I have attended quite a few fairs recently, a new experience for me. I have to admit enjoying the rides so far. Mainly because I feel like I’m learning tons, meeting many interesting and helpful people, really enjoying the diversity, and the humanity. It may sound silly but diversity and humanity are something I found lacking in my previous life as a professional whatever.
However, I quickly learned to spot a mile off one particular character. The
demeanour is somewhat akin to ferreting, quickly looks at this or that, no eye contact, little grunt or snort: the “Bargain Hunter”. Now, I should not throw the first stone, I will openly admit to enjoy sniffing out a bargain or two in TK MAXX, Poundland or Mr Price. But there is “horses for courses”, and I do not expect too much in terms of care put into the product in these places. So do not get me wrong, I do take great pleasure in helping somebody “on a budget”, they are usually grateful to get access to something special.
But, with the “Bargain Hunter”, the focus is totally on price. I find this striking. Of course, the price is a (self-inflicted) cost to them. Nowhere does there seem to be any value attached to the item. That’s fair enough. The kick is finding a bargain, then finding somebody to offload the bargain onto, with little regards for relevance. The gratification is for the hunter, like a cat with a bird. A pretty narrow transactional view on things, I think… It does not mean this person is bad or mean, it is representative of a certain mindset about life.
I feel the same may have happened to Etsy. A new CEO that embraces a “Bargain Hunter” mindset is ignoring the value of Etsy (community fuelled and driven) to focus exclusively on its share price. There is a sudden and violent shift from quirky and empowering to greed and transactional. It seems alien to Mr. Josh Silverman (spot on name) that the market values “made for me”, over the cheap customisation of a mass produced item. I do not think it could any more violently clash than this. Handmade is slow, it cares, it adds Qi to the creation, it is usually connected to the environment and a community. Shareholder value is fast, ruthless, about numbers, disconnected from the community it is parasiting on.
No doubt, Etsy will see its share price rise, its cost base decrease, and its idealistic values destroyed. So Mr. Silverman is maybe right, it could be brought to a new height, but with only a kernel of current buyers and sellers. There is always room for another Pound Shop when people feel squeezed or weary about international events, so he is also right to let Etsy be flooded with cheap manufactured gimmick from low-cost countries. It will sell. But that’s not what Etsy was about. By destroying its sellers and abandoning its buyers, Mr. Silverman may be underestimating his newly redefined competition. Ebay and Amazon are miles ahead and have heavy-weight advantages, such as logistics capabilities, however exploitative these may be.
Etsy, under Mr. Silverman, just abandoned its B Corporation status, meaning it switched its allegiance from, People and Planet above profit, to Profit irrespective of People and Planet. Instead, it is now a full-blown corporation legally bound to put profit above Society and Nature. You do not believe me? Watch this, it is enlightening. It is very sad indeed, and a quick look at the Etsy forum will give a taste for the despair of small business owners losing years of sweat, care, and emotional investment as well as financial livelihood. How do you reign a corporation with no body to kick or soul to damn? Etsy RIP.
But I do not want this post to be sordid. In every Ying, there is a spot of Yang. In every Yang the beginning of Yin. Etsy was a great platform, full of mumpreneurs, but not only. Maybe it is the victim of its own success. It got too big and attracted the wrong attention, ending up flirting with vulture-fund investors. Like a giddy kid having fun with street powder.
But mumpreneurs know that genes will and do survive. Already networks are forming to create local markets for handmade. It will take different forms and it is in its infancy, but I very recently became aware of two which in different forms are fostering what Etsy was about: The Two Darlings and Bite The Biscuit… That’s above the local networks, people taking on themselves to set-up local Christmas gift catalogue or boards promoting Irish handmade ! I think it is a good thing.
It can be too easy to go with the flow when a shop front is easy to set up and the world market seemingly at your mercy. There is also a whole world trying to get to page one, so it can be overly ambitious and will ultimately rely on the deep pockets to buy your spot in. Something that typically crafters do not have. Easy to set up, also means easy to take away – ultimately the market is not yours. So as new networks develop, somehow, the adventure will carry on, without having to necessarily become reliant on Amazon to bail us out. Thankfully genes evolve. Etsy set the seeds, new generations will take their lead and hopefully learn from the past. Depending on your mindset, new beginnings can be empowering.
So where does it leave my bargain hunter? Genes survive through generations but they also evolve, sometimes abandoning what no longer serve them. I think the days of compulsive bargain hunting are over. I am on the wrong side of forty and have witnessed too many promises being broken, too many jobs being destroyed and just too many dreams turned sour.
Life is easier when carrying less stuff, and I am not the only one who has come to this conclusion. However, making “stuff” yourself adds depth to day to day living and it connects with others. And since we cannot do it all alone, we appreciate getting valuables from other makers. Quality over quantity, value over price. I agree with the Millenials who are apparently allergic to stuff (or some stuff anyway), and the environment could do with less waste. So the positive message of this blog is that the future is bright, Etsy (as we know it) is dead but long life to Post Etsy. All the above strengthens “handmade” and, by osmosis, should disperse the values of a better society for our kids.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYONE
and even more so
H A P P Y N E W Y E A R
for the future is bright!
Ps: Love “Handmade in Ireland!”? Looking for talent-packed unique gift for your loved one (or yourself)? Check this. Best Catalogue in town! Want to get involved? Contact me.
Inside the Revolution at Etsy – New York Times, Nov 25, 2017