Published on TheDailyFemme.com – Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Interviews were contributed by Annamarya Scaccia, Sofia Gauthier, and Cherie Hannouche
This week’s question: Websites like Etsy allow users to sell and buy handmade crafts. As these sites are mostly accessed by female users, do you believe they help empower women to become entrepreneurs or offer an empty feminist promise that women can take care of a family while working flexible hours from home?
It is totally an empty feminist promise just like one of those get rich quick scams. The founders and owners of the site (who happen to be men) know exactly what they are doing in terms of pushing hard the idea that women can “have it all” by starting a career Etsy. They have tons of articles and features that showcase the few who have made it big and quit their jobs to go full time on Etsy which of course is uniquely appealing to women who want to raise their children. But take it from someone who has tried and actually did much better selling at a flea market, it just isn’t going to happen for the majority of us.
I think sites like Etsy are a great tool that offers those with somewhat limited cyber space experience a solid first step into micro-enterprise. A website that was developed by women and offer products made by them should not be considered an “empty feminist promise.”
Today, the idea of having a flexible work schedule or work from home is a trend in the labor market, the product of labor flexibility and convenience of big companies. So, I don’t consider this just a “women” phenomenon.
Nicole -Burlington, VT
I think Etsy can no longer be a main job as it once was. I do think that it is a great foot in the door offering connections to many other women (and men) in the same field that could lend a helping hand, advice, and inspiration to go out and sell at craft markets, wholesale, and consign at brick and mortar stores, which, could very possibly turn into a full time job.
Melissa – Northern NV High Desert, NV
Two years ago a magnificent thing happened in my life. A huge yellow bus rolled up to my door took both my children away and promised to bring them back in several hours smarter (and hopefully tired). As I marveled at my youngest going off to kindergarten it occurred to me that our family could use another income. I found Etsy. Frankly, it seemed too good to be true, sew stuff from my house in my pajamas on my own schedule, sell it online and make money?! You absolutely can make a very decent amount of money on Etsy. My shop has been very successful, far more successful than I had anticipated. I bring in much more money from my Etsy shop than I could with any other (legal) part time job, and even from a lot of full time jobs. I do it from home, and yes, often in my pajamas. The ugly truth however is this is not the norm, and the reason for this is even uglier. Lots of the stuff being sold is just that, U-G-L-Y… to most people anyhow. That’s the wonderful thing about Etsy, every single person out there could find something they love. But, if you want to make a decent income your product has to appeal to more than that one single person!
I won’t go into what needs to be done to make a successful shop on Etsy as this wasn’t the question, but I will say it’s not generally as easy as making something and selling it. Be prepared to work hard. I do work flexible hours from my home, if you consider 40+ hours a week flexible, and I do take care of my family. Now, I don’t take care of my family quite the way I used to, we don’t eat as many home cooked meals (other than those my husband makes) as we used to, the laundry tends to pile up and the garden doesn’t get weeded very often. All in all however, Etsy has held up their part of the bargain. So, have I been empowered to become an entrepreneur? Absolutely. It’s not easy, it’s not immediate but it is doable.
Breeze – Greensboro, NC
Does such a site offer venues for female entrepreneurs? In the simplest of terms, Yes. Women, particularly those who are at home much of the time, like SAHMs and disabled women, may find it easy to start a small business through sites like Etsy and Atrfire, but I’d be interested to see data on how many of those small business earn a real living wage from their sales or move on to expand their companies beyond the limitations such sites provide. I’d wager not many.
Additionally, while such sites may open doors for a few, unfortunately, it’s not nearly enough the case to claim they help level the field between men and women. Many sites only offer entrepreneurship for the make and sell market. The options for opening one’s own business vary widely and sales is a very narrow slice of the small business market, so it doesn’t significantly contribute to women’s success in entrepreneurship as a whole. Female educational, medical and legal professionals are not lofted to a level field from which they may start their own practice because a few crafty individuals have found a sales outlet for their unique abilities. Female owned restaurants and marketing firms do not gain support. Many profitable arenas are still largely untapped by the female small business owner and sites like Etsy do nothing to engage them in those avenues.
