About two weeks ago, I had a lightbulb go off in my head. I’ve never offered custom corsets before, but I totally could! The missing ingredient, as it turns out, is the store I’ve been busily building right here on this website!
I offer three types of corsets. Two of them are already posted in my online store. I offer steel boned fashion corsets – which won’t actually reduce your waist size, but they come in epic cute styles that won’t break the bank. I offer hourglass corsets – a pattern I drafted myself and sent off to a wholesaler to have manufactured just for my shop.
Finally, I offer a third grade of corsets, in the past only available to people commissioning a custom-made wedding dress or costume. My third corset supplier is the one with the SERIOUSLY drool-worthy corsets. They have ton of styles:
And a ton of fabrics:
These are the best quality corsets I’ve ever encountered – virtually indestructible pieces that weigh in at nearly 2 pounds each. They’re available in sizes from 20 to 40 (or XS through 4X), and can even be customized to your measurements for the best fit.
With this supplier, I can order corsets one-per-style/color/size – but there is a total order minimum, which I always have a bit of trouble meeting! When offering them to custom-order-gown customers – there are several circumstances that help me meet their minimum – the income from the full gown I’m making, the fact that I typically run a backlog and can order multiple custom-gown-corsets at once, and the fact that these are the corsets I drastically prefer to wear myself at events and in photoshoots – all of these things help!
There’s a new category now in my online store – “Custom Corsets”:
Right now it contains just two corset listings – but if you consider that each of these corsets come in 6 different styles and 9-12 different colors per style – that’s a whole lotta corset possibilities already! Once I have more time for a photo-taking day, I plan to take photos of additional styles from my photoshoot corset collection, and post many more.
When custom corsets are available for purchase, you’ll see an add-to-cart button on each listing, and a note about how long you have to place the order, and when you can expect your custom corset to ship:
When custom corsets aren’t available, you’ll instead see a waitlist button. Click it, and you can sign up to be notified the next time they’re available – like you can with the “pre-orders” section of my shop.
I manage pre-orders with a WordPress plugin. It’s intended for back-in-stock notifications, but with a bit of customization to the text blurbs, I was able to make it work awesomely well for my handmade costumes business! When you sign up, the system will add you to a list. There’s a separate list for each item in my backend, so no worries about unwanted emails. You’ll just get a notification about the thing you signed up for.
Since mid 2020, Etsy has a mandatory ads program. They force me to participate, and randomly take an extra 12% out in fees for any sale “attributed” to one of these ads. I can’t choose what to advertise. And yes, it can apply to a private listing that I make for a customer, if that customer clicked on an Etsy ad for any of my listings at any time in the last 30 days. Or if Etsy’s bots think they have for some reason!
ALL of my custom orders used to come from Etsy. And there’s another policy on Etsy, where if I ask a customer in a message to purchase from me off the platform, I can get banned.
What should I do? That was the question running through my head for the last two and a half years. Do I overcharge everyone, or sometimes take a paycut?
It’s a big paycut. The fee is 12% of the order total, and I still have to pay for everything else – materials, shipping, all Etsy’s other fees. When I get an offsite ads order, it works out to about a 25% paycut. A fancy custom gown can take me weeks to make.
A LOT has happened in 2022, and I wound up taking a long break from Etsy. It gave me the time to really think of how to get around the problem.
I would leave Etsy in a heartbeat if I could – but I can’t, and since founding the Indie Sellers Guild I’ve discovered that nearly every other creative indie seller is in the same boat with me. Tiny online shops simply don’t have the power to dominate Google searches like a giant tech platform. But there are a lot of ways I can make sure my Etsy shoppers know how to get a custom order that aren’t likely to get me banned – mainly in my images!
As I reopen my Etsy shop, I’ve been careful to create multiple images to let people know I have a website, and on the things I make that tend to inspire people to ask for custom made, I make sure one of the photos specifically says that custom orders are only available at auralynne.com.
If anyone contacts me on Etsy to ask about a custom order, I will have to turn them down entirely so that I’m not breaking Etsy’s terms of service. But I’ve always received a few more custom requests than I have time to fill.
With this plan, I’m finally feeling confident enough to open custom orders again. I feel like I won’t spend TOO much time turning people down because they reached out on Etsy. I hate saying no, and it would be particularly aggravating if I had to keep doing so while my schedule was open!
On my website I have options for custom orders that aren’t possible on Etsy! I’ve started by creating a page on my site for pre-orders – that is, where you can see what’s next on my sewing schedule and order a rotating selection of my skirts or shrugs made just for you. I’m still working on this, but I think I can add a “Request Made-to-Order” button on everything I post here, so you can sign up to be notified the next time I make a batch of any of my skirts or jackets.
