Is Etsy Still About Handmade Goods – Or Mass Produced Stuff?

hand crafted Etsy

When it was founded back in 2005, Etsy was created for a special kind of small business owner. The platform promoted itself as a place for the artisan or craftsman specializing in homemade goods.

The rules still call for handmade products, but critics say some have managed to skirt them essentially becoming resellers of mass produced items on the site.

New Etsy Rules Open Door for Mass Produced Items

Etsy’s basic selling information divides products that merchants can offer on the site into three basic categories:

  • handmade goods
  • vintage items 20 years or older
  • craft supplies

But critics say changes to Etsy’s “Dos and Don’ts” section in 2011 in an effort to help sellers grow their businesses have created gray areas.

For example, one passage of the Etsy’s official rules now states:

A third-party vendor may be used for intermediary tasks in some crafts. Acceptable examples include, but are not limited to: Printing the seller’s original artwork, metal casting from the seller’s original mold, or kiln firing the seller’s handcrafted ceramic work.

However, the rules also state these third party vendors should not be performing the majority of the work on items sold as handmade.

Meanwhile, another passage of the Etsy rules explains:

One artist screen prints fabric, then another artist sews clothing from the fabric. The finished product is listed in a collective Etsy shop.

Critics say the rule could be used to justify outsourcing of work on items that are then sold as handmade.

The Rise of the Resellers

Disgruntled Etsy members claim merchants like Laonato, a popular jewelry store on Etsy, have already become resellers of mass-produced items, reports The Daily Dot.

Back in May of 2012, thousands of Etsy sellers staged a silent protest putting their shops in vacation mode for a 24-hour period to draw attention to the issue.

Etsy claims to conduct investigations of stores flagged for violation of its rules, but some members say the the site hasn’t done enough about the reseller issue.

Some Merchants May Themselves Be Victims

Some Etsy merchants say that even though they may appear to be reselling mass-produced goods, they in fact are the victims of counterfeiters.  Offshore production houses steal their designs, they say, and soon are pumping out copies of their creative works and selling them online.

That’s what Laonato claims is the case about its jewelry designs. It says others are copying and selling its designs. Laonato has made over 38,000 sales on its Etsy store, according to numbers published on its shop.  That sounds like a lot of sales for a craftsperson, yet Laonato hardly holds the record for large sales numbers. A site called CraftCount tracks top Etsy sellers. It shows that Laonato doesn’t even make the top 10 in the “handmade” category in terms of number of sales (although it is the number one selling shop for jewelry).  Shops showing 44,000 to 82,000 sales are currently in the top 10 overall for “handmade” goods sales.

Trish Hadden, who sells on Etsy under the store name of Creations by Tiana, is quoted in the Daily Dot article as saying her creations have been counterfeited and sold on Alibaba.com.  Her Etsy shop has made just 425 sales.  Earlier this year Alibaba announced that its incoming CEO would join a task force to combat counterfeiting.

A site as big as Etsy could be a goldmine of design ideas for counterfeiters. Sellers on the site who are individual craftspeople and solo entrepreneurs don’t have the deep pockets of large entities to police their brands and fight counterfeiters on their own.

Etsy is huge.  It has over 30 million members, nearly 1 million shops, and 60 million unique visitors per month, according to its website.  And while a marketplace that huge will be hard to ignore, Etsy is not the only game in town.  Check out some other alternatives for selling handmade goods.  See also: 20 More Places to Sell Handmade Crafts.

Handmade Items Photo via Shutterstock

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Shawn Hessinger - Editor


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Editor for Small Business Trends. He is a journalist and social media networker with more than a decade of experience in the traditional newspaper business before moving to the digital world. He was the former community manager of BizSugar and the former community editor at AllAnalytics, a site dedicated to professionals in the business intelligence and analytics community.

34 Reactions

  1. 1. Etsy has a ‘funny’ way to compute their stats.
    2. Etsy allows collectives to sell…even if the collective has 150 people making jewelry.
    3. Etsy does not promote the smaller, one-of-a-kind crafter/artists because the browse has been changed to show the larger producers only.
    4. Etsy ‘mutes’ people from the forums for posting something they Etsy does not like…One person wrote the word “cheese” and is not allowed to use the forum now.

