The Future Of Handmade Is In Our Hands

The Future of DIY & Handmade is In Our Hands, Oh My! Handmade

Did Etsy sell out? Is the DIY + handmade + maker movement over?  What does handmade even mean anymore?  How can makers protect the ethics of handmade as we scale? 

I’ve been seeing a lot of discussion in the creative community on these questions and more sparked by the fall-out from Etsy changes to Seller Guidelines and the recent news that wholesale giant Cody Foster copied the work of Lisa Congdon followed by her call to action and viral rallying of the creative community. These two things collided in my mind yesterday when I read Abby Glassenberg’s post on “What Does Handmade Mean“. After our #OMHG chat today where so many creatives echoed the thoughts I’d been percolating on everything became super clear and connected.

First let’s take a look at the video Abby shared that made such an impression:

If the fundamental steps to make a stuffie like the one shown in the video-from design, to pattern-making, to production are essentially the same for a single crafter what makes Abby’s work anymore ‘handmade’ then what is done in a factory? If handmade was solely about the methods of production, the answer is nothing, everything made by human hands is essentially handmade. What differentiates Abby’s stuffed shark from the factory Neopets is story and community. Her stuffies have a story behind them while the product of faceless unknown workers does not.

After watching the video my first thoughts were: how many of those factory produced toys will end up in the garbage unloved? How many people ever acknowledge the complex and detailed work those factory employees do every single day? How much pride and joy do the workers get from their jobs-are they paid a living wage? Does the end product have value if it doesn’t contribute to people or place while also making a profit?

At the root of these questions is the ethics of consumption and the meaning of the objects we are filling our lives with. Of course we can make a bazillion things for pennies in an factory but do any of us need to consume those products?  When I watched this video and then looked carefully at Abby’s work my first thought was that working in the factory was a pretty sucky job even if you are making a living wage but crafting toys using the same process at home or in a well run creative space is a dream job. The difference between buying the factory made object and Abby’s work is that when I consciously choose to buy something from her I directly influence her quality of life, I know whose mind imagined it, whose hands crafted all the fiddly bits and when it reaches me I know that she personally sent it, this power of connection transforms her stuffies from things to treasures. The whole reason I fell in love with the handmade movement was the chance to collectively craft an economy that put people and planet first while also allowing us to make a sustainable profit. The DIY movement was so closely aligned with this mission because it challenged us to not just passively consume things but to pick up tools and become empowered to create anything! Both movements were, and are, activism and art combined.

At the heart of what many of us have come to define as handmade is a belief in crafting, by hand, an ethical life invested with meaning. Whether that meaning is crafted through moving pixels on a screen to make art, publishing a heartfelt post, or sending off a package of handmade goodness-all of those creations tell a story and add value to the world. When we choose to purchase directly from a creative business whose story we connect with our purchase has a value beyond a financial transaction-we are actively choosing what kind of a world we want to live in. We are building a community.

Imagine a perfect world where before every purchase each of us made, from groceries to Christmas ornaments, we first asked: “Who made this? Does buying it contribute to my community? What is it’s story?”. Would we buy the deal on mass produced chemical saturated food or the box of low price knock-off ornaments? Or would we choose the smaller bag of locally grown apples and the single handmade treasure from an artist we love and connect with? And if we all made our purchases after asking those ethical questions would businesses like Cody Foster who seem to make good money mass producing the ideas of artists like Lisa Congdon be able to make a profit? I think not because all us consumers would be so busy buying awesome things directly from creatives and companies we trust unethical ones wouldn’t get traction. And if they did we would collectively call them out because we expect better. As West Elm showed when they pulled Cody Foster products today-our community is powerful and when we raise our voices collectively we change business for the better. As residents in the developed world with access to resources many can only dream of we are automatically in a position of power when we spend our money whether or not we choose to acknowledge it.