I’ve run out of a lot of my most popular skirts and underpinnings – so my plan is to restock those first. Next, I’ll work on getting options for made-to-order costumes, and the made-to-order gowns I offer that take less time to make. Haha, dress jacket gowns will have to come last!
I’ve held out for as long as I possibly can. I’m reopening my Etsy shop today. Even though I spearheaded an internet based activism movement that grew to 82 thousand people in 4 weeks time, somehow I can’t figure out how to earn enough on a standalone website to keep from being forced to return to Etsy — at least, not yet. Maybe that says more about the state of the world than it says about me.
I had to register a “throwaway” bank account to reopen my shop. Etsy’s latest anti-creator policy is to require each and every one of us (in the US at least) to give our bank account info to what’s been described as a “legal phishing” service in order to keep getting paid.
Just last Friday, we received a reprieve of an extra 72 days to verify. We think it’s likely that so many sellers were upset by the policy that Etsy was worried about it cutting into holiday season profits. The reprieve came too late for me — as I had already connected Plaid to my “throwaway” bank account.
And now here I am, back on Etsy. Back to being on call for messages every single weekend so I don’t lose Star Seller status. Back to sending hundreds of dollars every month to a platform that does not care about me or the success of my business. Back to waiting for the next anti-creator change I’ll have to spend unpaid time adapting to.
For every 100 dollars I earn in sales in my shop, Etsy fees could cost me anything from $10 to $22. Not knowing how much I’ll pay per sale really sucks. I’m adding a 15% surcharge to my Etsy prices in comparison to the prices on my website — but I know that if there is a week or month when too many of my sales are attributed to their offsite ads program, I won’t be charging enough to cover their fees, and they will come out of my income instead.
I became a leader of the Etsy strike movement on February 28th. My indie online business has a social media following of nearly 17 thousand people on Facebook. The first time they heard about the Etsy strike was on April 1st. Together with many other people in our movement, I shared this image:
For 4 years, while I watched Etsy kill my online business, I was that woman in the photo. I felt like I couldn’t speak out about the things happening on the platform. I felt like no one would listen, like no one would care.
I am so glad to have been so incredibly wrong about that.
Our customers shop on Etsy to support US. They are universally not-happy to learn of all the ways Etsy is screwing over its sellers. And so, until Etsy decides to stop screwing over its sellers, our customers will know.
I will continue to sell on Etsy, as I have no other choice, no other way to reach enough people in this tech-platform-dominated world. But that doesn’t mean I have to suffer in silence.
Each and every time an order comes through from an Offsite Ad, and I find myself with 78% instead of 90% of the funds from the sale, that package will contain a note to the customer, something like:
Hi! Thank you so much for supporting my handmade business. I want you to know that I have a website (auralynne.com), where I’m able to offer you much better prices, as Etsy fees more than doubled in less than 4 years, and I had to raise prices to compensate! For instance, since your order came though with an extra advertising fee, 22% of your payment went straight to Etsy.
I appreciate every single order from every single beautiful customer, including the ones who shop from me through Etsy — but over the past year, I’ve learned that you all don’t want to be kept in the dark about this! Knowledge is power. Thus this note. 🙂
Thanks again for your patronage, and happy costumed adventures!
Each and every time I receive a message on the weekend or on a day off, there will be an auto-reply:
Hi! This is an auto-reply. Sorry to do this, I swear I am a real person who offers individualized customer service! Etsy has this Star Seller Program that forces me to either be on call for messages 24/7, or set an autoreply every single time I want to take a full day or a weekend off. Since I like to unplug and be with my family from time to time, autoreply it is!
Thank you for your patience, and I will get back to you ASAP!
Other guild members have come up with creative ways to let shoppers know, like these labels by Lightbringer Designs:
During our fight not to be forced to share our bank account history with Plaid, we learned that the US government doesn’t consider us to be consumers, and so, consumer laws don’t apply to us. While setting up our labor organization, we learned that US labor law doesn’t consider us to be employees, and therefore labor laws don’t apply to us. Every law that exists to protect individuals against the excesses of giant corporations does not protect us.
There is nothing out there to help us. The only answer is for us to start helping ourselves.
Before the Etsy Strike, I was alone, and I was powerless.
Today, I have no idea what the future holds. But I feel so much stronger now that I have found camaraderie, and community, with other members of the guild.
Individually, we are one drop.
Together, we are an ocean.
I’m closing this article with a note for all the lovely customers who have supported me on my website during this time. Thank you! Thank you all, so much. There have been moments since August when I thought I’d have to re-open my Etsy shop – but each time, I’d get a new order or two, and be able to hold out for that much longer!
Because of all of you, I feel confident that I will be able to keep custom orders and really limited edition things off Etsy (those are the types of things that their anti-creator policies hurt worst), and that will make things much easier.
