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Thursday 28 August 2014

Etsy enterprise: craftspeople build their brand online

Tanya Sweeney speaks to a new generation of craftspeople building their brand on the burgeoning e-commerce website

Tanya Sweeney

Published 29/06/2014 | 02:30

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Raf and wife Gosia
Raf and wife Gosia
Working from a home office.
Working from a home office.
Angela Carr
Angela Carr

Ireland has long boasted an evergreen, vibrant tradition of craftsmanship… and recently, our love of craft and creativity has collided with the digital world. A new wave of crafty types is going online to showcase their wares on the world stage, and Etsy.com — an e-commerce website for buyers and sellers of handmade items and vintage finds — is often the crafty entrepreneur’s first port of call.

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Like a virtual craft fair or flea market, the site gives sellers personal ‘storefronts’ so they can develop their brand and list their wares. With more than 30 million registered users, over one million sellers and more than $1bn in transactions every year, Etsy can be as lucrative for sellers as it is competitive.

We spoke to a handful of sellers based in Ireland; some were prompted into creativity by the recession, while others simply fell into creating their own goods by accident. Either way, they’re all hoping for a slice of that billion-dollar market…

Raf Truchan, based in Howth, sells laptop covers under the name Cocones (etsy.com/shop/Cocones) alongside his wife Gosia

“We are both designers by trade; an interior/product designer and an interactive/ web designer. We always enjoyed making things and had the idea of launching our own brand, ideally one that would link the two worlds: to create tangible items people would use, and an online business in one.

We just couldn't find covers for our own laptops that we wanted. There was already fierce competition in that market, but everything looked too much like what they were — laptop covers. We wanted ours to stand out as accessories on their own.

We knew we were on to something when we made the first prototype sleeves for ourselves and while carrying them around, received compliments on them. It took a lot of cutting, sewing, fine-tuning, trying many different suppliers and sourcing the right materials, but after a lot of trial-and-error, rinse-and-repeat, we got to a point where we had the first sleeve we could offer for sale. Etsy was the most natural next step: you can launch your shop in minutes, put your best foot forward and see if your creations are as attractive to others as they are to you.

Working for yourself is a full-time job, 24/7. Inspiration strikes not when you sit and wait for it, but when you immerse yourself in the work. It’s endless repetition, drawing, cutting, sewing, punching, building prototypes, testing, reassessing, sleeping on it, binning poor ideas, shelving not-for-now ideas, and time and again, back to the drawing board. We love the whole process.

We see people who decided to turn their hobby craft into a small business via Etsy all the time. Actually, we think platforms like Etsy have a somewhat unexpected role in the economic recovery, especially in countries like Ireland. They effectively turn local craftsmen into worldwide exporters.”

Joanna Kempa-Wojciechowska, based in Cork with her family, sells jewellery on her Etsy shop, Hand-Stamped By Joanna (etsy.com/shop/HandStampedbyJoanna)

“I decided to make jewellery because I wanted to create something that could be worn by other people. What was just a hobby at first has now grown into an independent brand. When I was first planning to set up my shop online, I decided to try Etsy out as a main platform for selling my items. It’s extremely easy to use; however it’s quite difficult to find clients at the beginning. Right now most of my sales come through Etsy and I have delivered to many countries all around the world.

My jewellery is bought by people from the US, Europe, Australia... and I recently delivered to a military base in Afghanistan. On average I would have around 200 orders a month.

There are thousands of sellers on the platform, and honestly, it’s difficult to make yourself out to be unique. I love what I do and always do my best to create perfect jewellery pieces to make sure that my clients are going to be happy with their purchase.

To succeed on Etsy, you definitely need a lot of dedication. It’s important to like what you do, to like your craft and enjoy doing it. As well as that it’s vital to be open to different suggestions and clients’ needs.”