    And the list goes on and on documenting how Etsy has changed from a gentle site for buying and selling handcrafts/arts to a site to make money for the company, no matter how many people is hurts.

    • Mildred,

      I notice the changes. I visit Etsy, Zazzle, etc. regularly just browsing around or look for ideas and I do notice larger producers rule the ‘frontpages’.

      But it’s pretty much like Google, really, when big brands now dominate the search results, pushing smaller brands down below.

      Unfortunately, Etsy and other big companies have to make decisions based on their best interest, and just like any companies, big or small, raising the bottom line is a major issue; Etsy can boost profits if it focuses on bigger players. Again, just like Google and any other big brands.

      Nothing personal – it’s just business, alas….

    • I agree with Mildred, its a joke the way Etsy promotes itself as a marketplace for handmade, fine artisan items, vintage and hobby crafts. Supply houses and Asian wholesale distributors download their entire catalogs of cheap clothes and accessories. How to sell one’s handmade goods when one’s whole sellers are selling the elements used at cut – throat prices? Not to mention the outright fraud and misrepresentation of vintage and ethnic items as being rare, antique, or old vintage. I’ve seen jewelry from Marshall’s and Target sold on there for 5 x the price, and as “Hand made with love!”

    • If you don’t like Etsy new rules, how about starting your own site and competing with them? ;)

  2. Etsy has become a total joke and I don’t even like to have my name associated with it. It is a “buyer beware” place now.I have been working on launching my own website and letting my buyers know that in the future they can find me there.
    This all happened when investors got greedy and the board removed Rob and “installed” Chad as CEO. You can tell that pesky handmade jazzy is just getting in the way of them making their big money. Personally I don’t even like to support then to shop there because I know the fees go to Etsy. I look for independent artisan websites to buy from now! I would encourage others to do the same until the board removes Chad and wises up and stops being greedy

  3. I definitely believe that this rule could open it for people to sell mass produced goods, but I don’t think they are going to sell much. People go to etsy to find something unique if they see something they could get in a store they most likely aren’t going to buy it.

  4. Well, it’s inevitable. As a company grows, the complications also grow as well. Opening the site for mass production will make it more active but then again, it can also take away the essence of what the site is primarily for.

  5. I would love to see an article about the mass censorship on Etsy. If you speak out at all, they mute you…forever. This means you can not post in the forums, blogs or in bugs to get tech help. People get muted for pointing out the massive copyright infringement on the site, one person got muted for saying cheese, another for saying lamchop and yet another for saying yipeee. They remove any negative posts and will shut down your shop. You are not allowed to complain about admin at all.

    There is 0 customer service. Just try calling them with an issue, you cant. E mails can take weeks to get answered, if at all.

    • The issue of resellers has been looming larger and larger under the woefully unept management of Chad Dickerson. Etsy has become a repository of stock answers for every complaint. There is no telephone contact. And worst of all is the extreme censorship. I can’t imagine why there have been no legal challenges so far … for misrepresentation if nothing else.

      Thousands of shops have been arbitratily shut … some after years and many with no warning whatsoever. And any criticism immediately puts you on a “watch list” and you will be banned from commenting on forums. Some sellers have suspected that even their views and sales may possibly be tampered with when they have been too vocal. One recent thread regarding a ridiculously cumbersome new “feedback” system garnered reaached over garnered over 12,500 mostly angry.

      Funny thing. Etsy removed it from archives. Those of us who posted on that thread can no longer access it. But a copy of it does exist and there are 340 pages of it

      We’re waiting for a whistleblower … an honest person with integrity who will blow this scandal wide open. Speak up, please.

  6. Etsy isn’t just a haven for mass produced stuff, it is also a haven for copyright and trademark infringement. If you type Disney into the search for handmade, look what comes up (as of this writing, 101,951 items): http://www.etsy.com/search/handmade?q=disney&view

    That’s handmade? And that’s just for Disney!

    If you type Star Wars into the handmade search you get 23,916 items, most of which are posters using photographs from the series, plastic toy stuff and i-phone cases with the same cover over and over (as in this search: http://www.etsy.com/search/handmade?q=star%20wars%20iphone&order=most_relevant)

    Etsy makes all kinds of harsh rules for its users of the site, but it doesn’t follow its own rules of conduct in terms of keeping resellers off of the site.