Now that I’m finally done with the Etsy Strike series, I’ll be glad to be able to go back to my usual light-hearted style and babble about pretty things!
On the evening of April 11, day 1 of the Etsy Strike, I logged into our Twitter account and saw a new notification that was sent to @EtsyStrike. I clicked on it, curiously, because the name of the person who had made the tweet sounded really familiar.
I read the tweet. I googled the guy’s name. My mouth fell open in shock.
Rob Kalin, @rokali on Twitter, is Etsy’s original CEO and founder. He’s no longer with the company. That tweet was the first thing he’d said on Twitter since December 2014. He broke a 7.5 year Twitter silence to come out in support of us.
Each of our sellers is a blade of grass in a tornado. They’re someone you haven’t heard of.
Valerie (our blog manager at the time who has moved on to head the Artisans Coop project) called it “the kind of tone-deaf comment we’d expect to hear from an out-of-touch CEO sitting high in his tower behind security gates, hoping the angry populace will go away and taking whispered advice from ‘crisis communications’ experts.”
My reaction to the statement was a little different. It caused me to realize something.
The billionaire Wall Street types in charge of Etsy see us as blades of grass underfoot. They can do whatever they want to us, extract whatever they want from us, in the form of additional fees out of our sales, additional time spent working for free to adapt to their constant profit-seeking changes.
To them, we are blades of grass. And you know what, they’re right. Unless our grassroots group of sellers can figure out how to change things, we are absolutely, utterly powerless.
Etsy is my master, and I am the abused dog that keeps coming back to them every time they call me.
It’s not an exaggeration. It’s a little bit tragic how true that felt when I typed it into my computer.
The primary thing detractors say — to me at least — is this:
“If you’re fed up with Etsy, you should just leave!”
The statement always prompts a little eye-rolling, because I am about as certain as I can be that that is exactly what those Etsy execs who keep putting profits over the people who generate their profits hope we’ll all do.
In fact, they talk about it in their investor reports. Seller churn, they call it. Yes, it’s the same word used to describe making butter the old-fashioned way. It’s called “churn” because it describes an in-and-out motion. Sellers leave, and later, sellers come back when they discover that the other options aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.
I’ve tried to leave. So many times. It’s a sad fact that a one-woman-shop like mine simply does not have the power to dominate Google searches to the extent of a giant corporation like Etsy. It’s a sad fact that other marketplaces simply do not compare to the one with the buyer following and reputation built by sellers like myself, over more than a decade of selling on the platform and recommending it to our friends and customers.
It’s a sad fact that no matter what Etsy decides to extract from us in the form of additional fees, or additional time spent working for free, most of us are stuck on the platform, at least in part.
Individually, we are powerless. But we are individuals no more.
And so, it’s a good thing that myself and other talented, knowledgeable volunteers — all of us “in it for the long haul” — are working on doing just that. We’ve formed a nonprofit organization. We’re calling ourselves the Indie Sellers Guild. We’ve made membership free so we can be there for sellers no matter where they are on their path to success. We’re calling ourselves a guild for pesky legal reasons, but our organization is designed to operate exactly like a union. We are democratically owned by our seller members, who will vote to determine our future path.
Our home page tells it like it is:
It’s not easy to earn a creative living in this tech-platform-dominated internet. We are at the mercy of a corporate structure that wants to squeeze every bit of profit it can from sellers and buyers alike.
Individually, we have no power. We can only complain, and try harder to eke out poverty-level wages from the platforms we must use to reach our buyers.
Together, we can unite and fight back! Corporations cannot be allowed to continue destroying our livelihoods in the name of bigger profit margins.
We are the Indie Sellers Guild. We are a grassroots nonprofit, by indie sellers, for indie sellers. Our hard work makes Big Tech rich! We deserve a seat at the table, and we’re fighting to get one.
When Josh Silverman compared us to blades of grass, we plastered that shit all over social media.
When it comes down to it, I’d rather be a blade of grass any day than the owner of the foot that’s stomping on other people.
And you know what, a blade of grass can withstand a tornado. So long as that blade of grass has the proper root system, it will bend, but it won’t break.
I knew what was coming. I was dreading it. It was the one part of my role in the Etsy Strike movement that I was not comfortable with, in the slightest.
I would need to appear in interviews to talk to people. On video. In front of a camera. I would need to talk to people without tripping over my tongue. Or giggling like a fool. Or any number of other things I was certain I would do.
I’ve always known that video is a medium I should REALLY try to figure out if I want to be successful in my business. I mean, I make stuff that looks like this:
And I get photographs of it by dolling myself (and friends) up, and wandering around various public parks. That’s like, perfect fodder for Youtube or Tiktok!