What does this have to do with Etsy’s changes to their Seller Guidelines and dropping “handmade” from their mission statement? Though these changes have been extensively covered online (check the source list below) I don’t see many asking why Etsy didn’t have their sellers vote on the changes or participate in public focus groups to better understand the impact of their decisions not just on individual sellers but on the handmade/DIY culture that raised them up. My biggest concern with the Etsy changes were perfectly outlined in this post by Ohhh Lulu, by allowing both manufacturing and drop shipping Etsy allows sellers to take the story and context out of their products. Now when you purchase there is no assurance that your items will have ever passed through the hands of the maker, just a series of faceless contributors…which starts to look a lot like the video above. Once you remove the story you loose the magic. Do I think that handmade is possible to create in a factory? Absolutely. Factory made does not need to be story or meaningless. Being able to scale is vital if we are actually going to follow through on the promise of a new economy, after all, we have to demonstrate that ethical consumption is viable for everyone.

I would love to see creatives growing their businesses with intention and a focus on the larger ethics. If you are going to outsource and scale do it responsibly and forge a connection with every link in your supply chain so that your end consumer understands the story of the piece and all the hands that played a role in creating. Make manufacturing connections that improve the quality of life of workers, invest your growth capital into other creative collectives and make awesomeness happen for our communities globally. That was the promise of the handmade movement from the very beginning.  Some elements of the Etsy seller changes seem to show that they will focus on showing the stages of production and enforcing exactly this kind of transparency-but I worry about their eliminating handmade from their mission statement and what that means about their bottom line-is it just profit, or people and process too? As consumers and makers we have the power to make careful decisions about who and what we support-in the coming months and years small handmade artisans as well as ethically run companies will need our advocacy more then ever as we navigate the changing landscape of handmade. And if companies don’t listen we can make ourselves heard!

Over the years my definition of “handmade” has grown and evolved just as our OMHG community has become more diverse and inclusive. I no longer make handmade stuff for sale but what hasn’t changed is our handmade ethics and core belief that people matter, stories matter, places matter, process matters, creativity matters, doing good for our planet matters.  I put my money and time where my heart is, investing it into the stories of makers and companies that are doing great work in the world. When I purchase anything I want to know who made it and why because I want to be part of the story and invest in a life of meaning for everyone. For many of us we make these choices because handmade isn’t a buzz word-it is a way of life, it is a philosophy, it is a whole world we are crafting together and based on our #OMHG chat today about what DIY means to us the maker movement isn’t over, we are just getting started!

Resources & further reading:

Lisa Congdon & Cody Foster

Etsy New Seller Guidelines

Add your links to stories and resources in the comments so we can all be informed, individually we might not have the answers but together we are a whole lot of solutions waiting to happen. Connect in the comments, in the member forums or on Twitter using the #OMHG hashtag to meet and discuss our thoughts about the future of the DIY/maker movement and the changing definition of handmade! 

  • Academy of Handmade

    We love everything about this article and are constantly think about what does “handmade” mean… since even our iPhones are “handmade”… so the term has to mean more than just making with your hands. It’s about the who and the how of the making. We would love to keep talking about this more with you and how we can continue to evolve and advocate this movement!

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      “It’s about the who and the how of the making.” exactly! There is value in an exquisitely crafted vector illustration & in a beautifully made hand stitched dress just as there are icky mass market clip art sites + cheaply made disposable dress stores. As my view of handmade has grown so have the areas of entrepreneurship I want to support-I know marketers handcrafting their businesses! Why not master-crafter accountants? It is so easy to set me off 🙂 I am always happy & excited to connect + work together and support creativity!

      • Academy of Handmade

        YES! YES! We’ve talked so much in thinking about the Academy of Handmade about “moving beyond” craft fairs and Etsy. Not because they aren’t valuable, but for they don’t really define the current state of the movement and have shown that they are platforms to aid in success, but aren’t the drivers for successful handmade businesses. Ultimately they are their own businesses with their own special interests (no hate! you gotta pay the bills!). So, I would never be angry with Etsy for changing their business model… in some ways it’s a great reminder our success is always inherent in ourselves and we have to cultivate a community and movement that is able to support makers. Technologies will grow up around the strength of the movement and the community in order to support it.

        • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

          Great points! I’m definitely not angry with Etsy for being a business but I am disappointed in not being more innovative with the way in which they are changing their business. I started my first handmade biz in 2004 and I remember the days when Etsy was ALL about handmade + being a community not just a tool or platform for sales, what made us all buy in was that it wasn’t a line-they truly at that time believed it. But times (& CEOs) change and I think Etsy might have forgotten that grassroots ethic since communities have a voice and say in the changes that fundamentally affect them-if we are just users of a platform we have to deal with changes as they come up. That is the place that I am most stuck-why not make changes as part of a community evolution instead of this top-down imposed policy…but that could be the social activist rebel in me talking 😉

          • Elaine

            Type ‘bubble necklace’ in the Etsy search and then do the same in the Zibbet search. Enough said.

          • Academy of Handmade

            Well, I think that Etsy ultimately has chosen to see itself more as an ecommerce site and not as a place that creates community online. I think the more they look to be ecommerce and appear to be “token” about their community building, it will be to their detriment. I guess where I come from is that too much time is still spent in our community talking about Etsy as place of possibilities and cornerstone to handmade business. We’ve got to “cut our losses” with it in some ways (there are some people who rail against Etsy and are so angry with it… I’m not sure that’s fruitful either) and move on and find/create the places that will allow us to thrive and flourish. And of course, always push back to Etsy when they do things that are harmful to the community, but they’ve really shown over the years that top-down (kicking users off without little conversation, etc.) is their approach and it’s unlikely to change as they drift away from their handmade core.

  • Rachael Smith

    Jessika, I shared this story with my friends and followers because I think it is really important with everything we do in life to sometimes just take stock and remember our true intentions. As a seller on Etsy myself, it’s hard to be a one woman business, so I understand their intentions in redefining their definition of handmade to allow successful Etsy businesses to flourish further. I don’t think a lot of makers there will now sell out as that’s not why we joined in the first place. I’m thinking of this more as an opportunity for sellers to make connections with small business and ethical companies to continue to create handmade products still with a story – just a bigger one! I think at the end of the day those who want to abuse a system always will and those who stay true to their intentions will fight the good fight, and, as the situation with Lisa Congdon has shown today – the handmade movement is a very powerful one that can work beautifully with big business to keep integrity of intention (Go West Elm!). The handmade movement isn’t dying – it’s flourishing and taking over the world, one stitch/paint stroke/whittle at a time!

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      Hi Rachael! Thanks for sharing this post + your thoughts with us! “The handmade movement is a very powerful one that can work beautifully with big business to keep integrity of intention” so well said! We can help keep those bigger companies aligned with their ethics & the handmade community that lifted them up-we really are powerful & growing!

  • KarleenSews

    @ohmyhandmade:disqus this was a very thoughtful post you composed, I really appreciate your passion. Thank you! I actually was not offended by Etsy’s policy changes though, I am a fashion designer. I focus on ethical, small batch fashion – I still sew most of my products. However, I do work with small, ethical, USA manufacturers. I was happy to see that Etsy asks for the details about the manufacturer. To me, it seems like this was a responsible step to help the Etsy makers transition into a wholesale market (Etsy Wholesale is beta right now) in a responsible way. As an entreprenuer who wants to build a self sustaining, wholesale business, with sourcing transparancy I think it’s crucial to implement the process at the beginning. I have a fashion industry background and I am passionate about sustainable practices. There is a glimmer of “handmade” finally hitting the mainstream, rejoice! As it continues to grow we, the makers, need to look at both how to take the steps from garage to global. I do agree with you, the policy roll out was not very community oriented. I commend you for saying what is in your heart & supporting the Handmade movement!

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you for this great comment and sharing your perspective as a maker impacted by the changes! The way you are choosing to grow your business intentionally, with a focus on small ethical manufacturers, is exactly the kind of best practices I hope with all my heart these Etsy changes support & if they don’t that we can gather them back towards these ethics-supporting companies like you is so important to show that we can scale profitably AND ethically!

