New Etsy Policy on Mass Produced Goods: “Be Honest”

etsy policy

From now on, Etsy merchants using more than one crafts person to create a product or using manufacturing in their process will have just one Etsy policy to follow: be honest.

The policy change is an attempt to address gray areas some users say have allowed “resellers” to market essentially mass produced materials on the handmade goods site.

Up until now, three kinds of items have been allowed on Etsy: Vintage items 20 years or older, craft supplies and handmade items.

But changes to Etsy’s policy in the handmade category in 2011 allowed use of third party vendors to complete some tasks. The changes also allowed multiple craftspeople to collaborate on products in collective shops.

Critics say the policies were vague enough to allow outsourcing of production and the emergence of merchants that were essentially resellers of mass produced items on Etsy. And some users began strongly protesting in forums and with a mass shut down of Etsy shops in spring 2012.

New Etsy Policy Change Addresses Outside Manufacturing

But a new policy recently introduced addresses both issues and is more specific about what constitutes an item appropriate for Etsy listing.

The “New Guidelines for Etsy Shops” specify that such collaboration must be transparent:

Hire help if you need it or collaborate, even from different locations. Everyone who helps you make handmade items should be listed on your shop’s About page.

The guidelines further explain:

Sellers create their handmade items in many different ways. Partnering with an outside business is okay, but we’ll require you to be honest about how your items are made.

Etsy will also require an “Outside Manufacturing Form” to be filled out before such items can be listed on Etsy.

New Outside Manufacturing Review Process

Etsy’s “integrity team” will review all submissions and ask each applicant questions about their business and about the outside manufacturers with whom they are working.

The company wants to be sure the merchant is the creator, designer and maker of each item listed even if some outside manufacturing has been done.

But it’s clear under the new guidelines that merchants who simply sell items mass produced by others do not fit the criteria.

Do you think Etsy’s new guidelines will solve the controversy over reselling in the handmade goods community?

Meanwhile check out some other places for selling handmade goods including 20 more places to sell handmade crafts.

Handmade Pottery Photo via Shutterstock

18 Comments ▼

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.

18 Reactions

  1. Shawn,

    I honestly don’t see how things will change with the policy. “Be honest” won’t stop opportunists who seek loopholes. I can’t see any other ways than shutting down accounts – or push down unwanted results from the site search – who are allegedly selling mass-produced goods. It will cause rift, but think of it like armageddon – push the reset button, and start rebuilding again.

    Google has done so with its Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, etc. – and managed to leave people with no other choice than being honest and follow the TOS closely.

  2. It’s funny how Etsy always sets definitions and rules that it doesn’t follow itself.

    Etsy doesn’t even follow its own TOS and Etsy is the biggest opportunist of them all.

  3. This is kind of like the ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ military policy, is it not? It isn’t going to prevent mass-produced products.

  4. This won’t work unless users are more diligent in checking out vendors. No vendor making money is going to self-police themselves out of making money.

    • Hi Robert,
      I suspect it may create a slightly greater risk for users who are not compliant. Since the names of all artisans in collective shops must be listed and anyone enlisting the help of outside manufacturers must certify they are still the originators and creators of every product they sell, the biggest problem may come when vendors invariably sell mass produced items marketed on Etsy as “handmade” to every other ecommerce site under the sun as well.

    • Right. Although they have the freedom to be honest about it, the likelihood that they will tell the truth is low. If they do this, they have to price their goods a little lower which is not what they want.

  5. I have gotten many items from Etsy that I know aren’t “handmade by local artisans” and it really doesn’t bother me. I think it’s more of a tongue in cheek policy that they have made up to boost their own image.

  6. Wishing for something better

    Please somebody make something better for us sellers that are ready to leave Etsy. We will all do the marketing for you and bring our thousands of customers with us, if you promise to run an ethical marketplace. All of us who have brought buyers to Etsy for years, now regret ever selling on their platform. We all feel lied to and are anxious to have a new start and a new venue that values people that have set parameters for what we consider handmade.

    I wonder if there is a possibility for filing a class action suit against Etsy for false advertising. Thousands of fees later, Etsy changes what they represent after our customer base has been brought there. There should be a law against a company being able to lure people to put so much time/effort/money into a marketplace with one set of beliefs only to change what they represent down the line without any input from the community of people that pay their salaries. This is an extremely deceptive business practice much like “bait and switch”to lure people with good intentions and then switch to the easiest way to make money regardless of ethics.

