Dolly Henry is a sewing and design blog for the creative wanderer, where style meets play and making is a lifestyle.

Hi, I'm Megan - owner, designer and writer at Dolly Henry! Join me here as I explore the ins and outs of creativity, dabble in dollmaking and raise my voice on issues facing creative entrepreneurs.

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Creative Business: Why I Left Etsy Feeling Confused

As difficult it was at first, taking a step back from my creative business ambitions has been one of the best decisions I could have made. Just over a month in, I am already feeling creatively rejuvenated, and my perspective has had a major shift. I have committed to taking the remainder of 2018 very slowly, including not having an online shop open.

In the meantime, I have been looking at ways I could offer my products online, and how I could best get my work in front of the people that need to see it. I was wondering about hopping back onto Etsy, as I used to really enjoy selling my handmade pieces in that way, it was effective and fairly simple.

Cup of tea in hand, I jumped onto Etsy this morning and looked at the site through a customer's eye. The whole point of being on there and paying the many listing, commission and payment fees, is in the hope of tapping into a wider audience. I typed one of my products into the search - a good way to see what common search terms are and check out what else was available to the buyer. I wasn't disappointed, I was met with a staggering 73,000+ listings for toddler dress alone.

Drop in the ocean moment here? Definitely.

One of my illustrations...I do these for fun but sometimes they make their way into fabric designs or spark my imagination for a new doll or character...

 After a bit of scrolling and noticing that the price on a lot of the handmade pieces seemed to be quite a lot lower than I would have imagined, I clicked on an attractive listing from a shop here in Australia. I went through, looking at all the pretty pieces they had on offer and it slowly began to occur to me that many of these pieces were not actually handmade.

Let me explain; when you design and make clothing or anything really, it is very easy to identify items that are possibly manufactured off-shore. I know that Etsy does allow this now, so this wasn't a shock at all. True enough, I went to the info section, which you do have to scroll a little bit to find, and the products are being manufactured in China. Okay.

I went back to the initial listing I had clicked on, and if I had been a 'normal' buyer, I wouldn't have actually known right away that I wasn't purchasing a handmade item. The description was lengthy, and at the bottom, it stated that the item was manufactured with their partners overseas. However, the first half of the description sounded exactly the same any other listing on Etsy, so I doubt many customers would be aware that the pieces were not handmade in Australia.

I am not writing this because I have a big issue with manufactured items being on Etsy or because I have a problem with small businesses who sell their products on Etsy that don't actually make them. That's been the case for some time, and I do think it is good in a way, that if you need to scale up production and get some assistance, you can do so now and stay selling on Etsy.

If I was to instead play the devil's advocate for a moment, I would question why once you can afford to produce pieces offshore, why you can't shift your business to your own website and why can't Etsy be content with hosting only handmade shops? I know the answer to that, but I still had to ask!

This little exercise this morning simply proved to me that Etsy might not be the place for me to sell my things. You see, there is something different and something special about handmade. It isn't the same as just 'designed in Australia" or even "manufactured in Australia" or "made with our partners over the big blue" It's different! And I couldn't help thinking, that if I was a busy Mother wanting to purchase a handmade dress for my daughter, I wouldn't even think to check out the finer details of the offerings on Etsy.

I actually personally didn't realize until this morning that it's not as transparent as I had thought. I thought everything was pretty much handmade and Etsy is where you go to find handmade, with the odd import thrown in here and there. That isn't what I found. I found it quite confusing and a bit overwhelming. I found it hard to tell what shop was selling handmade pieces and what shop wasn't.

A little playsuit I designed, stitched and made. I also illusrated and designed the fabric...

And if anything, it's made it harder in a search to sort apples from oranges. From a pricing perspective, it's impossible to compare a well-made handmade piece to an item that has been mass produced. Of course, a factory made item is cheaper, but the thing is, it wasn't easy for me to know what was handmade and what wasn't in my search. Not without clicking on a listing and going through to a shop's information. Which is not something I think of having to do on Etsy, my mindset is prepped and primed to think I am on a website famous for selling handmade artsy products. Which it is and it still has many wonderful makers. It's just a lot harder to find them now, and it's harder for the handmade stores to stand out.

It has also made it harder for me, as a customer, to trust what I am buying is made by the store owner.