  • http://pauseli.us/ Darice

    I wanted to clarify my chat comment regarding the meaning of certain terms because 140 characters isn’t quite enough to get the point across. 😉

    Jess, you had asked: “What does the DIY + handmade + maker movement mean to you? Do you feel they are all connected?” and I relied with “There is some overlap, but I think very basically DIY = casual, handmade = hobby, maker = serious / business.”

    I was thinking in very generic terms – the terms that main stream consumers think in…

    DIY is a way to save yourself some money + hopefully enjoy the task at hand. It’s used across a wide variety of professions for multiple purposes. You can DIY your own compost pile, picnic bench, stained glass window, baby quilt, and beaded jewelry. It’s a casual relationship with creating. DIY allows us to be creative without too much understanding / involvement. A glorious thing, really, because DIY projects are often the catalyst for new passions!

    Handmade, as the video + various others point out, is open to interpretation on so many levels. Cars could be considered handmade (people aid in the assembly) if we accept the term at face value: literally hand made. Some person’s hand touched this during production / creation / fabrication so it’s handmade. We’ve all seen mass produced items that claim to be handmade. Unfortunately these items can be knock-offs of artisan designs (i.e. Lisa Congdon + Cody Foster). That’s where the idea of handmade = ‘hobby’ comes in. It’s almost an average of what you can find on the market with a handmade label. Handmade is, in fact, just that – a label for an item.

    The Maker Movement is what I consider serious / business because the term maker is often used by folks when they describe themselves. It’s right up there with daughter, mother, friend…those are serious titles. Makers are passionate, involved, interested, and engaged in their work. Even if a maker needs to hire a staff to help them fulfill orders, it’s more often than not, a heartfelt operation. The staff is fairly paid, enjoy their work, and care about the finished product. A maker is a person – their heart is in their work.

    My opinions / thoughts are colored by my own experiences with these terms, and I tend to be a bit selective when using them. I used to work in a high-end craft shop with work from internationally celebrated craftspeople…they made their livings, supported their families, and lived their dreams by the sweat of their brow + skill of their hands.

    It was an amazing place to spend my days. It never felt like work…until I had to explain to a customer why a mug “they could get at the dollar store” was $35 or how the maker of beautiful scarves deserved to be paid for their work even though the customer “could do that on a weekend.” It wore on my patience some days. I gladly shared the story of the item(s) in question, and sometimes you could see the shift in thinking – the a-ha moment when someone understood the importance of handmade. Other times you’d hear them whispering about a sale at the mall as they left empty handed.

    So much of this discussion comes back to intention. The intention of the hands that create, the hands that appreciate, and the hands that buy.

    Obviously this is a topic with no end – one that will continue to evolve.

    Thank you, Jess, for sharing your thoughts (+ all of those amazing resources!) with us. Let’s keep this discussion going!

    • Marisa

      I’ve been thinking a lot about the term “DIY” recently. To be honest, I’m kind of over it when it refers to craft. It became so commonplace because it’s such a nice googleable term. I’d like to reclaim craft / handicraft because these are skills and aren’t always something you can do quickly or pick up easily. I think, rather than instant gratification, it would be nice to see a return to slow crafting. But that’s a whole other topic! 😉

      I can understand your frustration in dealing with the general public at a craft shop. As much ground as the maker movement has made, it’s still a long way from convincing everyone that paying more is actually a really good thing. And, I think, the “I could make that”s would be quite wearing as well.

      • http://pauseli.us/ Darice

        …such a long way – and I worked there in the late 90s! It was a very different world. I’m thrilled to see the amazing growth in the art + craft movement (thanks in part to places like Etsy) + how much more growth is yet to come! <3

        • Marisa

          But, when you think about it, it’s a return to an old way of doing things. Before everything was mass produced, it was handmade. At some point, people were convinced that shiny, new & made in a factory was better than made by hand. Like the return to homemade foods from processed – we’re all coming home! 😉

          • http://pauseli.us/ Darice

            You hit the nail on the head…back to basics! 🙂 <3

          • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

            I love this concept of us all coming home to handmade-especially because those handmade treasures change a house into a home. Any box with 4 walls can give you shelter to me a home and the objects within it should tell a story. I’ll take battered & built to last over shiny & disposable ANY DAY.