I’ve tried to video tape photoshoots multiple times. I’m always shy to spend the time clipping and turning them into something to post… because, well, I’m an idiot. A funny idiot, but still an idiot.
For example – tripping across a greenspace seeing how much lift I can get under a wide hoopskirt with each step, while saying “bouncy bouncy bouncy bouncy…” yep, that’s me.
I know that idiocy is very entertaining – so it probably WOULD be very good as a channel of some sort. But there’s a line between entertaining fool and just plain fool – and I’m never entirely certain if I’ve crossed it! Video terrifies me, on principle. And I really couldn’t be an idiot on an actual real life news media interview.
It was coming, and I was going to have to step up. And so, I overprepared. Before my first interview, I spent probably about 5 hours memorizing responses to the questions I thought reporters would be most likely to ask.
I didn’t think of everything they would ask. Thus, I learned something very important during my first interview. Afterwards, I watched it, and I realized, I did significantly better on the questions I hadn’t prepared for!
Ah. Don’t overthink it. The thing I have to tell myself with almost everything I attempt.
It didn’t take long to realize that I really enjoyed media interviews. It’s a special combination of getting to talk to grown ups (work at home moms feel me on this one!), and feeling important/official. On April 7, 2022, came an opportunity to realize that I wasn’t half bad at it.
I had an interview with Yahoo Finance. Yes, I know, Yahoo Finance. I somehow didn’t put two and two together, until I was in the breakout room in a zoom call waiting to go on live television. I wasn’t live yet, but I could see what was currently being broadcasted in the call. The broadcaster introduced the segment that would include my interview. He started talking about Etsy’s stock. I saw a huge graph of Etsy’s stock price doing a nosedive.
And I thought, Oh. Shit. Yahoo Finance. Finance as in stocks! As in, a show meant for a bunch of people who aren’t particularly fond of these pesky Etsy strikers having a negative effect on their portfolios! Oh boy…
I was scared to watch that interview afterwards, until it got shared by someone who I was pretty sure wasn’t trying to make fun of me. So two days after it aired, I watched it. My eyes got bigger as I did.
I could see places where the reporter was trying to trap me into a bad answer – places I didn’t fall! For a work-at-home mom with with no professional media training, I think I did pretty damn good.
By 4/11, we were joking about how the interviews were coming in too quickly to keep up. By 4/12, we were too busy for joking! That day alone we posted 13 calls to Discord asking people to reach out to the reporters for interviews. Even with four of us on the core team doing nearly back-to-back interviews, we couldn’t keep up.
I had to download What’sApp, because reporters from other countries wanted to call me. My most epic moment occurred during a phone interview with someone from BBC. He asked what I sell on Etsy. I answered “I’m a gothic Victorian fashion designer!” He replied, “Oh. Wow! I wasn’t expecting that!” in a delighted tone – and I should add that he had the absolute smoothest British accent I have yet to hear. In that moment, I thought, “That’s it. I’ve peaked…”
There are a lot of ways to reach me. I discovered that, when there was a sea of reporters using each and every one of them all at once. My Etsy inbox. Facebook and Instagram inboxes both for my business and for the Etsy Strike project. The chat system, and message system on Reddit. The mod message system for our subreddit. The contact form attached to our petition. The contact form on my business website. Our Discord server. Private messages on Discord. The email I set up for media interviews and linked on etsystrike.org. My cellphone, eventually. One time a reporter called my husband looking for me. We still have no idea how that happened!
Every day during the strike, evening would come, and the Etsy Strike organizers would take a collective breath. Maybe the media frenzy would die down now. The following day we would think it had, until it started back up again late morning.
I really do love appearing on media interviews. By the end of the strike on 4/18, I wanted to turn into a turtle and hide in a shell for a very long time.
I couldn’t do that though. 82 thousand people had signed up for our cause, and the strike was done, but we weren’t done.
March 8, 2022. The day Mattie swooped in and saved my life.
It sounds like an exaggeration, but that’s really what it felt like. Mattie joined Discord and introduced themself with this message, which I would see the following morning on March 9th:
I’m here because as individuals, Etsy sellers are completely at the mercy of a corporate structure that wants to squeeze out every bit of profit it can from makers and buyers alike. But if we organize (and maybe someday collectively bargain?!) we can win ourselves a better, fairer deal. I’m in it for the long haul, well beyond the end of the strike this April.
It’s hard to describe how I felt when I read Mattie’s statement about being “in it for the long haul”. I’m quite sure I made an excited sound into the cup of coffee I was drinking, in the dark, at 5AM just after my husband left for work. I responded:
Welcome! 😄 I’m so happy to have you. I have grand after-strike ideas/plans — but avoiding talking too much about them now because must! focus! So glad you’re in it for the long run too!
