By Ali Elsberry
Nearly 15 years ago, I stumbled upon a little website known as Etsy. I can’t even count the hours I spent sorting through listings on there; it was my go-to for new jewelry, home decor, and eventually, baby items when my children arrived. I even remember my very first purchase – a sweet little string of pearls with a bird charm at one end. I have since given it to my daughter and she treats it as though it is the fanciest necklace ever made.
Most of the birthday gifts I buy come from there, and I’ve spent a number of Christmases committing to “Etsy-only” gift-buying for everyone on my list. And still to this day, I’m pretty sure the phrase “I bought it on Etsy” comes out of my mouth at least once a week.
But a few years ago, I started noticing a change. It was subtle at first – some non-handmade looking mugs that said they were made in a studio in Los Angeles, but could have shipped out from China. And then it became a lot more obvious; I could sift through at least four pages of results with similar images and near-identical “handmade” descriptions before finding the first thing that was actually handmade.
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t still some fabulously talented artisans listing their skillfully crafted goods on Etsy; there are, and many of them are right here on Vashon. But I can say from much personal experience that they are increasingly hard to find because they get buried beneath the mountains of mass-produced products sold by competitors who can offer a lower price … along with far less craftsmanship and authenticity. This was not a natural progression of the Etsy platform either; it was a conscious business decision.
A couple weeks back, I was having a conversation with a friend about the changes in Etsy and how I held this vision of a new little handmade marketplace – somewhere that makers and creators could come together to sell their crafts to people like me who love supporting the handmade movement. It would basically be what Etsy used to be, but developed in a way to prevent “selling out.” A few days afterwards, my friend was at the library and saw a flyer posted for just this very concept, and she sent me the information.
It’s called Artisans Cooperative (artisans.coop), and it is an expanding marketplace with many sellers already listed. There are other sites that provide alternatives to Etsy, and as time goes on, I suspect this growing movement will continue staking its claim. So many more people are starting to realize that, when you follow the trail to the top, there are really only a handful of corporations that essentially own just about everything. Take for example Burt’s Bees, which started out in Maine making small, pure beeswax-based products, but sold to Clorox more than 15 years ago for nearly $1 billion dollars. Yes, Clorox, the bleach company.
The big difference with Artisans Cooperative is that it is set up as a true co-op (member-owned and operated), so this means way more choice in decision-making and a much more authentic experience. You can sign up to help them by being an artisan or a supporting member, or even by just shopping through the website. Either way, it blows more wind into their “sales” and creates momentum and speed to continue furthering their mission.
Artisans Cooperative provides a fresh approach to a concept that so often relies on outside support to work. They recognize the need for a true cooperative, and are maintaining that purpose by relying on their community’s active involvement, and also by attracting members who see the need to pull away from conglomerates, so we can come back to our roots as artists and people who support them.