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      I don’t even have a response for this except for HOOORAY! What she said! I love all your points on how you define these different terms and what influenced your view of them. There is a difference without question between DIY & artisan skills, between a casual crafter and a master craftsman, between a vector illustrator and a classical oil painter-they each have value, stories and meaning-like different elements of a greater picture.

  • http://WWW.reinventedby.me/ Samantha

    There is so much to comment on here, but first you brought up so many good points. It brings me back to a comment in college about what is art? The idea for me about handmade is the fact that it something that comes in limited quantity. It isn’t massed produced but comes in limited quantity. It is also about changing the way business is conducted. It is giving customers direct access to the designer and I think that many people who buy handmade do it becasue they are buying into the story and values of the creator.

    As for etsy for dropping handmade, well, it’s sad but only a matter of time. There have been more than enough success stories that have started on easy. They have grown their business and now are many are making the steps to work with manufactures. What can etsy do with them? Do they allow for changes in the rules? Do they kick them off. Then there is also the issue of what qualifies handmade? I make handbags. The next logical step for me is larger production which would require either outsourcing to a manufacturer or hiring someone to sew with me. Now someone who does watercolor wants to produce cards or license their work. I create my own designs and so does the painter, but where does the line get drawn by whose is considered handmade and whose isn’t.

    The handmade movement isn’t over, but now it is taking on the challenge of what needs to happen in the terms of business structure and laws to make room for this movement.

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you for your comment! So many of us buy handmade because of the story + values & I think that Etsy can/could make a model for scaling and allowing creatives to grow while still reflecting those core values of story and craftsmanship that made them so successful in the first place. So for example if you grow and want to continue defining yourself as a handmade business instead of an accessories design company you could outsource to a small textile company that is close enough for you to visit & you could maintain quality control while building relationships with the skilled workers making your bags. It is still handmade & passing through the hands of the maker before reaching the consumer. I think once you take the maker out of the equation you need to start finding a new term to define it!

  • http://www.leanimale.com/ Laura

    To me, being a handmade artist means the products begins AND ends with you. That doesn’t mean EVERY step has to be completed by you, but the majority of it should be. Once it gets beyond that to a point where you’re just overseeing the process without ‘getting your hands dirty’ at all during the creation of whatever you’re selling, you’re running into a small design business category, and away from handmade. You designed the items, you didn’t make them. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that business model, it’s just different, and in my opinion no longer ‘handmade’. It would be like calling Betsey Johnson a handmade shop. The thing that separates what most folks on Etsy do from what’s happening in that video, is that Etsy artists complete most (or all, in a lot of cases) of the steps of their production themselves. In the video, each step in the production is done by a DIFFERENT person. The design, the samples, the fabric inspection, the cutting, the stuffing, etc.
    But really, the thing that really gets me about Etsy’s new policies is how lopsided they are. Parallel procedures in different categories, like jewelry and apparel for instance, don’t have to follow the same rules. If you have someone else print a design of yours onto fabric and you finish that fabric into a garment, you DON’T have to declare the printer. If you are a jeweler and have someone else cast a design of yours and you finish it, you DO have to declare the caster. Meanwhile, an illustrator can illustrate a design and then have someone print AND ship their items, all while declaring nothing at all and never touching the product. The murkiness of Etsy’s new rules lends a hand to further murkiness in how people are defining handmade. It’s confusing people. Why can an assembled piece of jewelry made from pre-fabricated components the shop owner didn’t even design still be called 100% handmade, while a ceramic piece the shop owner actually designed and finished with her own hands is now lumped into this “manufactured” category?? It’s just a mess.