From that day on, Mattie jumped in, and just did stuff, which was exactly what we needed. Mattie found coworker.org and reached out to them about helping us with this project. Mattie wrote about 80–90% of the petition itself.
Although I’m exceptional in many areas, I make up for it by being exceptionally incompetent in others. Essentially it’s a split between things that are creative (in which I’m mostly exceptional) and things that are practical (in which I’m exceptionally incompetent). Petition writing is a practical skill. And so, color me incompetent.
We decided that I would be the face of the movement, since I’m a walking stereotype of an Etsy seller. Work at home mom, and all that. I’m also slightly more secure in the face of potential retaliation, for various reasons. I have a website and a decent social media following at least on Facebook. If Etsy deleted my shop as a result of my strike related actions — it would REALLY suck, but I wouldn’t be destitute.
I’m the one whose face and name is on the petition that got us tens of thousands of supporting sellers in only a few weeks time. The one who could truly take most of the credit for our petition is Mattie.
The strategy that got it in front of as many early-on eyeballs as possible — that was me.
My strategy was simple. Recruit people. Get those people to recruit more people. Get those people to recruit more people. Use every skill possessed by the people in our growing movement to help it grow even more. And so on, and so forth, until we multiplied into a massive, unstoppable force.
A simple strategy, but a lot of technical expertise was needed to pull it off. We needed to be everywhere — on every social media platform. We needed content to share to keep people engaged and hyped up about the strike. We needed somewhere to send people to find out more information about our movement than what can be shared in a social media post. People needed easy/low effort ways to help us spread the word. And finally, for those we reached that wanted to get more involved, we needed to make it easy for them to join our working teams.
I created accounts for us on every social media platform. I created a WordPress website for us at Etsystrike.org to send people to for more information about the movement. I created content to share to spread the word about what had been happening with Etsy. Content about our planned strike. Content about why it was important. Content about how we needed help.
Eventually, the help started rolling in. I created systems that would work for organizing the people helping us. In Discord, you can give people “roles” and later, you can ping everyone who has a specific role, all at once.
We recruited people who could do things that are beyond me. We recruited someone who understood Discord bots, and they set it so that people could choose their own Discord helper roles by clicking on emoji images.
We recruited graphic designers and digital artists who helped us up our image game. This set of infographics by Kittynaut was our most popular post during the time leading up to the strike:
We recruited people who could make videos as well as photos. Eventually there were videos about us circulating around, as well as the image-only social media campaigns that I had started. We recruited people who could write blog posts. Our blog became more interesting as my voice was joined by others on the team.
And finally, we recruited people with actual real experience in labor union organizing.
I’ve mentioned before how online communities for Etsy sellers tend to not be very supportive if you’re having issues with Etsy. When I tried to spearhead an Etsy Seller strike, I discovered these spaces are not supportive of striking Etsy sellers either.
Wait. Did I say “not supportive”? That’s an understatement of laughable proportions. If we put pro-strike vs anti-strike sentiment on a scale, they’d be off the scale at the negative end. They believed we were all idiots for trying to plan a strike. They weren’t at all shy about telling us.
As of March 3rd, 2022, I had only tried making posts to share info about the strike in spaces with “Etsy Seller” in the name. It was a rather demoralizing activity.
And it didn’t match real life experience. I knew quite a few Etsy sellers. All supporters of the strike. All in complete agreement with every one of our demands. All completely fed up with Etsy’s corporate greed.
And I mean, logic. Our basic fees to use the platform had more than doubled in less than four years. On top of those basic fees, we were paying out the nose every time one of our items sold through an Offsite Ad. All this while objectively, the platform is much worse now than it was four short years ago.
Were people really happy about that?
Things were starting to look a little hopeless. How could our movement gain any traction if all the online communities ostensibly by and for Etsy sellers were so rabidly against what we were trying to do?
On March 3rd, 2022, something changed. A random series of events that resulted in our first major breakthrough. Value Added Resource (an online blog that posts “Ecommerce News, By Sellers, For Sellers”) wrote an article about us.
Even though Value Added Resource is a small publication, I was still very excited to discover they had featured us! I went to Reddit, and started to post it to r/EtsyStrike. Then I thought, wait, this article looks newsy. It’s pretty similar to the type of content I see posted to r/News. What would happen if I posted instead to r/News?
My post was removed from r/news. For being from a “disreputable source”. It happened at exactly 100 upvotes, so I think it was an action taken by a bot. Still, it was the first real breakthrough of the Etsy Strike project.
