Is Etsy Still Etsy? Members Respond to Policy Change Over What's Handmade

Photo: Getty

If you’ve ever searched for an origami lamp shade, a made-to-order crocheted scarf, a pink soy candle, or vintage jewelry, you’ve probably found yourself on the Etsy website.

Since its inception in 2005, it’s been the home of the handmade craft. But what exactly constitutes "handmade" on the site changed when the company announced earlier this month that outside manufacturers can be used.

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That the guideline changes caused waves is probably not surprising, given the scope of the company. The site has 30 million members and 1 million shops. Over 60 million visitors peruse it each month, and merchandise sales figures reached $895 million in 2012. Still, the change fueled comments on the Web.

Drew (@SkinnyArtist) posted on Twitter, "Is this what Etsy was supposed to be?"

"Is Etsy stepping away from its purpose?" asked Melissa Andrada (‏@themelissard).

Leaders at Etsy don’t think so. As CEO Chad Dickerson (who once worked at Yahoo) wrote on the Etsy blog, the guidelines allowing “sellers to hire staff, have someone else ship their goods, and apply to sell items they produce with manufacturing partners,” are “way overdue,” and give the “control back to sellers to decide how to run their businesses.”

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Now, with approval from Etsy, sellers who are vetted can “work with a foundry that casts jewelry you've designed, a studio that fires pottery you've thrown, or a factory that cuts and sews clothing you've created,” according to the Etsy website. (Representatives of Etsy did not respond to a request for an interview.)

“It’s kind of disheartening to me,” potter Rae Padulo, of Princeton, New Jersey, tells Yahoo! Shine. The wife and mother of two has been selling on the site since 2009. In fact, she made her first-ever sale on Etsy, she said. 

“I think people come to me to buy something really special and handmade and one of a kind. I think you really lose that with these new policies allowing factory made stuff to be sold there,” she says, adding that she will probably leave Etsy after the holidays.

Another artisan has decided to stay. Stacey Sobelman,  based in St. Louis, Missouri, came to Etsy just over two months ago, as a recent college graduate who joined “to pursue my dreams before I submit myself to the harsh realities of the real world and the office job,” the 23-year-old tells Yahoo Shine. Calling the website an “online craft fair,” she adds, “I came to the site looking for somewhere to sell my artwork."

On hearing of the policy change, Sobelman first got upset. Then, she got busy. The graphic designer created an Etsy team, “All Handmade By Me” and invited members who were strictly creating handmade art to join.

After she and her fellow team leaders vet potential members, they provide the artisans with an online badge with the slogan, “All Handmade by Me.” Since the beginning of the month, 650 sellers now have the badge which consists of Sobelman's design of a gift box cupped in two hands on their Etsy stores.

She's planning to stick with Etsy. “I’m not happy with Etsy, but there are so many benefits to it,” she explains. And since setting her wares apart as more handmade than others on Etsy, Solbelman says, sales have been up.

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