Sunday, December 2, 2012


Two years ago, I started my business on Etsy, literally. I had no business when I started, and at the time, I had no idea I WAS starting a business. Like many families hit hard by the Great Recession, I just thought I was making a little extra money to ease the vice-like tightness of the family budget.

Etsy was founded in 2005, as they say, a long time ago, and far-far away. In 2005, I'm sure the founder of Etsy meant to create a haven for artists and artisans to display and sell their work, with the ideal that by doing so, people would be exposed to a different way of buying. A values-based vision to be sure, but something that from the onset, resonated with a lot of people, purveyors and producers of artisan made goods alike. 

Then something happened, and that something changed Etsy and the world forever. Around the time I discovered I was unexpectedly pregnant with my fourth child, *something* was wrong with the financial world  I remember reading the reports with no idea how my life was about to change. Almost overnight, my husband's livlihood all but disappeared. He works for a family business in the construction industry, and suddenly, nobody was borrowing, building, or buying. In order to save the business and his job, my husband accepted a paycut that amounted to 30-40% of his yearly income. In the meantime, I had given birth to both my fourth child and fifth child in close succession. What can I say? My timing sucks! The starter house that we had purchased so hopefully in 2004 (when we had two children) was now our permanent home, housing 7 souls in a 1140 square foot space. There was no question of moving, the mortgage on that home was now all we could afford, and we comforted ourselves with the notion that at least we HAD a house, a notion that became "realer and realer" as we watched people around us lose theirs. 

As our income shrank and our family grew, I employed my ninja budgeting skills in order to squeeze the last drop from every dollar. I remember crying one day when I saw that my oldest son's jeans had a hole in them, I couldn't afford to buy him more, and the shame in realizing that was heartbreaking. I made everything from scratch, and I mean, EVERYTHING. I baked bread, I made yogurt, I cloth diapered, I made my own clothes from discount fabric. I haunted thrift stores and consignment stores, never buying anything new. In my Little House in the Prairie phase, I stumbled upon soapmaking, and the die was cast. I found out something very interesting right away: I was good at making soap. I just...was. Perhaps the years of making bread and yogurt and coming up with my own recipes helped me, but making soap was a skill that came very naturally to me. And I needed a way to turn this skill into $$. My sister mentioned Etsy and when I checked it out, it seemed simple enough and not intimidating, so I listed my first item. When I started my shop, on December 14, 2010, my highest goal was to eventually make perhaps $100 extra dollars a month to ease our budget. 

And I did. 

I remember seeing a blog article a year or so ago, where the author purports that what Etsy is selling is a lie, that's it's impossible for your average housewife or stay at home mom to make enough money to make a difference in her life, and that theme is something you hear over and over on etsy forums and elsewhere. Part of the problem is that Etsy is made up of so many different people, with different motivations and concerns. Everything from the fine artist who cringes at the very mention of making money to the people like me, who turned their talent into profit, where enjoyment is not a primary concern, where our driving factor is not love of art, but love of family. 

In my time on Etsy, I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing women, and many many moms. I've heard this story (my story) over and over, a mom desperate to preserve her family starts an Etsy shop and makes good. I've heard from women that went from being in severe financial distress to bringing in $100,000 a year. I spoke to one amazing lady that grosses over HALF A MILLION dollars a year, and does so with aplomb. So many stories, so many successes. Is this the norm on Etsy? Of course not, not everyone can do what these women did. BUT; so many women have been able to provide a few hundred a month toward the family budget, which for them, DOES alter their life. $200 a month could make the difference between eating Top Ramen again and having fresh veggies and whole grain pasta for dinner. It can mean that a child can join a sports team, or take dance lessons. It can mean a night out once a month, an occasional movie, that special outfit for a special occasion. It's not a lot of money to most, but when you buy directly from a home crafter, you are able to instantly affect their life positively. Sounds a lot like Etsy's mission statement, doesn't it? 

Our mission is to enable people to make a living making things, and to reconnect makers with buyers.

Our vision is to build a new economy and present a better choice:

Buy, Sell, and Live Handmade.

So many women on Etsy have been able to use their time and talent to enhance their standard of living and hopefully, their self esteem. For myself, I use my Etsy profits to enhance my life, I have been able to purchase things that are important to me; like the local hormone-free milk that is bottled only a few miles from my house and delivered to our door and the huge sectional couch that means that the WHOLE family can snuggle together in the evenings. I've been able to provide the little perks in our house that were sorely lacking for a long time during the worst of the recession. In truth, I don't know where we'd be if I hadn't had the opportunity to start my business, it very well may have kept us in our home, and it certainly made a huge difference in our daily lives. By doing so, I have hopefully, in my small way, been able to provide these things for ANOTHER mother somewhere.

As for myself? I quickly went from providing a little money here and there, to a big chunk of money regularly.  While it has taken a lot of work and a whole lot of sacrifice, on balance I can only conclude that Etsy is positive for women AND for mothers. $200 a month could make the difference between being hungry or fed, clothed or ragged, cold or warm. And $2000 a month? It can be the reason a mother can stay home with her children, or quit that job that is sucking the life out of her. Women having choices is always a good thing, since women and mothers are Atlas that hold up society, and allowing women to share their talent with the world is something that I will always support, even if I don't consider myself an artist. Like so many women,  children are my art and my world, and the greatest thing I will ever do with this life. I will always be grateful that I was able to start my business on Etsy and have been able to "meet" and talk to, so many women who awe me everyday, and spur me on.

No comments:

Post a Comment