That post made it to 100 upvotes in only a few minutes. It also got quite a few comments in that time. 100% positive comments. From Etsy buyers who were fed up with the platform being full of the same mass-produced junk you find on Amazon, Ebay or Aliexpress. And even a few from Etsy sellers who completely agreed that we needed to band together and try to fight back.
A lightbulb went off in my head. I realized if I wanted the Etsy Strike to reach enough people, we needed to find a way to reach Etsy sellers outside of communities with “Etsy” in the name. I had no idea what was going on with those spaces — but obviously those weren’t the people we needed to reach.
I also realized I needed help — lots of it — if I was going to come anywhere close to the number of people I needed to reach. 5.2 million active Etsy sellers is a lot of people. So that meant the people I needed to focus on reaching were the people most likely to jump in and help.
Who were those people? People like me. People fed up with the bullshit.
When Etsy killed my online business, in a way, it made me lose faith in America. Like many people in my country, I used to believe America was this magical place where anyone can make it, if they work hard and never give up.
I had worked so fucking hard. I never gave up. I poured more than a decade of my life into a platform that had chewed me up and spit me out, just as soon as businesses like mine were no longer the ones they found most profitable. I was so fucking angry, and still, I wasn’t giving up. I was fighting back.
I needed to find other people like me — people disenchanted with the system, and ready to fight back. I knew exactly which subreddits to find them in. They were the same ones I’d been hanging out in myself, trolling for snarky memes about “Late Stage Capitalism” and similar topics.
My primary disadvantage was that 5.2 million Etsy sellers is a lot of people. It was also my main advantage. I could throw a rock into nearly any online space, and if I didn’t hit an Etsy seller, I’d probably hit someone who knows one.
I finally had a strategy, and I would see where it would take me.
I became a leader of the Etsy Strike movement on Monday, February 28 of 2022. At that point, we had about 140 people in a subreddit. It wasn’t much, but I was convinced we could use it to launch the Etsy Strike movement.
I was wrong.
You see, 140 people in a subreddit translates to about 5 randomly selected people seeing each post, thanks to how social media algorithms work.
No problem. We would adjust. We would work around the algorithm. I would let everyone know I would be sharing important updates at specific times. People would log on to check the subreddit at or soon after those specific times. It would cause the algorithm to see our posts as more important/more engaging, and show them to more people.
I was wrong.
People either didn’t understand what I was asking them to do, or we didn’t have enough people engaged enough to do what I asked. My posts continued to be seen by 5 randomly selected people.
No problem. We would adjust. Reddit wouldn’t work for organizing this movement after all. We needed a system in which we weren’t beholden to an algorithm. Discord would be the answer. I didn’t fully understand Discord. I had only been a user (and an occasional one at that) but I would figure out how to mod a server. I posted a call for help on Reddit — a Google form for people to fill out so I could add them to our Discord server, and once I figured out how, add “ranks” to them based on the skills they possessed that would allow me to ping people that could help with specific tasks. Discord would be the key to getting the ball rolling on this movement.
I was wrong.
The help form I had posted proceeded to get one (or less) signups each day. I sent each person the Discord server link, and waited for them to join. From March 1 until March 8, our Discord server contained exactly 4 people — myself, a non-Etsy-seller real-life friend of mine who had offered to help me figure out how to mod Discord, the original leader of r/EtsyStrike who had stepped back for health reasons, and one other person. This person helped a bit, by occasionally offering suggestions and comments when not “too busy”, and I was grateful for their presence. But Discord being Discord, I also could see exactly which video game they were playing at all times.
I’m not really a gamer myself. My kids are utterly obsessed with video games, however. Our favorite family-fun-time activity is a Minecraft realm that we play together. We call it “Minetopia.”
My youngest child is named JJ. He’s the JJ-est JJ of all the JJ’s. If you met him, you would understand his nickname right away. His primary purpose in life is to loudly declare his love and devotion for the whole entire world, all the people in it, all the animals in it, and especially all the video games in it. To say that he’s a happy-go-lucky child is an understatement.
He woke up sobbing one morning. It took a while to tease out of him what was wrong. He had had a nightmare. He was playing Minetopia and tried to use a game command to teleport to me, but when he teleported to me, I was gone.
“Mommy, will you ever play Minetopia with me again?”
I held my nine year old son, and I cried with him, and I tried to explain to him why this was so important.
“JJ,” I said, “You know how we want to own a house so badly? You know how we’ve been trying to save money for years and years, but the houses keep getting more and more expensive, and it’s so hard for us, and we don’t have enough money?”
“That happens because the world is controlled by huge corporations. And those huge corporations are controlled by people who have all the money in the world, but they don’t want to share. They would rather keep all that money for themselves, rather than letting people like Mommy and Daddy earn enough to be able to afford things like houses. It’s this horrible situation that’s so much bigger than Minetopia, so much bigger than you and me.
