Etsy Ad Campaign Boasts Handmade Items When Many Are Made in Production Facilities

I’ve recently had the opportunity to see several Etsy ads on television. If you would like to see some Etsy TV spots, just watch the Magnolia Network and wait for a commercial break, it seems as though an Etsy ad runs in every break. Each ad billed Etsy as the place to go for ‘handmade’ one-of-a-kind products (strangely, none of the shops that produce the products in the advertisements were ever mentioned – essentially Etsy is using products from shops on their website to market “Etsy”. ). After watching these ads, I feel the need to write this blog posting.

Since Etsy went IPO, they have been on a steady pace to make the site much less about handmade and much more about selling mass produced foreign produced (outside of the USA) products. Although Etsy has been working overtime trying to push individual shops to the background and bring the “Etsy” brand to the forefront (as mentioned above by not even showing the name of the stores featured in their ad campaign), Etsy is responsible for this movement to inferior products. They have inspired the move by allowing “production partners” whereby a shop can have their ‘handmade’ items produced in a factory. According to the original announcement (several years ago) all a shop has to do is state in the listing that they have a production partner and name them. That has become a slippery slope. In my experience, most shops don’t bother to identify any production partner, much less identify who that partner is. Case in point, velvet ring boxes. At the time of this writing, of the dozens of shops selling velvet ring boxes, I could only positively identify two that actually make their boxes by hand, Weft and Whimsy (https://weftandwhimsy.etsy.com) and The Family Joolz (https://thefamilyjoolz.etsy.com). Of those, Weft and Whimsy appears to have been on a ‘short break’ since 2020.

Even though the vast majority of velvet ring box ‘makers’ are using a ‘production partner’ in China, few, if any, actually identify the fact that their boxes are mass produced, not handmade. In most cases they outright claim that they are handmade. How do I know that these boxes are made in China? Well, a couple of tell tale signs. Several sellers on Etsy are so lazy, they don’t even take their own photographs (oddly another Etsy ‘requirement’ that is being ignored by the site – a shop must take all their own photos). Many photos are lifted directly from Alibaba or other sources. Actually, I have had my own photos (and product descriptions) stolen from my pages and used in other shop’s listings. Here are some examples, https://www.etsy.com/listing/1110199847/ on Etsy, really creative, but, $13? Under the “Details” it says it is a handmade item. But, wait… https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Cute-Delicate-Velvet-Cowboy-Hat-Ring_1600478375123.html . Uh oh, same photo! https://www.etsy.com/listing/756632681/ What a beautiful use of fur in the back… wait a sec… https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Wholesale-custom-logo-luxury-vintage-hexagon_1600213022029.html , again, same photo. In addition, the fabric used in these boxes is the same (and often no longer referred to as velvet). Nap, color, luster are all the same. It also seems as though several overseas production facilities are outright copying The Family Joolz innovations with respect to shape, ring slots and more.

When I started to realize that there were so many shops not adhering to the Etsy policies, I started looking around for additional examples. Often times I found multiple shops that have the exact same photos. Another red flag that they are just lifting those from the production source. I also found many shops selling products so inexpensively that there is no possible way they are being made by hand, especially in the US. Going back to the velvet ring box example, boxes that are $10 wouldn’t even cover an artisan’s material cost, let alone the time and effort that would have to go in to producing it. Never mind the Etsy fees, taxes and other expenses. No, cheap prices are either unsustainable or a mass production red flag.

As I looked further, I started to notice some of the larger shops, some that had been open less than a year or two and had thousands of sales. What kind of pace would an artist have to work at to fill (in some cases) tens of thousands of orders in that short time? The answer I repeatedly came up with was that they were not making the items by hand. They were buying them and reselling.

There is no doubt that there are hard working artisans on Etsy. The site, in an effort to maximize their bottom line, however, is strong arming those artisans out of the picture. It troubles me that Etsy has now turned back to an advertising campaign that trumpets Etsy’s products as handmade. They are most certainly not all handmade. Some are, many aren’t. It takes a lot of work on a buyer’s end to insure that you are purchasing from an actual handmade artisan.