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Art Inquisition: Are there hands in your handmade?

Etsy is changing their policies to permit shop owners “to hire staff, use shipping services and apply to have their products made by manufacturers.” To quote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, this made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. 

Most under scrutiny is the new “manufacturers can help you produce your designs” bit. While some sellers are breathing a hidden sigh of relief (whether from overwork or from no longer having to hide their processes), the louder, more numerous voices are complaining that there’s simply no way for them to be able to keep up with competing mass-producing shops. From the huge “Big Brands on Etsy” forum thread (You say you want to help us grow, but how big can we get before we’re too big for Etsy?) to sellers fleeing to alternative portals like Zibbet, there is a significant rumbling among the crafty masses.

So what do you think? What counts as handmade? Can more than one set of hands (or tools) be used? Is there a limit to the number of sets of hands (or tools) that can contribute to its creation before it’s no longer handmade? Does a concept made by someone else count as handmade? Do you sell your art? Do you sell via Etsy? Do you buy things on Etsy? Does this change in their policies earn your favor or make you want to shop elsewhere?

The ART Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Mad Art Lab community. It appears on Wednesdays at 3pm ET… Make with the comments!

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Beth Voigt

Beth Voigt

Beth is a graphic designer in Chicago, a superhero in her own mind, and absolutely nothing on TV. She wrangles fonts professionally, pummels code amateurishly, and has been known to shove fire in her face for fun. Fond of volunteering, late-night bursts of productivity, and making snacks, she dislikes grocery shopping and public transit and is only on her second smartphone. Her opinion is that you should try everything twice; if you don't like it, you were probably doing it wrong the first time around.

3 Comments

  1. October 2, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    Oh dear, that’s difficult.
    Really, really, really difficult.
    I would say that outsourcing the complete production process is no longer “handmade.”
    Using a fully automated process is no longer “handmade”.
    But there it becomes fishy already.
    I used to sell stuff on the German equivalent “Dawanda” and my area is sewing and machine embroidery. Now, unless you have software that costs up to 1000 bucks and the ability to actually draw things, you buy the designs from a company.
    And then you do things with those designs. You do very different things with them.
    I’ve made tablecloths that took 50+ hours of work (not for sale) or pulsewarmers that take about 1 hour. I’ve made gorgeous sparkling colliers and tiny simple bat-pendants. I’ve embroidered store-bought shirts and drew my own dress-patterns.
    Now, though all of these would surely qualify as “handmade”, the amount of “hand”, “made” and proper creativity varies a lot, but is there a point between the very somple and the very complex where it becomes something categorically different?
    Is it handmade because I only own a small home sewing/embroidery machine instead of an industrial-sized one?
    I really don’t know

  2. October 2, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    I think in general this a bad move by etsy but it was also expected. It epitomizes the view of American Capitilism. You get an idea, you build a business around that idea, you market it, it gets too big and so your mom and pop product gets outsourced and mass produced. Is this the American dream or the problem we started off with in the beginning days before etsy? If you want that personal, unique piece of handmade art where do you go? If the alternatives at Target are not what you desire where do you shop? Etsy used to have the handmade, artist produced market covered but now it will be very difficult to sell a handmade product there while having to compete with similar products being mass produced or produced by a machine. And how will you really know what you are buying is really handmade without reserching the seller? The artist is once again pushed out of the market. I am dissapointed with etsy but honestly they haven’t helped me at all with traffic to my shop in years. I’ve felt like an island for a while. I may look into some of the other sites you linked above but will probably keep my shop on etsy open anyway and I bet it’s that attitude combined with the desire to simply make more money with mass produced items, since etsy gets a cut of every sale, that motivated them to do this in the first place. They used to care about artists. Now they care about money.

  3. October 4, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    My ex-room-mate who does hand beadwork and resin work uses Artfire.com She’s pretty happy with them, they include features like allowing people who sell on their to form groups and help promote each others’ work. It’s not as well known as Etsy, but it seems to be more committed to hand-made, and also a more supportive environment in general.

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