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      I completely agree-once each stage of production is taken over by workers who never get to see or have any connection to the end product you’ve lost handmade and become an assembly line. I think assembly lines can be made ethical and contribute to a value based economy but there is no question that they still aren’t the same as something that has been created by people invested in the end product. The murkiness of Etsy’s new rules does make this even more confusing which is why I really wish they had done a more comprehensive job of engaging their community before making these sweeping decisions that do ultimately affect how many people perceive or define handmade. They were THE “handmade markeplace” for so long, to drop that so quickly without public feedback or inquiry seems anything but transparent to me.

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  • Abby Glassenberg

    Jessika,

    Thank you so much for highlighting my post here and creating this discussion about the meaning of handmade and how it effects our lives and businesses. It’s such a big topic, and it’s one that has personal meaning to so many of us. It’s been an interesting few weeks as Etsy’s new policies and the Cody Foster copying scandal broke one right after the other. Clearly it’s a hot topic even outside of the online craft blog community.

    Thank you.

    -Abby

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you for writing it & making all these pieces connect for me Abby. We’ve really only just scratched the surface of this conversation & I am really excited to see where having it takes us!

  • pixie

    This is such an interesting discussion. I am a crafter who would love to sell my items at etsy or elsewhere. But — seeing the video of the factory assembling Happy Meal toys — it suddenly feels rather elitist to privilege an etsy crafter over the people who work in that factory. It’s only circumstance that differentiates the factory worker from the etsy seller. Most etsy sellers have enjoyed privilege of one kind or another, at least compared to factory workers in other countries.

    But, on the other hand, the idea behind handcrafted items on etsy used to be that you could fundamentally change the way you participate in the economy, by cutting out big business and purchasing from crafters who ethically sourced materials and didn’t exploit anybody.

    It’s just — what can we do as a community of crafters to lift up those factory workers? Not supporting the corporations that exploit them actually harms them in the short term (if enough of us did that).

    Anyway. This is a very interesting discussion. Thank you for providing a forum and sharing your thoughts!

    • http://www.leanimale.com/ Laura

      I agree that it is elitist to think that etsy crafters are somehow better than factory owners or workers. They’re just different businesses, and each provides a purpose. I am sure that for the most part these factory jobs DO improve the quality of life of their workers, by providing some stability, and we should be open to the idea that they have a place just as much as a handmade artist should.

  • Vice & Velvet

    I agree about “true” handmade having a story. I’m a solo maker and have been selling on Etsy for a year and a half, and I do feel a bit nervous thinking about what I’ll be competing with six months or twelve months from now. Ever since the announcement, when I record information about each batch of soap I make, I’ve started including a little note about how I was feeling that day, what music I was singing along to while preparing my ingredients and so on. Preserving the story of my products and my processes suddenly seems more important than ever – it’s something that I will always value as a maker, even if future customers don’t as much.

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      Hi Mei! Your shop is absolutely lovely, you’ve done such a good job with your packaging, photography, and products-so hooray for you 🙂 I love your idea about recording your feelings and preserving the story of your products and processes-customers 100% DO care about these things & that is what will connect you with your right market. So don’t be nervous about competing with manufacturing-include that story in all you do! When I was visiting your website I couldn’t find your name anywhere and all your content for the site + Etsy about page uses “We” instead of “I” in the copy but you mention a couple of times being a one-woman shop. You might want to consider making those stories more personal by writing them from you & emphasizing that it is your hands crafting the lovely products 🙂

  • Bev F.

    Wonderfully written article, Jessika! It is so hard to define what exactly is “handmade,” as the lines are so often blurred. I agree, for many makers the goal is to ultimately be able to scale up, and I think being aware of what that looks like and the impact you are having on people and the world is so important. My hope is in general for people to be more aware of what their products are coming from, regardless of whether it is handmade or not (although I certainly hope people will continue to support the handmade community!), and the integrity behind those products. It’s unfortunate about the changes Etsy has made, but perhaps if enough of us talk about it we can educate the public who really want to support the handmade community to really look at and examine what is being sold on Etsy. I think with a little bit of clicking around you can really get a sense of a shop and how authentically “handmade” it is.

