Opening Note: Bear with me, it will eventually become clear why I open with Ali McGraw's photo...
I was recently inspired by a blog post Larissa of Reef Botanicals wrote on 'Why I Buy Handmade'. I SO agreed with her, but wanted to add just two cents about why Etsy is such a great place to shop and sell handcrafted items. So here it is - my two cents or five cents or just a little rambling --
Etsy is a marketplace where people around the world can connect to buy and sell unique, handcrafted goods. I'm one of those people who makes unique, handcrafted goods (jewelry, in this case) -- and I also supply other jewelry artisans. I like to make beautiful things. Sometimes I keep them or give them away, and sometimes I have the privilege of selling them to others who enjoy them as much as I do.
I also buy things from other artisans -- not only jewelry, but natural, healthy handcrafted soaps, hand-gathered herbs, tie-dyed skirts, art, ceramics, and more. Why do I do this when it is true that I could likely find virtually any of these things cheaper on the mass market?
So obviously, there's an appeal in supporting the 'Little Guy' (the Little Gal, in Etsy's case, since so many of its proprietors and customers are female). Sure, I could run down to the mall and get something that is uniform, expertly 'made', shiny, cheap, synthetically aromatic, and...hey, I think I just made my argument!
Mass produced items are rarely made with natural, pure materials or ingredients. And they may be expertly made, but they were likely made by machine or worse yet, someone who was exploited during their production. They likely weren't made in America, or by people like you and me who have committed their lives to a labor of love that is their art. Handcrafted items may be slightly flawed, but let me say this about that -- In Japan there is a term called 'shibui', the little flaw that makes something beautiful. Remember the way Ali McGraw's front teeth crossed over just slightly when you saw her for the first time in Love Story? (If you're old enough!) And remember how beautiful she was when she smiled? So endearing! It's the same thing with a handcrafted earthenwear pot that has a little accidental asymetry to it on one side, or an apron with mismatched pockets.
At one point in my life I had the privilege of learning about the craft of fine woodworking. I got to see first-hand how many months of training or apprenticeship the novice had to go through just to get the basics, and then the years of practice to become proficient, and then the additional years and dedication and focus that resulted in exquisitely turned bowls, handmade furniture, tables, cabinets and more. It's the same with goldsmiths and silversmiths and seamstresses and potters and chefs and quilters and beaders and the list goes on and on.
We need to support those few crafters and artists who are in a constant struggle to make ends meet in a world that does not normally pay or reward this type of endeavor. It's like the idea of buying local, gardening or farming for health, sustainability and stability, like building a cabin in the woods with your own two hands instead of buying the cookie-cutter, cheaply made homes we're all too familiar with. In America, we've virtually lost our ability to create anything ourselves; we have become more and more dependent on imported items, more and more alienated from the fruits of our own labor. I can still remember my grandmother growing her own green beans, gathering eggs from her own chickens, canning her own vegetables that tasted like real vegetables instead of cardboard.
Saul Bass was an American graphic designer and Academy Award winning filmmaker, best known for his design of motion picture title sequences, film posters, and logos. I love a quote of his:
"I just want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares."
I can imagine why he said it. In addition to having lost our ability to make things with our own hands, I believe we are at risk of losing our ability to appreciate truly beautiful handcrafted items. If for no other reason, if I can get something from an artist or craftsperson rather than a mall store (whether it be online or down the street) I believe I should get it from an artist.
I want to support our artists, and I admire the way Etsy does that. And Etsy doesn't just set up the framework for buying and selling; it actually goes out of its way to build community, to teach and train and support women in cottage industries and entrepreneurship; and better yet, it provides a format in which we can get to know the person who made what we are buying. When you know the artist, you can better relate to the passion behind their art. You are assured of the care and time it took. You know it has something that mass-produced materials so often do not: quality.
There are some items we sell in our shop that remind me of this every day. Like these sweet beads that were individually designed and handcrafted by a skilled lampworker.
And there's the blown-glass pendant below that we found in a remote town, made by what looked like a literally starving artist, but whose face lit up when we admired his work.
It's the same principle for the things I buy, like the soap from Amy Walsh's shop AmyKeDesign that she lovingly makes by hand and that's so natural, healthy and delicious that I want to eat it!
I don't really know this artist from SewAndKnit on Etsy, but I made a treasury the other day called 'Oh la la!' about things I liked that were (or seemed) French or Parisian. (See it at http://tinyurl.com/n92xpnz )
Isn't this the sweetest hand-sewn apron? How are you going to find something like that at a Target or Wallmart? You're not!
How about these adorable felted animals I found at Johana's shop, FeltingDreams? It makes me want to put out an all-points bulletin for a friend's child who NEEDS these for their dollhouse!
And I shouldn't neglect to mention Etsy's support for artisans who do custom work. So many having weddings, inventing their own fashion style, personalizing items for their children, etc., etc., are seeking something made just for them. We just completed preliminary stages of finding just the right beads for a friend's custom-designed necklace, and the look on her face when she saw them made a several-month journey worth all our efforts. She LOVED them, and said they were perfect for the 'absolutely stunning' look she was going for. Our friend is excited to know that NO-ONE will ever have a necklace like hers, and she knows just what she's going to wear it with. To steal another snippet from Larissa's post, 'it's 100% unique because it's 100% handmade.
And sure, you could find artists who sell on e-Bay and Amazon -- or if you drive around a lot you might find one who is occasionally featured in a gift shop or jewelry store. But where can you find such an amazing community of artists, all in one place, supporting each other, teaching each other, helping each other succeed? Etsy, that's where. I have met so many delightful people in the one year our shop has been in business! Customers, other sellers, trainers, prospective customers, window-shoppers, colleagues who notice and help promote our items, Etsians who also love Facebook as we do -- all so committed to building a new kind of commerce that supports art and craft and creates community, to boot!
So, why do you love Etsy? I hope you'll weigh in!
If you enjoyed this post, you'd likelly enjoy Beaders to the Rescue.