendors 20 cents to list each of their items on the site. Etsy knows not all of them want to grow like Ferguson. And some of its rivals are hovering. Rae Padulo says she's heard from the CEO of a site called Zibbet.

PADULO: He sent an email to every account and said, I made a commitment, we will only sell handmade items on this site, we will never sell manufactured items. It's music to a lot of seller's ears, you know.

MILNE-TYTE: Padulo says she's enjoyed being part of Etsy, but she may close her shop after the holidays. CEO Chad Dickerson says he hates to lose sellers because of the new policy. But in the eight years Etsy's been online. the creative world has changed.

DICKERSON: We have jewelers, for example, on Etsy who are using 3D printing to make parts for their jewelry and those are handmade I think in spirit, even though they're designed on a computer and printed, the parts at least, on a 3D printer.

MILNE-TYTE: He says Etsy sellers can now turn their hands to whatever innovation comes next.

MONTAGNE: For NPR News, I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.