  7. A good friend of mine sells online through Ebay and Amazon. He tells me Etsy is difficult to navigate and, yeah, the rules are a little confusing.

  8. Etsy used to be a great place for me to find new art for my gallery, but now it is too hard to distinguish real from manufactured, so I have given up! Unfortunately, what started as a way for beginning artists to sell their art is no longer such a place. Too bad!

  9. Etsy once was a great place for artisans to sell their creations. Now we are competing with mass produced jewelry and clothing made in China. Those shops ironically are never shut down by the powers that be. I believe it is because Etsy makes more money off of them than the wee folk. There is no way to contact management, or a phone number for them. Those who complain on forums are deleted. Time to move on! I will be selling directly from my website in the near future. Etsy has become Ebay!

  10. For those saying it is only business, think again. When you are known as a site for handmade, allow shops that resell goods stating they are handmade, and dupe buyers with falsely advertised items, then you (Etsy) is complicit in fraud, IMO. Buyers and sellers are flagging resellers, and Etsy is so slow to shut them down, even when the reseller has come into the forums and admitted reselling, drop shipping, etc., that they make many fraudulent sales before Etsy does anything about them.

    In addition, Etsy has changed common definitions of words so that handmade includes putting a charm on a chain, vintage is 20 years old (and not even that in many cases), and co ops can include as many people as Etsy deems fit. How many buyers are aware that Etsy has changed these definitions? How many buyers are being duped? When will Etsy be accountable for this?

    It’s just business? It’s nothing personal? I beg to differ.

    • Carolbabs,

      I understand what you mean. You are right – things get personal for those who feel that they have been treated unfairly by the changes.

      However, please bear in mind that Etsy is company. They will have their hiccups and just like Matt Beaudoin said in his comment, I do think they are – to a certain point – trying to remedy those.

      Unfortunately, it’s a company policy – no matter how wrong it is to many. To me, it’s the case of “if you don’t like it, please find other sites” It’s pretty much the same as what people are complaining about Google, eBay, etc.

      I do feel for the victims. But then again, relying on a particular site to get the business rolling is always risky – just like when a webmaster relies on Google for traffic source; it’s risky at best (I know – I’m a ‘victim’, too.)

      • Sad thing is, Etsy still views itself as the super duper revolutionary startup company from Brooklyn that will change the way we work, shop and consume – namely more aware, more respectful, more resourceful and sustainable and also “greener”. That’s about all the hot buzzwords. Things, however, have constantly deteriorated ever since the funding rounds started (money that needs to be paid back in about five years from the day of funding) and Etsy got seniors from Google, eBay and Yahoo into the board of directors. These people may know “ecommerce”, but they’re not part of the handmade movement.

        Sure, ethics don’t get you very far when your goal is to scale and to make money running a business. But then, why can’t Etsy just be honest about it all?

  11. The time is right for a new, upscale version of Etsy. When is somebody going to offer a similar site for upscale fine art, artisan crafts, designers and well made hobby items? My work sells from the low hundreds into the thousands and I need a selling platform/ marketplace with good traffic because my name isn’t well known. None of the choices mentioned are for this kind of item. The sites mentioned are for the message t – shirt,homemade body care products, and twee crafts categories.

  12. Etsy is a great selling venue polluted by a very small minority. Does Etsy have a resller problem? seems so. Is Etsy working to remedy it? Yes. Is there more that can be done? Of course. I have confidence that Etsy staff is becoming more aware of the issue and with that awareness should come a motivation to act. Articles like this put ‘real artisans’ at risk along with the venue that gives them access to the largest fan base of the hand made community.

    I appreciate Etsy for what they’ve done for us, and I trust they take issues like this seriously.

    • too frightened to leave name

      Etsy is not polluted by a ‘very small minority’ otherwise that problem would’t even BE a problem for long. Right now there is a thread with well over 1400 replies from many & longtime successful sellers who have seen the bottom drop out of their sales. No answer from Etsy.

