Category: Featured

Et Tu, Etsy? A call for fellow makers to strike.

IMPORTANT: Letter to Etsy Inc. Board of Directors, July 16 2018 http://bit.ly/lettertoetsy

Dear fellow makers & Etsy sellers I suggest we plan a general strike,

For a media version of key points please click here. 

Do you know the scene in the musical Rent where a ragtag collection of artists and freaks confront the suits trying to gentrify their New York arts community and turn it into Cyberland? In response to being told their dreams are dead the cast sings a defiant eulogy to La Vie Boheme and the idea of living creatively outside the margins. If you don’t know what I’m talking about go watch the movie or check the clip out here – basically a group of friends struggling to survive as artists fight to protect their community space and connections against forces that only care about art as a way to make a profit. To the suits of Cyberland people are expendable, all places are for sale, or in the recent words of new Etsy CEO Josh Silverman, there are no sacred cows”.

What if some things are sacred and some values do matter above and beyond profit? Makers built Etsy from an idea into a billion dollar a quarter company and we are responsible for whether the experiment that was Etsy continues. In the gospel according to La Vie Boheme the opposite of war isn’t peace…it’s creation! Together we created one of the greatest social experiments of all time – the collective imagining of a new economy and a movement that placed every day hands and their work at the centre of commerce. A new vision of a people-powered economy led and driven by communities and the democratization of business as a tool for social change. This was not neoliberal marketing doublespeak at the time but real meaningful change that started important conversations globally about what kind of world we were making together. Makers around the world united around common values and shared ideas collaborating to become a significant economic force, this drew attention and predators of the profit-motive kind who saw our movement as an opportunity to exploit our labour to pad the pockets of investors. 

As creators we are responsible for what we have made and as Etsy moves farther and farther away from the values we originally held as sacred it is up to us to decide how to move forward. Will we insist they honour commitments to community values and “building for the long term” instead of just quarterly profits? Or will we accept that business as unusual is dead and business as usual is acceptable?

To me it looks like executives and shareholders currently intend to drive stocks up as high as possible and sell Etsy at a profit, likely to Ebay or Amazon within a few years. Selling companies to the highest bidder is a classic business move that usually calls for eliminating staff, programs, and social mandates combined with aggressive mainstream marketing to onboard new customers without real brand loyalty or the baggage of shared history leading up to the sale. If we want to prevent this from happening now is the time to act.  

I get asked countless times every year about what Etsy stands for and usually give the same answer, “whatever we make it mean.” You can even get all nostalgic for old Etsy by reading through this thread full of sellers and staff making up silly ideas here. Just like the maker movement itself from the start Etsy has relied on the imagination, creativity, and content of makers to give it meaning. We built the shops, teams, forums, and content; did the marketing on and offline; hosted events and meet-ups; participated in so many focus groups, summits, and surveys; gave feedback on each new round of changes; supported each other throughout it all. 

The new CEO and marketing push would have us believe that Etsy stands for ‘special’,  the kind of special that requires a $100 million dollar marketing budget to be paid for with an increase in seller fees. For those of us who have been around since the beginning we know Etsy stood for something we had built as a community. Crafted by people who wanted a place for socially responsible goods made by real people with real lives who actually cared about each other. We educated each new round of staff about our values and watched them grow as people and advocates, often becoming makers themselves with divided loyalties who did their best to work for sellers until inevitably they were downsized or quit in frustration of having to justify important community work according to the metrics of profit and growth. After a round of 20% layoffs and program cuts in 2017 a group of Etsy employees and sellers called on Etsy to renew their commitment to core values and stand for more than just profits. Despite being successful at achieving some of their requests the larger need to organize and have ongoing representation at Etsy’s decision making table did not happen. 

The trouble with building a company on the backs of real people is that sudden or arbitrary changes or shifts in values can have serious consequences like whether mortgages and bills get paid, dinner gets made, or communities thrive. According to their own data and surveys Etsy sellers are primarily women. For many sellers their shop is secondary income but for others it is a sole source of income, sometimes employing the entire family as well as outside employees. Our community is full of success stories that Etsy is not responsible for, we are. 

Etsy does not need a hundred million dollar marketing budget it needs to honour the mandate of the Etsy Maker Cities initiative and “invest in creative entrepreneurs”. We know everything there is to know about marketing our communities and building this movement.

Etsy began in response to a post made by crafters in a forum complaining about the lack of markets and places to sell their work online. A few developers worked together to create Etsy with the idea of making an online craft market with the input and support of crafters and over the last 13 years makers have continued to be the force behind Etsy’s growth and success. Until now it has been a partnership between Etsy and makers, one that has often been uneasy as they have grown and struggled to remember that the future of handmade is in our hands. Without unions or trade organizations individual makers are without any real mechanisms to bring complaints forward to the companies or institutions that profit off them so our concerns can easily be ignored. 