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      HI Bev! Thank you for joining in the convo mamasita-I completely agree that the more we talk about this (constructively & kindly) the more solutions we’ll find for supporting the handmade ethos + educating consumers + keeping a strong community regardless of whatever Etsy chooses to do. The stronger we are as a community the clearer we can be in advocating on behalf of makers to companies like Etsy too!

  • beth hess

    Thanks for your post Jessika! So many great points raised in it and the comments! Seeing how many hands are involved in a soft toy’s factory production makes me rather sad about how little the finished item costs and how distant we are from the process.

    I know that buying handmade doesn’t always ensure that the person you’re buying from has the level of care and respect you’d hope for in their craft or finished product, but I feel like–more often than not–they do. Their ownership of the process helps to ensure they’re putting out into the world something they’re proud of making. Which means when I’m cleaning out the closet or rearranging and have a pile of items headed to the thrift store or trash, something that is handmade (that I likely bought directly from the maker) seldom goes in the bin.

    As the definition of handmade continues to shift, I feel like it will be important for makers to not only say something is “handmade,” but also share how we’re defining that term. We each have the right to our own definition, but we can’t expect potential buyers to either be aware of the debate or want to spend additional time trying to figure it all out. Being brief and concise in sharing our definition, and perhaps weaving that into our own story, is its own challenge.

    Just after Etsy’s announcement, I shared some reflections on what handmade means to me on my blog: http://wunderaround.wordpress.com/2013/10/03/defining-handmade/

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      Thank you for your comment Beth! Definitely just because something is handmade doesn’t mean it was made with care & skill but so often we can learn by reading the story the maker has shared about their items + background, the quality of the overall presentation, the detail shown in the photos etc…whether the maker has put their heart and skill into their work. Your comment about “As the definition of handmade continues to shift, I feel like it will be important for makers to not only say something is “handmade,” but also share how we’re defining that term.” really rings true for me-by weaving in what handmade means to us into our shops & products we don’t make the consumer part of the debate but still invite them to participate in supporting our vision of it. So good!

  • Kerry Burki

    My head is spinning after reading this and all of the comments! The handmade movement has always been about connections and feelings for me. I love the feeling of finding a handmade items that speak to me and light me up. I love discovering that someone created something that is so perfect for me or someone I know. It is like discovering a kindred spirit. When I get to read about the crafter/artist or meet them in person it thrills me so much to have a story to go with my purchase. I love introducing friends and family to makers that I know they will find a connection with. There are shops I buy from repeatedly because it is like I have found someone who communicates what I love through their work in a way I never could. I have always valued Etsy as a place to connect with these people. I used to go the Stationery and Gift Shows for work. There was always a mix of booths carrying items that were made by the person in the booth or that were designed by one or many people and produced by someone else. I worked for Waste Not Paper, the wholesale side of Paper Source, and our booth was filled with beautiful items but they were designed by many different people. Some of the items were printed by Paper Source but some of our items were things like elaborately decorated paper from India. I loved all of the beautiful paper products. I just never considered Etsy the place where I would buy those items. Shop owners from around the world are at those shows to buy those items and share them with the world either in a brick and mortar or online. Etsy has actually become an online show that those same shop owners can peruse and discover new artists that speak to them or will be perfect for their customers.

    It will be interesting what the future of Etsy will look like. In the meantime, I will continue to seek out ways to bring authentic handmade items into my life, my family’s life and the lives of everyone around me. I will continue to find ways to support the artists in the handmade community and feel lucky to do so.

    Thanks again for this awesome post!

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      Hi Kerry! Thanks for diving into the conversation with us 🙂 I loved this piece especially: “There are shops I buy from repeatedly because it is like I have found someone who communicates what I love through their work in a way I never could.” this is one of the reasons I most love handmade & our community in particular-each of us have a different way of looking at the world and that influences our work-so many beautiful pieces to the puzzle 🙂
      Thank you for all the handmade goodness you share with the world & with us!