While my head is still in a bit of a muddle trying to work all this out, I am not sure yet whether I will be selling my handmade pieces on Etsy just yet... I have noticed a real shift in consumer behaviour since I first started selling my work nearly ten years ago. Handmade was once the cool kid on the block, and now it's become a very every day phrase, people simply do not respond as they used to. There has also been rapid economic and social change in the past ten years, and while ethical clothing is a hot topic, clothes have never been cheaper. I feel there is a really big misunderstanding by most consumers of the resources and time involved in making clothes. We've all been conditioned to sales and $5 t-shirts without realizing how much time and money it takes to make clothing. I think this low price mindset is now starting to have an effect on how people view handmade clothing - they simply can't swallow that a handmade dress using expensive material could be $65-$75.

I wouldn't call this a big problem as such, and I certainly am not complaining about it. Whenever I experience a shift in business or in sales, I ask myself why. What has changed? If I haven't changed then I decide it must be outside influences. By identifying the problem/s, I can at least work to find a resolution. What I have discovered is there is a disconnect between the consumer and manufactured products. The Paddock to Plate movement was implemented to link the consumer with the farmer and his farming practices, I feel the same approach is needed for Handmade products now.

I think we are all really disconnected from how things are made and do expect to be able to buy lots of things for really low prices. While this is great when you are on a budget - and someone who has a handmade business knows all about budget - this does have the side effect in which the process and resources involved in making a handmade item is greatly undervalued and unappreciated.

A doll starting her life as a cute little head...

This morning I went to Etsy, a handmade island among the more commercial websites available to artists and makers...and while there is still so much good there, it's left me feeling quite confused. In the meantime, I will keep plugging away and in an attempt to create more connection between maker and consumer, I think it's time to share a few less glossy product shots and a few more behind the scenes in the studio happenings...after all, how are any of us supposed to gain an understanding of a production process if we are never allowed to see what goes on behind the studio doors? Or in my case...the big table beside the kitchen....

OVER TO YOU: Do you have a handmade shop or ambitions to sell your creative work? Do you like to buy handmade pieces? I would love to know your thoughts on this topic! Please leave a comment below.

Megan x

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  1. I completely agree about Etsy and the flood of items on there. Its quite over whelming. A tiny makers shop gets lost in the sea of essentially mass-produced items. There is some good stuff on there, but its no longer transparent. I agree that consumer behavior for such items has changed also. People love a bargain and there is so many items out there now that are made to "look" handcrafted that are not, and sold for a fraction of the price.

    I have a friend who is an amazing potter, and makes beautiful speckled pottery, and now places like kmart are selling speckled, rustic dinner wear for a few dollars a piece.

    I so with the big guys would leave artisan products alone, and let the little guys have their own niche.

    I have been contemplating making and selling a few simple Waldorf dolls again, but I am unsure on the platform to use.


    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts Emma! I know, it makes me really sad to see how many artists and designers are being ripped off by big stores, or having their ideas copied and then sold for less than the price of a cup of coffee . It’s enough to make you not want to put your work out there, but unfortunately that is not a solution.

      I feel in a way, while it’s never been easier or cheaper to accumulate vast amounts of ‘stuff’ the poverty line is’s a race to the bottom really and people can’t live on being paid nothing for their work, and for some it’s their only option and a lot of these crafts are actually valid skills and jobs pre-offshore production. It’s a bit scary!

      I wish Etsy had remained true to its original values, because it leaves small makers in the lurch. We don’t have the marketing budgets to drive a lot of sales to a stand alone website, the concept of Etsy was brilliant for makers and artists. Now it’s more like a pretty Ebay.

      I am the same, I have a small collection of dolls I’d like to release into the wild, I’m not sure right now whether to rejoin Etsy or go my own way...I have had my own website before, it’s just a matter of trying to build up a customer base and that can be a bit of a relentless exercise when you simply want to make a few things and sell them, for the love and joy of it.

  2. Thank you for this post Megan, it has given me a lot to think about. I always thought Etsy was all about homemade until recently when I spotted they were selling gun accessories. I have now decided to do some research on opening my own shop. Might not happen overnight but it is something to work towards.

    1. Really Gina!? Gun accessories?! Gosh! Definitely is feeling a bit more like a jumbled site feels a little misleading from the impression I get when I land on the Etsy homepage I must say. I clicked on a magazine a little while ago, a craft mag listing...because it has suggested products from the same category, there were second hand magazines with nudity on the maybe not a place you want to let the kids go shopping on! :-(

  3. Thank you for a thought provoking and informative post Megan. Change is always happening but I wish things that aint broke would be left to continue to working well. xo


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