Has Etsy Lost Its Indie Appeal?

Critics accuse sellers of mass-producing goods, diluting craft site's authenticity
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 16, 2015 12:22 PM CDT
Has Etsy Lost Its Indie Appeal?
This 2011 image released by Milkool shows a black, acrylic mustache necklace which he sells from Ran Milstein's online Etsy shop, Milkool.   (AP Photo/Milkool, Ran Milstein)

When customers order an heirloom pet teepee, Charles Manson necklace, or vinyl Gorillaz wall clock from Etsy, they expect it to be lovingly handmade or authentically vintage, perhaps even customized and made from ecologically sound materials. But critics of the site are claiming that sellers are increasingly taking to mass production or even reselling cheap items from overseas—a move that many see as undermining the crafts giant's authenticity and credibility, the New York Times reports. And although execs from the online marketplace didn't grant interviews with the Times ahead of its potential IPO, Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson notes in the IPO prospectus that there have been complaints about sellers working with outside manufacturers and "diluting our handmade ethos," he notes. "After all, Etsy has always served as an antidote to mass manufacturing. We still do."

Etsy used to ban sellers from outsourcing manufacturing or hiring employees to keep up with demand, the Times notes—until Dickerson relaxed the rules in 2013, as long as certain criteria were met. Alicia Shaffer's Etsy shop has been featured on Yahoo and in Fast Company as one of Etsy's biggest success stories; she tells the Times that while she understands why people are skeptical about her high-volume output, she follows all of Etsy's guidelines, hiring a couple dozen local seamstresses to help her out. But Grace Dobush, an ex-Etsy seller, tells the Times that "as Etsy has gotten bigger, it’s gotten more like eBay." In an essay last month for Wired, Dobush notes the "pages of crap" shoppers have to filter through and a seeming disinterest on Etsy's part to purge resellers. "At its outset … we were a bunch of Davids, fighting back against the big-box Goliaths with artisanal slingshots. … In the past few years it's become apparent that Etsy is the Goliath." (Click to read about Etsy's "haunted doll" market.)

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