As a parable for the confrontation between makers of principle and Etsy prioritizing profit over people Rent is a good one. During one scene the character Maureen sparks a riot with a performance piece about a cow (and what is sacred) calling on the audience to resist by taking a leap of faith. In the end the characters of Rent win the battle to protect their space but lose friends along the way to sickness and despair. I came to the maker movement, to handmade, as an antidote to despair and what I believed to be the relentless drive of consumerism to turn everything sacred into something to consume. My making has always been about activism with the goal of crafting a culture of care and responsibility for the things we create together, including our lives. I’ve been honoured to work with creative people around the world and entrusted with their hopes and dreams of a good life. All of us who have tried to make something from nothing know sometimes all you need to do is take a leap of faith. This is mine. 

So cheers to being an us for once instead of a ‘them’.

La Vie Boheme!

Let’s organize a general strike of both Etsy sellers and shoppers this July 16, 2018 the day the changes to Etsy take effect. Starting at 9am EST a day of action can take place to show Etsy and other platforms that seek to profit from us that we are a significant force.

This day of action can include:

  • putting shops on vacation
  • posting across social media with the hashtag #etsystrike
  • publishing a list of demands on behalf of fellow makers and Etsy sellers
  • shopping from or paying makers directly on that day
  • sending feedback or complaints to Etsy 

To be part of creating a list of demands you can comment here or join the new Fellow Makers network to help us organize this action at fellowmakers.com

Some suggested demands of Etsy: 

  • Commit to a triple bottom line mandate that makes people, places, and process of equal value to profit. 
  • Develop policies that commit to doing business as unusual and working collaboratively with makers and Etsy sellers to define the future of the company collectively from now on. Fundamental changes to platform fees and functions must be decided by referendum or public vote, we are not simply users we are the makers of your success. 
  • Open elections for a community selected board of advisors from within the handmade community to act as independent advocates that can represent the interests of fellow makers at the negotiating table. Make good on promises to “build for the long term” by valuing relationships with long term sellers and advocates within the community and honouring the work done by Etsy champions and teams across the world. 
  • Ensure seller representation at the highest levels of decision making and ensure senior staff are accountable directly to makers.  
  • Account for the projects that Etsy has terminated without transparency such as Etsy Wholesale, Etsy Studio, Etsy Maker Cities, Indigenous Seller Handbook and values aligned projects. 
  • Renew B-Corp certification or commit to equally stringent corporate policies ensuring the company continues standing for more than profit. 
  • Allocate funds from any fee increase or tiered pricing plans to establishing a robust health benefits program, life insurance policy, and mental health supports for Etsy sellers. Allow makers who do not sell on Etsy the ability to purchase these policies and ensure the health of our community. 
  • Implement profit sharing or dividends for active sellers in good standing so that they benefit from any company growth. 
  • Create inclusive policy for Indigenous nations in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Ensure policies that protect the intellectual property of Indigenous people and prevent items being tagged or represented as Native American made unless the sellers are Indigenous. Provide a mechanism for an Indigenous Seller banner to be displayed on shops that choose to participate along with a designation for “Authentic Indigenous Made” and a marketing campaign to raise awareness. 
  • Remove the recently added prohibition on class action suits by Etsy sellers from the Terms of Service and be willing to negotiate collectively with us in good faith. 
  • Build voting capacity into new forums and team platforms so that communities can organize and provide feedback efficiently. 
  • Stop reinventing the wheel and hiring new staff who have no context or connection to the maker movement and our ethics. Many programs and pilots have already been tried, the experts on these successes and failures are the sellers who have participated in them. Senior staff and decision makers should be consulting with leaders within the community who can advise them on what has worked in the past and what should be supported in the future. 

If demands are not addressed in a timely manner I suggest we begin a larger action on Buy Nothing Day, November 23 2018, also known as Black Friday in opposition to new Etsy campaigns urging sellers to compete with the big brands of the world by offering Black Friday sales. This longer action could include a march on Etsy offices in Brooklyn and Toronto along with a public call for boycott and removal of Etsy branding from our community events and teams if our concerns are not addressed. We have the power to educate the new forces behind Etsy and consumers that our work is more than sales or mass-market deals.

What are your demands of Etsy? Leave a comment or share them here. 

Further reading:

My Story 

I’ve had a long and complicated relationship with Etsy as a company and have not been shy about critiquing them publicly. Over the last five years I worked closely alongside Etsy’s Canadian staff as an independent consultant, community leader, and volunteer organizer with the goal of helping keep the company accountable to common values. Along with volunteer teams across Canada I helped develop Etsy Made in Canada/Fait Au Quebec (Etsy Made Local outside Canada), and the Etsy Maker Cities initiative. I have spoken on community and collaboration at captain’s summits and events across three countries. My language, images, ideas, and programs have been and continue to be used by Etsy internationally to help reinforce their identity as a community centred brand. On a local level our team has organized Etsy co-branded events that grew to be the largest economic events for our entire region while building a strong community and partnership across four provinces as our own collective, Maritime Makers

Nova Scotia Etsy team captain Fatema Sidat and I along with a small but mighty team of volunteers host giant Etsy markets in Nova Scotia and single-handedly made Etsy a household name in our province. Together with sellers in provinces across Canada teams have been responsible for leading a massive movement towards taking online purchases offline creating immense marketing initiatives on tiny budgets. While Etsy has provided small bursaries for Etsy Made in Canada/Fair au Quebec and an annual summit to bring organizers together the bulk of the work has been done by makers in communities across our country while caregiving for family, dealing with births and deaths, struggling with their health and running businesses at the same time. We are the real power behind Etsy and do not deserve to be underestimated or patronized by the very company we created.