      There is no customer service WHATSOEVER, just canned responses that will come in many hours after a probelm is identified.

      There is a draconian approach to censorship (how that goes along eith Etsy’s pretend corporate brand is beyond me) – people ARE silenced without notice all the time. I was silenced because another shop owner had a serious problem and I tried to help her (and thereby got under the skin of one of the forum suck up favorites who never says a bad word about Etsy and always makes the seller feel bad)

      It truly feels like abuse over there. Like gaslighting. They lie to your face, ignore you, pretend its all your fault and then sentence you to death.

  13. As a consumer, I don’t think it’s difficult to tell which shops are still truly handmade artisans…I am generally asking for something custom anyway and have email exchanges with the artisans themselves. I don’t know what I’d do without etsy since I love custom handmade stuff so much. I am disappointed to hear artisans having such negative experiences on the selling side!

  14. Articles like this are essential to disclose the draconian muting and censorship which is making genuine input and criticism impossible. You are naive if you ignore the fact that Etsy is making a lOT of money on huge numbers of listings from China based factories … that they double dip on supplies selling the components to “pseudo” crafters who put charms on a chain and pay more listing fees. Etsy has wired its site for profit … for Etsy. And those genuine shops you try to defend are the ones which are being impacted. Time for this code of silence to be ended once and for all.

    Etsytricksy.com

    • Yup this pretty much sums it up. Some buyers are savvy enough to tell the difference between mass produced and handmade but other are not. They operate under the assumption that because Etsy advertizes itself as a handmade site that the items in fact are handmade and not mass produced in a factory. I would have less of a problem with it if Etsy would just come out an announce that they are no longer a handmade site…. then no one is being mislead… inadvertently or otherwise.

  15. I am a new seller on ETSY, attempting to compete in the crowded handmade jewelry category. Start-up has been slow but things are starting to take off for me. It just takes patience. Reading through some of the negative comments here, I would counter that ETSY may not be perfect, but it offers a good platform for someone like me to be able to start my small business. Marketing and promoting is not an easy undertaking in any forum, so it may not be perfect but I for one am thankful that they are there for me.

  16. While its true that many viewers discern the difference between mass produced and dressed up retail merchandise passed off as home made, there’s another aspect to competing with mass retailers and sellers of wholesale/sweatshop products. That issue is being buried under thousands of listings using the same tag. Asian sellers are very good at picking up new tags – I’ve actually seen my birth name, which is also my business and listing name used as tags for jewelry and art! Does Etsy care if sellers are selling crap and using the birth names of real designers and artists? It does not. Integrity and solid business ethics are not in the Etsy business code of conduct for itself.

  17. Louise Schiefelbein

    I’ve been banned from participating in Etsy forums for stating three things: 1. “China is rising, the US is sinking. 2. (paraphrase because I can’t remember the exact wording, and it was deleted by Etsy). “There is no way we will be able to compete with China..like the 0.99 cent beautiful necklaces on Ebay…”
    (I also commented on a thread about a photo showing a woman’s genitals on the front page-I said it was porno disguised as art-which was apparently my third strike).

  18. The reselling of China Wholesalers has been going on for years on Etsy, so, a friend of mine listed an ear cuff that was purchased from China on ALIEXPRESS, and ringringring.etsy.com filed a complaint thru etsy that it was her copyrighted design, please, she is not making any of her jewelry and claims of a copyright infringement. So ETSY removed the earrcuffs, etsy should not be considered handmade anymore, and shops are claiming a copyright to items bought from China Really disgusting that etsy shops are and have been millionaires, for example graceandlaceco.etsy.com these leg warmers are 3 dollars from China and she is selling them for $34.00, SO AFTER 64,000 SALES, yes I think she has made a couple of million.

  19. It’s sad to hear this controversy mar Etsy, and what it stands for. At the end of the day however, the consumer still holds all the power. Although it’s unfortunate that some legitimate artisan proprietors get the short end of the stick, everyone could learn a lesson from what’s happening.

    For example, Etsy should implement stricter product screening for the benefit of the consumer.
    You really can’t stop people from buying something that they’ve been lead to believe. With all the “labels” that gets attached to goods, it’s human nature to hunt for the best deal.

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