Karolina Grudniewska came to Dublin on holidays from Poland in 2004 and decided to stay. She sells ceramics under the name KaroArt (etsy.com/ie/shop.karoart)

“I suppose I have been searching for my own path ever since I started my working life. And after graduating from two different colleges and going through a variety of jobs, I’m back in the loop and I'm finally loving what I do.

I set up my online shop on Etsy after I became curious to test the results of my hobby out online and see what people think. I took bright and clean photos of my work, spent some time working on descriptions and tags for listings and, to my surprise, I quickly had my first few sales. After selling through Etsy for well over three years it has grown into a substantial part of my income. The beginnings were extremely slow, but with time business took off.

I used to start work extremely early, even at 6 am. I’m now back to more usual hours but still find mornings to be most productive. My favourite typical day is when I can go into the studio early and work continually, uninterrupted for hours. The hands-on part of running my own business is what I enjoy most.

Looking at the growing number of craft businesses that sprung up over the last few years, I am sure the recession played a big part. I’m sure there’s been many people who through an involuntary break in their careers discovered their hidden talents and let the creative juices flow. I find fellow makers beautifully supportive. I personally have never encountered rivalry; on the other hand I have been offered keen advice. Ireland is a very small market but there is never too much of good quality, well-designed local products if customers can appreciate it and understand the importance of supporting small businesses like me and many others.”

Dublin-based Monika Gleeson sells clutch purses and bags at her online shop BagNoir (etsy.com/shop/BagNoir

“I got into crafting accidently after my husband ripped our curtains at home. I bought a cheap sewing machine to mend them but I really had no idea how to use it. I taught myself how to thread from YouTube videos and from there I started sewing for pleasure and one thing led to another.

A friend bought me a book on making hand-crafted bags and I seemed to have a knack for it, so I worked on perfecting my technique over time until I was happy with the quality of work I was producing. The best advice I could give anyone who wants to sell successfully on Etsy is to find what you love, and love what you do.

Without Etsy I probably wouldn’t be making and selling bags. More than 90% of my sales are through Etsy. I’ve found it’s really difficult to get started in bricks and mortar stores in Ireland. I’ve been approached by retailers, mostly from abroad, but my problem is I try to sell my bags for the best price I can so I can’t really afford to discount them for retailers.

I’ve started making jewellery and that’s going OK. I’d really love to be able to make a full-time living from crafting and that’s my ultimate goal. Like I said, I found what I love and I love what I do.”

Angela Carr, based in Dublin, sells vintage furniture and interior decor items through her online store Mungo + Midge (mungoandmidge.etsy.com)

“I trained as an architect at the Mackintosh School of Architecture, Glasgow School of Art. I've always been interested in design and vintage furniture, particularly the mid-century period from the late 1940s through to the early 1970s. I've been refurbishing vintage furniture since I was 15 years old, when I tackled the 1960s chairs from my parents’ first dining set.

In 2008, I was made redundant from my position as an associate director of an architectural practice. I thought, if I'm going to (potentially) lose my home, I want to build something in the meantime that would give me new focus and direction — I set up Mungo + Midge. The shop and my writing helped me retain a positive sense of identity when the typical career and home societal blueprint came under threat; they also allowed me to reconnect with more personal, less traditional skills and loves, and remind myself that I'm not just the job I do or the place I live. Mungo + Midge may not yet be financially viable as a business but, during difficult times when there seemed to be no solutions available, it has empowered me to take control of the future and create my own.

The keys to standing out on Etsy are strong branding, good photography, plus excellent customer service. One of the advantages of Etsy is that it is a marketplace that draws a particular type of customer, so you're not starting from scratch. But after that, it's up to you.

My plan to counter this is to develop a range of hand-made products that |complement the vintage pieces. I'm currently working on designs, using motifs and ideas drawn from the |mid-century period, to create a line of affordable prints, cards and home decor, targeting the gift market and allowing a wider range of customers to buy into the mid-century aesthetic, even if vintage is not their thing.”

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