How Etsy is destroying the notion of handmade

What notion do you get when you hear of a handmade item? To me, it conjures up the idea of a small artisan hand stitching leather for a wallet, a sewist cutting her own fabric to piece together a custom-fitted dress or a kiln operator hand-firing their unique glass creations.

According to Etsy, merely having the idea and outsourcing the actual manufacturing work is close enough.

On October 1, CEO Chad Dickerson announced several changes to what makes Etsy tick. There are several changes to the policy but the one that has me concerned the most is their three guiding principles for what is handmade: authorship, responsibility, and transparency.

The re-defining of what Etsy considers to be a handmade item is most disturbing. Under the role of authorship, Etsy states, "A handmade item begins with you. Etsy's not the place to sell new items you had no role in creating." I get that. it seems simple enough: they don't want Etsy turning into eBay. However, take into consideration the other two points:

  • Responsibility - "Shop owners on Etsy are invested and knowledgeable about how their handmade items are made."
  • Transparency - "By being open and honest about how items are made, we create a marketplace built on trust."

So that would mean that as long as you have an idea for a product (authorship), you disclose (transparency) the fact that someone else is making the parts and assembling it for you (responsibility), Etsy considers that a handmade item.

What?!

As a consumer, I do not purchase things that meet the above criteria as a basis for handmade goods. Just because you had an idea for a product, but you can't afford to produce it yourself doesn't mean you can outsource the quality and manufacturing to a third-party and call it handmade. There's a term for that, it's called kitsch.

As a blogger, I could fairly claim that the writing on this site is all handmade. All the ideas are my own and I actually write the articles myself and don't use guest post filler to meet some bullshit, self-imposed idea of a deadline just to push content onto the Internet. Sure I use products from others (Apple, Linux, Comcast, etc.) to make it possible to publish the content, but the work I'm producing is truly my own. It takes responsible authorship of a product to truly claim the title of handmade. Having a bunch of crappy guest posts and ads all over my site just to produce content would be the digital equivalent of kitsch.

I do not buy kitsch masquerading as quality handmade goods. That's not to say that there aren't fine artisans to be found on Etsy. There are wonderfully handcrafted goods to be had there. My fear is that in an attempt to create a more favorable policy for those sellers who were/are outgrowing the old policies, Etsy has chosen to make a more ambiguous policy that does nothing but dumb down the market. As a result, those artisans who choose to stay on Etsy should have a real fear of standing out among the crowd of cheaply crafted, mass-produced kitsch.

I have chosen not to support this new re-defining of the word handmade. I have known and continue to know real artisans who create their own goods by hand. Sure they may not make ever single part from scratch, but the fact they are creating the idea and have a major hand in assemblage (not just a minimal role), makes it, at least in my eyes, a truly handmade item.

You can argue about the quality of a product and the price it's being sold for, but you should never, ever have the definition of handmade as a grey area. As a discerning shopper, I will give my business to those artisans who truly earn the title of handmade.

Source: Ohhh Lulu...: Etsy Policy Updates: Redefining Handmade and New Guidelines for Etsy Shops - Etsy