“I want to play Minetopia with you. I would so much rather be doing that than trying to run the Etsy strike! But Etsy is the corporation Mommy is dependent on — the money we’ve been using to save for that house we all want so much.
“I know it’s really hard to understand, and I’m so sorry Mommy isn’t there for you right now. I have to do this. In a way, I’m doing it for you. I want to spend time with you more than anything, but I also want to be the type of person you’ll look up to. It’s so rare for ordinary people like you and me to have a chance to fight back against the forces that control our lives.
“I want to teach you to fight back. Any chance you get. Do you understand?”
From that moment on, I had a nine-year-old cheerleader in my youngest child. He told his friends at school about the Etsy Strike, and he kept coming up with video-game-related ideas that he was convinced would help us promote it. It was adorable.
I shared that conversation with JJ because those things I told him were the exact reason I didn’t quit in the early days, when the whole thing seemed utterly hopeless.
I was in the right place at the right time, and I had the skills we needed to get the ball rolling on the movement. I knew I was facing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to try to forge some change in the world.
If I could only figure out how to attract a few more people to help.
I have two kids. Both boys. They’re adorably sweet little angels, for the most part, with phases of rambunctiousness when appropriate. Both have been diagnosed autistic.
My oldest is on the more non-verbal end of the spectrum. At school, he is in a special education program, and has an aide assigned to him, to keep him on task throughout the day. My youngest is completely (unrelentingly) verbal, on the opposite end of the spectrum. He has 3 different specialists that work with him different times of the week, and is integrated with the rest of his grade at school most of the time.
I say this, because I want you to know that the Etsy Strike project isn’t the most difficult thing I’ve ever tried to do. That honor goes to virtual school. Neither of my kids could do their work unattended. Every teacher and specialist wanted to use a different app to connect with them remotely, none of which I was familiar with. It was pandemonium.
I knew that if I completely ignored my business, it would die, and I would lose the thing that’s the deepest part of who I am as a person. I am an artist. I will never separate myself from that fact.
But caring for my children had suddenly turned from nearly a full-day’s work of cooking meals and cleaning, to well over a full-day’s work of virtual teaching assistant, plus everything else.
If I failed at my new unplanned job of virtual teaching assistant, I’d be failing my children. If I failed to keep up momentum in my business during that time, I’d be failing the deepest part of myself.
I could not fail.
I spent a few days just going crazy. Trying to do everything, and taking hysterical-cry-session breaks when appropriate. Eventually, however, I had a realization.
Every task I undertake in my business and in my life requires one of two things: my hands, or my brain. Rarely, however, do any of these tasks require engaging both at once.
From that point on, both my hands and my brain would be engaged at once, at all times. No more sitting in front of my computer thinking of what to type next, or what to do next. No cooking or cleaning or sewing while my brain is inactive due to carrying out repetitive tasks.
Right now, for instance, as I’m writing this blog post, I’ve baked two loaves of banana bread, and I’ve done a rack of dishes. It’s fun not having a dishwasher, when you cook all your meals from scratch. But I manage.
For more than a year, I leveraged every skill I possess to try to become two people. I didn’t figure out how to clone myself over the pandemic, but I came pretty damn close.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. I did it like a champ. My kids both went back to school having lost no ground grade-wise and IEP-wise over the pandemic. My oldest’s teacher told me that my son was the only kid in her class for whom that was true. In my business, I focused solely on social media, since Etsy has been not-that-great as of late. My sales dropped drastically, but I continued to gain followers on all platforms, which was my exact goal during the time, as I didn’t have time to ship and create so much anyway.
I’ve been asked a few times since starting this project, “How on earth do you keep up with everything you’ve been doing?”
That’s it. That’s my secret. They say it’s impossible for human beings to truly multitask. I beg to differ.
It’s my own special version of burning the candle at both ends. I can’t keep it up for too terribly long, but I can do it for a little while.
I would do it again now.
Because it isn’t fucking right for a giant unaccountable corporation to screw over a bunch of artists and small business owners in the name of bigger profits.
Online communities dedicated to peer support for Etsy Sellers are not supportive spaces. At least, not if you’re having problems with Etsy. I hang out in the Reddit communities r/Etsy and r/EtsySellers from time to time. If I see something people need that no one has responded to, I comment. But I don’t post. At least, never to complain about Etsy.
I know better.
I broke that rule early in the morning on February 25th, 2022. I had just finished reading the email that made most Etsy sellers lose it. I had lost it. And I really wondered if anyone else felt the same way.
Here is the post that started it all — at least, my involvement in the strike.
Originally the last line wasn’t there. I added that in response to a comment telling me about the Etsy Strike project, in its infancy at that point.