  • Grace Gerber

    Thank you for writing this in such a way that I could never express. I have been with Etsy since the start and it breaks my heart that like so much of our world they sold out. I am sick of hearing that my 17 years worth of love, devotion and skill is not worth a below living wage. My lifes work, passion and soul is viewed no greater then a product sold at Walmart and that to expect more is selfish. The fact that I spend 24 /7, 365 days a year to care for animals that produce the top fibers that I sell and create with and are not here to be killed and eaten means nothing anymore. The government regulations that at every turn tries to shut me down because I will not pump my animals full of drugs that they do not need only goes to cost me more and is never able to be placed into the cost of my finished items because once again the masses want a 70% off sale every weekend like so many mass production retail stores. I do not even know how to put one foot in front of the other anymore and this article at least gave me hope that I am not the only one who feels the changes to Etsy was such a betrayal to all of us who got them off the ground – I feel the knife in my back. I am excited to read what you all might see for us to do and I am thrilled to know that their are like minded heart, souls and creative spirits that are not willing to sell out. Thank You

    • http://www.ohmyhandmade.com/ Jessika Hepburn

      Grace, my heart goes out to the pain and frustration in your words-thank you for sharing how deeply the Etsy changes affected you & the struggles you are facing running your business. To me many others!) your work and the life you have chosen is an inspiration & inherently valuable. You own every single element of your production process by choice & obviously take such pride in crafting a business and product that is true to your ethics while adding beauty to the world. I promise you that there are many, many other people like me who want to invest in businesses & craftspeople like you & help preserve these precious traditions and techniques!

      My suggestion to you since you mentioned not knowing where to go from here is to make your story an even larger part of your business. Let us know clearly when we visit your shop what your philosophy is, barter with a crafty photographer to take photos of you and your process + your animals to share on your Etsy pages + social media. Include the passion for ethical production you have in your comment across all your product descriptions and website content. Your story is the only way you can compete against faceless manufacturing & there is no way they can top that. I suggest not worrying about marketing to those who would buy yarn at Walmart & focus on the artisanal crafting market, one of a kind fairs, and curated markets-those markets will appreciate and affirm your work. By making your story + production process the foundation of your brand you’ll be able to connect with a customer base that values and reinforces the work you believe in.

      And of course, OMHG & I will be cheering you on all the way!

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  • Diana Foree

    I totally agree. The sellout is going to hurt so many of us small shops. Sad. Thanks for writing this article.

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  • Janet Walker

    What a great sad post. I love handmade and what it stands for. Having a creative design background i know the long hours and days that can go into a project that can easily be pushed out in hours if outsourced and uninterested in how that outsource process gets things done.

    I have never worried about “handmade” being lost or blurred in a sea of handmade factory production. The handmade movement is stronger than ever i believe. For when we as a movement need to pull our voices together to be heard the real handmade community, who put their hearts and souls into making products,we can move mountains with our dedication to the true meaning of handmade.

    Places like Etsy have never filled me with joy, Don’t get me wrong i have found some awesome sellers who have captured my heart with their skill and products. But it has always grieved me that they use Etsy and other online marketplaces to focus their precious and life changing businesses. You have no control over what you think you own as a business. I have read horror stories about places like and including Etsy closing shops without notifications or valid reasons. Yet they fully understand by doing so they are harming peoples lively hoods.

    I knew it was only a matter of time before dollar signs became more important than ethics and nourishing our real handmade community.

    I hope in the light of other peoples situations and Esty changing, that more true handmade creators will find their own home online via a website they totally control. I understand it can be daunting when all you want to do is create. However i have seen the effort people have put into making their piece of Etsy or where ever they are, look professional. So transferring those skills to your own website store should be something you embrace as a new challenge.

    As the handmade factory trend tries to take over we as the handmade movement should also educate those who buy mass produce products. We have to remember that many people still don’t know that their is a important difference between handmade factory and the true handmade with a story and a heart. I know many people who are surprised that items i have or share online are produced by one person by hand. In today’s society where everybody wants everything fast, we ,must continue to teach as we create. So the new generation grows to fully understand the true essence of handmade and so carries on our movements after we are long gone.

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