I’ve been represented as an Etsy ambassador and spoken on behalf of my community work for the company at conferences, meetings with political leaders, and publicly on television and in print. Since the shareholder takeover that replaced CEO Chad Dickerson there have been mass layoffs, program cuts, and major changes with increased focus on profit without any corresponding investment in people, places, and process. I will continue to host events and advocate on behalf of the maker movement globally but will not be publicly aligning myself with the company unless we are able to correct their course and ensure a commitment to the maker community by honouring our demands. 

Graphics for Sharing:

Click any of the images above to download high resolution copies or click here to download them all. Please feel free to use any of these images when sharing this action.  

Democracy is a Strong Seed

I'm with you, Fannie Lou Hamer

Democracy will not come

Today, this year

Nor ever

Through compromise and fear.

I have as much right

As the other fellow has

To stand

On my two feet

And own the land.

I tire so of hearing people say,

Let things take their course.

Tomorrow is another day.

I do not need my freedom

when I’m dead.

I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.

Freedom

Is a strong seed

Planted

In a great need.

I live here, too.

I want freedom

Just as you.

Langston Hughes, Democracy, from Selected Poems

If citizenship and democracy exist first as an act of imagination then we have the power to imagine ourselves anywhere. It is up to us to chart the way forward but what will we choose? The dark visions of distrust, fear, and militarism or the expansive dream of shared responsibility, unity, and freedom? Hope in human goodness is a compass we can use to navigate home to each other and away from despair.

Some days it all feels like too much, the news pours out a steady stream of tragedy and we just want to hide away from it all. That is when we need the poets to remind us of how our lives are seeds; freedom is the garden; democracy is the trellis we climb together to reach the light; the harvest is each other. Vote with your feet, with your hands, with confidence, become a citizen invested with the power of history. Imagine a future where oppression, intolerance, and despair are non-existent words.

We want leaders in our community. And what people will say, say, “Well, if we can get rid of Fannie Lou,” said, “we can get rid of the trouble.” But what they don’t know, freedom is like an eating cancer, if you kill me, it will break out all over the place. We want ours and we want ours now…we are determined that one day we’ll have the power of the ballot. And the sooner you go to the courthouse, the sooner we’ll have it…I don’t want to hear you say, “Honey, I’m behind you.” Well, move, I don’t want you back there. Because you could be 200 miles behind. I want you to say, “I’m with you.” And we’ll go up this freedom road together.

Fannie Lou Hamer, “We’re On Our Way”, delivered in Mississippi, 1964

Voting for leaders and holding them accountable is just one tiny part of being a citizen. Democracy will not come until we are able to say “I’m with you” and walk with each other side by side, then we can all go up this freedom road together.

Further Reading: 

Langston Hughes, Democracy, Selected Poems

“We’re On Our Way” delivered by Fannie Lou Hamer in Mississippi, 1964 

It’s not talent, it’s just work.

"It's not talent, it's just work" Annie Dillard, on work and talent

People often ask me if I discipline myself to write, if I work a certain number of hours a day on a schedule. They ask this question with envy in their voices and awe on their faces and a sense of alienation all over them, as if they were addressing an armored tank or a talking giraffe or Niagara Falls. We want to believe that other people are natural wonders; it gets us off the hook…People can lift cars when they want to. People can recite the Koran too, and run in marathons. These things aren’t ways of life; they are merely possibilities for everyone on certain occasions of life. You don’t lift cars around the clock or write books every year. But when you do, it’s not so hard. It’s not superhuman. It’s very human. You do it for love. You do it for love and respect for your own life; you do it for love and respect for the world; and you do it for love and respect for the task itself.

Annie Dillard, It’s Not Talent; It’s Just Work, Seventeen Magazine, 1979

Crafting a life worth respecting is hard work. There is not some kind of natural aptitude that blesses the worthy and talent isn’t gifted equally to everyone. What is it that sets apart the people we hold up as examples of brilliance, goodness, or grace? They are not somehow better or more than us, they just did the hard work. Maybe it makes us feel better to think our heroes and inspirations are supernaturally gifted so we can assure ourselves we are somehow less. Thinking we aren’t capable makes us easy targets for all the predators who want to sell us a shortcut, as if their product will magically erase years of effort and experience.

Every one of us has the capacity for greatness.  It does not take talent, an expensive class or degree, to be born under a lucky star, or anything at all but our own willingness to make something of our lives from the raw material we are given.

Do you ever confuse hard work for talent?