When they're not getting in trouble for allowing the sale of t-shirts that promote rape, Etsy seems like a pretty good place to work and buy from. But some of their vendors are upset because of new set of rules that allow people to use outside manufacturers to produce their products, making things totally less handmade.
In early October, Etsy announced that they were worried people were leaving the site "because they felt Etsy’s policies were too intrusive and restrictive," wrote CEO Chad Dickerson. "We think this is tragic." They decided to redefine what handmade mean, and said they'd be considering three factors in that process: authorship, responsibility and transparency. This means that everyone who sells on Etsy has to fill out a form by 2014 (after the holiday season) clarifying that what they produce is handmade. According to the company, the rules are much more simple now:
>> You can hire people and collaborate from different locations.
>> You can use shipping or fulfillment services, but you’re responsible for the customer experience.
>> With approval, you can work with outside manufacturers to help produce your designs.
>> If you work with other people or manufacturers to create your items, you need to share that information on your About page.
>> Re-selling — purchasing a new, finished product you had no role in creating and selling it to someone else unchanged — is still not allowed.
Though Etsy says these rules were meant to accomodate people who couldn't keep up with the demand of just working alone, or wanted to expand their business, other vendors on the site are upset. Speaking with NPR, some sellers on Etsy say that Etsy just isn't Etsy anymore:
"Their moniker is, you know, a place to buy handmade. It doesn't say a place to buy factory-made," says Rae Padulo, a potter who began selling dishes and ornaments on Etsy in 2009.
"There's nothing wrong with factory-made — it's just, that's not what Etsy started out to be," she says. "It started out to be a place where you could get something special, something one-of-a-kind, something made by a human being."
Well technically, even the things you get in factories are made by humans – they're just humans in China who you will never email with and make far less for their work than the woman who sold you a pillow with iron-on letters for $64 will for her product. The idea that Etsy has ever been some bastion of perfect DIY hobbyists is frankly bullshit – or at least it has been for some time. Every time I've perused the site, I've been bombarded some stuff that has been carefully put together by a human, but plenty of stuff that is also clearly made in a factory somewhere else and then repurposed for use as "handmade."
As much as we think it does, this doesn't devalue the products, just because they're not tenderly made with love by the hands of the person who claims ownership of them. The value we put into something is based entirely off of what we've been convinced it's worth. We pay hundreds of dollars for Apple products, and did so before being aware of the horrible conditions under which the people who make those products. What matters to us is the creator, whether its Steve Jobs or this random woman hand mixing her own perfumes. Whoever claims ownership over the product is the one who instills in the buyer how much their product is worth. That worth doesn't have anything to do with whether the product is actually handmade.
An actual concern to have about Etsy would be over whether these changing rules could allow for people to use the site as a place to sell wares that have been made by underpaid labor, which is probably the top issue with factory-made products. But the checks and balances that Etsy has put in place seem like they'll dissuade that from happening. It's not feasible for every person on Etsy who, let's say, knits sweaters, to get the wool for those sweaters from their own sheep, and that's fine. But to act as though Etsy has ever been a place solely for beautiful, pure creation is denying its very clear history, and the history of manufacturing products as a whole.