Etsy Re-defines Handmade

Etsy, THE online resource for all things vintage and handmade, recently expanded their basic policy on what is allowed be called a “handmade” item.  According to an editorial in today’s New York Times, “…last month, Etsy announced new policies that would allow sellers to apply to peddle items they produced with manufacturing partners, as well as to hire staff and use outside companies to ship their goods.”

weaving_vaseMany Etsy sellers have voiced outrage at what they see as a betrayal of a commitment to handcrafted art and crafts.  How are authentic artisans going to be able to compete with resellers offering lower cost manufactured “handmade items?”

But Etsy is expansive:

  1. Etsy sellers can hire whatever number of people they need to product items they have designed, and these employees can work in other locations.
  2. Sellers can use shipping and fulfillment services.
  3. It’s okay to work w/ outside partner and manufacturers if approved by Etsy.
  4. And if a seller hires people and uses outside partners, this must be disclose on your shop’s about page (though not necessarily in the item description).

The Times article, Etsy’s Industrial Revolution by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, a professor of archaeology and linguistics, explores the definition of handmade from a historical perspective, “a history that is more complicated than the simple term ‘handmade’ implies. The artisans have run head-on into the problem that led to the Industrial Revolution: Making things by hand is slow. Really slow.”

Is a scarf truly handmade if it is created with machine-produced yarn?  Does the knitter also have to spin her own wool?  What about those spinning wheel machines and looms?  And how does this all relate to ancient Assyrian textiles?

Enjoy the glimpse into an issue that has spanned the centuries, and post your opinion in the comment box!


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