Ellis Jeigh – Halifax, Canada
Now, I think etsy is a great opportunity, and I don’t undervalue hand-made items BUT let’s remember that in an age of cheap automated labour, the majority of the world doesn’t take “crafts” very seriously in terms of business potential.
What is “playing field – leveling” about fostering businesses that focus on crafts or skills that are traditionally perceived by the greater world as being old-fashioned, girly and “frivolous” anyway? The vast majority of people who have founded their business with an Etsy store are not considered by Big Bank to be serious entrepreneurs, so they aren’t “in the game” at all compared to the people competing for business loans or other business development resources. Ergo, in my opinion, no…..they are not any kind of real support to women entrepreneurs nor do they level the playing field.
Giving women the more mainstream entrepreneurship tools and training and opportunities is the answer. I used to promote/market for a suite of small business development programs. The program – including male leaders – loved women entrepreneurs. They were a better credit risk even though their main obstacles to entering entrepreneurship were usually things like capital and established credit history because they’d been SAHM’s or because they’d never had a car or house in their own name.
But, given half a chance, a woman would set up a plywood table on sawhorses and be stingy with her spending and say screw “appearances” and make a go of it where a man was more likely to take his business loan and buy a desk and corporate swivel chair and all the ”i’m a business man” trimmings. And the house-running, budget-managing, humbled-by-life’s twists divorced woman with two kids and the traditional chips stacked against her was more equipped, skilled, motivated and so more likely to succeed than the man. She wanted it more. She needed it to work.
Jennifer – Spokane, WA
For me, it’s not necessarily the way and it goes a long way to leveling the playing field. I would have to look up statistics and data but chances are the majority of sellers on Etsy are female and the majority of business owners outside of Etsy that are able to substain a livable wage are male. Personally I feel the way to create future women entrepreneurs is to make it easier for us to educate ourselves on the ins and outs of running a small business. Make small business loans easier to get and give us some sort of guidance/clue as to how we make the transistion from corporate drone to small business owner without starving our family or putting ourselves as deep in debt.
ETA: I would be very curious as to how many Etsy sellers are able to live on their sales or how many are able to expand their business based on their Etsy sales.
Tammy – Delaware, OH
It’s certainly a good start; I’ve had an etsy shop, and it’s so easy to use! It’s up to each shopowner to decide how much personal information to give, so you could even have a storefront that was gender-neutral if you felt that was important. Etsy always has great stories about its successful sellers; some have really parlayed the whole online experience into fabulous businesses. I do think, though, that like so much in life, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. If you’re willing to spend some extra time, you’ll be more successful. Great photos, descriptions, links to a blog where buyers can feel they get inside info, using facebook, twitter, rss feeds, submitting to regular magazines that often feature etsy sellers, all this takes some extra time, but I think the really successful sellers all do it! I do think it’s a great way for women to get started; it takes little to no capital investment, which tends to be the biggest stumbling block. All you need is computer access, and you’re set!
I do think that, just as in brick-mortar stores, the more “masculine” crafts tend to garner a bit more respect, and thus, a higher price tag. Think wood-working, glass blowing, metal working. Crafts that scream “loving hands at home” are generally devalued on Etsy just as in real life. I also believe, though, that the most successful sellers are those who have developed their craft to a point that they are unique, not just jumping on a trend, but creating it. I don’t think anyone is going to get rich by listing yet another crocheted toy, little zippered fabric wallet, hair scrunchie or simple beaded earring. However, there are those on Etsy who have turned their craft into really lucrative businesses, and it’s usually those who have something fresh, new and unique to offer, AND take the extra step of promoting their items.
Zaira Nahir–Santiago del Estero, Argentina
I believe that sites like Etsy are a great opportunity for women to build their career while not having to neglect their family. Depending on the woman’s individual goals, sites like this one can either empower her to grow into becoming a true entrepreneur, or simply allow her to take advantage of a community where she can display her products and creativity.