  7. Just to shed a little light on the “mass shut down” — the shops that shut down for ONE business day made up about 1% of all shops on Etsy. This, and the number of shops opening on a daily, let it even be weekly, base makes this 1% peanuts in Etsy’s eyes. Even with all the potentially bad PR coming along with it. Etsy bosses and VCs probably had a good laugh over it: Just another funny revolt of some “artisan” shops with poor sales. Teee-heee.

    Serious mass produce (re)sellers will always find a good story to qualify for Etsy. Because Etsy, to them, is the golden gate into an international (western) market. It’s these people, not those artists/designers in need of scaling, who ruin Etsy. Because the majority of buyers on Etsy wouldn’t care whether an item of desire is genuinely handmade or mass-produced (by whomever, wherever)!

    And as another point: if “handmade” micro businesses become so successful that they need to scale in order to support a future (or answer demand, popularity, stay competitive in the market…), then why should it not be a good idea to pack up and leave Etsy? For these businesses, it would certainly be a good move into REAL independency (own website and full control of their brand and all). Also, these people could keep their Etsy shop for limited, “real” handmade editions, but move on to sell their mass-produced/3rd party-handled merch through their very own channel.
    But Etsy doesn’t want to let them go! Of course not, because Etsy wants a piece of that pie.

    The question, though, is whether mass produced items really deserve the label “handmade”, even if they have been churned out by dozens of (unskilled) workers and helping hands. If we really went by Etsy’s new definition of what’s “handmade”, then everyone and their dog could potentially open shop there. Etsy’s VCs would love that.

    The recent Etsy merchandise newsletter reads: “It’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before: a rarity, a gem. A thing so special – only you can find it.”

    Yeah, right. Me and the 1,500 others who shopped this item.

    Etsy is riding a double standard. Etsy, to me, is history.

  8. Be Honest? That’s exactly what we want. For Etsy to be honest that mass-produced, factory-made items are NOT HANDMADE.

    “It seems to me that the main issue here is that it eliminates the ambiguity of what is expected.” Yes, it is now crystal clear what is expected: Just lie and say it’s handmade.

  9. I get sooo irritated when I see a shop full of mass produced clothing, gee the embroidery on every style of shirt is exactly the same, and it’s not the kind a home, or small production embroidery machine can do, and the shirt is only 37 bucks, and didn’t I just see that shirt at the mall? Oh, how odd, each style is only available in a certain size… Can’t it be customized, since it’s handmade…in a sweat shop maybe.

    I report shops when I see obviously mass produced stuff, but they’re all still up and running. 38,000 pieces of jewelry in 3 years??? Handmade? Right…. It looks like the same stuff I see in my drugstore. I don’t see how most of it could be hand made.

    It shouldn’t be that complicated. Either they allow mass produced crap, or they don’t. Like someone else said, don’t ask, don’t tell.

    I think I will stick to selling vintage stuff on Etsy, and find somewhere else to sell my handmade stuff.

  10. There are thousands of factory made items on Etsy. If a seller even mentions an item or shop as not being handmade they are immediately muted (prevented from speaking in the forums) and what they said is erased by admin. Etsy asks you to report it instead. This way everything is HIDDEN from view. I did report two shops that were selling cheap factory jewelry and sent in a photo of one item from each shop. They asked me not to send in photos anymore and only removed that one item. Both shops were filled with cheap mass produced items. Those shops are still up and running. Each item in these types of shops have a quantity of 100. You can also find the same items on Ebay, Alibaba and many other sites where you can buy a 1,000 for $.10 each. The reason Etsy doesn’t want the photos sent in is because that forces them to remove the item. If you look on Alexa.com you’ll notice that browsing location is 90% school and 10% home. The cheap items are what the school aged buyers want.

  11. Wow, it’s almost predictable watching these new start ups. They have strong morals and good intentions with some simple rules, “handmade by you!”. Then the cash starts rolling in. Then they learn that if they crap on the people who made them great and allow large factories to sell on their site, more cash rolls in. Disgusting? I think so, but it’s their site and they can be as greedy as they like and they really don’t owe the little guy that made them what they are, anything. I’m, certain that’s exactly how they see it too.

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