Note before reading: I am not discontinuing shopping on Etsy and neither should you. There are so many sellers who really care about what they are making and put their hearts into it. But if you own an Etsy shop, you might want to consider getting your own domain or switching to Big Cartel, where at least they pay attention to your pleas and reports.
I heard about Etsy in 2006, a year after it opened up, and when it was just beginning to get recognition in the independent crafting world. It seemed like such a wonderful place -- the layout was clean, the community was friendly and creative, and even people who were simply buyers could very easily access the site through a quick sign up and their Paypal accounts. It provided access to everything you couldn't get in your hometown -- handmade buttons, yarns from independent dyers, wool from small farmers around the world. You could buy fabric that was screen-printed, or get ahold of a collection that wasn't carried at the local Jo-Ann's. It was basically a big-city access for anyone in the world.
I live in small-town Iowa. This means that while there are a few interesting stores in each town, most goods come from the local Wal*Mart, Walgreens, or grocery store. There is no fabric, yarn, or body goods store in our town (unless you are miraculously not allergic to Bath and Body Works products). Once a year there are fiber festivals, but they seem to be filled with the generic, boring, over dyed purple alpaca styles of wool, spun by old ladies who spin suspicious materials like hair from their Chow or sometimes their own locks. So most of my buying has come from the internet. Etsy seemed like a godsend.
At least, until around this last year, when Etsy seems to have gone downhill fast. Suddenly, the number of people hawking mass-produced items as handmade seems to have increased exponentially. Mineral makeup, leather purses, clothing and many more items are in question whenever I look at them. Do they look handmade? As someone who attended fashion school, I'll tell you, it's not easy to sew through leather, even with a leather needle, on your basement Bernina. Chances are that the fully-lined, leather purse with studs and metal fastenings is not made in someone's home, but instead by a factory worker in China, since most of those purses require at least five different, very expensive machines, to be produced.
Of additional concern to me is the rising appearance of copyright violators. Etsy's copyright policy doesn't protect any sellers or even designers whose copyright is being violated by other sellers. In fact, the policy basically says that if you think something of yours is being violated, you need to take it to an attorney before bothering them about it. And if you don't have a patent, or you can't prove that the seller is using your pattern, you're pretty much screwed unless you decide to take very expensive legal action. Don't you just love how Etsy protects the thieves and liars?
And Etsy's report function, which is supposed to allow self-policing by the community, seems to be useless. The company repeatedly told reporters of the Orglamix scandal that they wouldn't do anything about it unless Cheri was proven to be a reseller -- after countless reports she was finally removed from the system, but only because she had decided not to return seller's conversations or deliver their orders -- not because she's a fraud who claimed to be producing vegan-friendly, organic eyeshadows when she wasn't. It actually seems that the satire site, Regretsy, does more policing of Etsy's Terms of Service than the real site does, often grouping together to report violators. This recent post shows just how little Etsy cares with a quote from Emily, the curator of the offending collection.
If Etsy has 40 people working in support, why aren't they ever doing anything? What are they paying them for? While there are many honest sellers on Etsy making things by hand and putting them out in the world to make a living, there seem to be just as many slipping through the cracks and breaking all the rules.
So what can be done about it? I don't know that anything really can -- if Etsy continues to allow these companies to thrive in the warmth of their mis-managed community, protecting them and not copyright at every turn, it's up to the crafters, sellers, and buyers who purchase handmade goods and are passionate about what they love to manage themselves. It's time for some accountability. I am taking myself personally responsible for my purchases by asking the following questions:
Does the item LOOK handmade? Could you figure out how to make it yourself? If the item is complex or requires a massive amount of craftsmanship, consider the seller's stock. If they have 147 leather handbags in stock that each contain seemingly complex processes, they aren't worried about taking orders in advance, or they have 100k plus sales of said handbags, they are probably a reseller.
Does this item look like something I've seen before? I'm a knitter, so I have a slight advantage when it comes to knitted products. If I've seen a pattern that is similar on Ravelry to what this seller is making, I usually do a quick background check -- are they a Ravelry user? If the pattern is free, I do a quick download and check the copyright information. Now, it is perfectly possible for a knitter who wishes to knit and sell from a copyrighted pattern to get permission -- don't report right away, but it can't hurt to ask a question, right? If the seller refuses to answer or avoids your questions, you have a right to contact the original designer and see if they're aware this seller might be violating their copyright.
Do the claims they're making stand up logically? This was a huge issue in the Orglamix scandal -- Cheri of Orglamix Cosmetics claimed in multiple places that her mineral makeup was organic and contained only vegan ingredients, but was later found to have made false claims in both cases. In order for a company to claim organic status, they must first go through the FDA -- if a company did this, wouldn't they be slamming that label everywhere on their Etsy? It's a very expensive and complex process that requires testing. Testing that doesn't happen if you're just ordering your base minerals from a company and hand mixing in your basement. Claiming to have FDA or Organic certification is illegal -- it is fraud, meaning that most sellers aren't going to do it without documentation to back it up. This should send off a red flag to anyone.
Please, shop responsibly! If you care about handmade goods, trustworthy designers, and give any value to the creativity of the individual, stand up for what you believe in! If you're just in it for the money savings and convenience, maybe you should read someone else's blog.
Etsy Privacy Concerns -- Trouble Thinking blog talks about the privacy issues on Etsy
Etsy Call-Out Blog -- A blog dedicated to calling out Etsy issues
Etsy Bitch -- A site calling for Etsy to take action against sellers in violation of laws and TOS
Etsy Resellers Tumblr -- showing resellers in all their glory
SCRAM bot that isn't doing it's job -- Etsy's answer to resellers and violators