The mods of r/EtsySellers were shutting down all posts about the fee increase and redirecting them into a megathread. For some reason mine didn’t get shut down — possibly because I barely mentioned the fee increase.
I was talking about everything else Etsy had done to hurt our businesses over time. Really, the fee increase was just the final straw.
I honestly expected people to be rude or argumentative on my post, like they are with so many others.
Instead, I mostly got resounding agreement. Other people, not just me, wanted to engage in some kind of collective action to stop Etsy from continuing to destroy our livelihoods.
That weekend, about 100 people gathered in r/EtsyStrike to try to figure out how to plan a strike. It was really slow going, because we had no idea what we were doing.
No plan, no petition, and no clue really, how to move forward.
We are artists and crafters, not activists.
The early part was the hardest part. I still don’t know how I managed. I was the only one who had both the skills and the time to put into the project. Running an Etsy shop is often a fulltime job with a bunch of unpaid overtime.
For the first time in my life, I was grateful to still be living in this shitty apartment that’s about 4 sizes too small for my family. I was grateful to have the time to be able to just donate to the project, with no need to worry about income loss, since my income is the money we’ve been saving for a house.
The housing market is awful where my family lives. Houses that went for 200 and something thousand just a couple to three years ago are being sold for 400 and something thousand today. If we tried to buy a house right now, I feel like we would lose our shirts.
I could put my life on hold. I could throw myself into this project. I could see where it went.
Etsy sellers don’t trust Etsy anymore. We don’t believe the platform cares about us. We don’t believe they want what’s in our best interest. We’re there, not because we like to be, but because we’re stuck.
When people want something handmade, they go to Etsy. We know that. Etsy is the game we have to play, because they’re the only game in town.
On February 24, 2022, Etsy sent their sellers this email. We didn’t take it very well.
In fact, here is a translation. The words of the email. Followed by what I heard in my head when I read it.
Dear Seller Community,
At Etsy, we’re focused on building a marketplace that allows sellers like you to turn your creativity and passions into real, money-making businesses.
We love the money we take from you each month so much. We want that to grow, as we find more, and more, and more, and more, and more of you!
Last year, active sellers increased their sales by 23% on average compared to 2019, and in 2021 alone, we showed more than 90 million active buyers worldwide that there’s an alternative to big-box, automated shopping.
By the way — active sellers did well in 2021. If your business did poorly, it’s probably your fault.
Together, we’ve made Etsy the global marketplace for unique and creative goods.
But we’re a team! A team! And it’s just so great to have you with us.
We plan to make significant investments in marketing, seller tools, and creating a world-class customer experience so we can continue this tremendous growth. To support this goal, on April 11 we will increase our current 5% transaction fee to 6.5%.
Wow. What a great pandemic it’s been for us! We grew so much, and it was so nice, and we want it to continue! We’re already squeezing a lot out of you, but we’re pretty sure there’s an extra drop in there somewhere, and we plan to find it! Isn’t that wonderful?
This change will allow us to make improvements in three key areas:
Bringing more buyers to Etsy: Last year, we spent nearly $600 million on marketing. This year we’ll be investing even more, including on TV commercials, influencers and tastemakers, billboards, podcast advertising, and email marketing that bring new buyers to Etsy.
We’re bringing you buyers! Buyers! Aren’t you excited? Wait, you aren’t? Oh, you think those buyers will be more interested in the mass-produced junk we’ve been allowing onto the platform? We have no idea what you’re talking about!
The support you need: We’ll grow our support team by more than 20% this year so you can get help more quickly and easily, including faster email responses, expanded access to live chat, and prioritization of your most urgent requests.
What’s that? Oh, you’re saying you have no support at all — and 20% of zero isn’t that great of a number? Sorry, but we’re putting our fingers in our ears now! We won’t hear anything else you say. Yes, 20% more support, just for you. Aren’t we awesome?
Keeping Etsy unique: We’ll build on last year’s roughly $40 million investment in the teams and technology that help make our marketplace a safe and secure destination for handmade, vintage, and special items. This year we’ll expand our efforts to remove listings that don’t meet our policies and help you resolve issues with buyers.
We can’t admit that our platform is flooded with sweatshop-produced products in the first place. But you can totally trust us to crack down on them. Because we say so.
These are some of the great things we’ll invest in to keep Etsy a beloved, trusted, and thriving marketplace. We don’t take fee changes lightly, and we believe that these investments will enable Etsy, and our seller community, to continue to grow.
Yes, there are other mysterious things we plan to do with your money. They have to do with growth. We won’t actually mention them in the email. Please, focus on the earlier parts. It’ll all be good. You can trust us!
Thank you for making Etsy a one-of-a-kind marketplace.
It was followed up by a smiling photo of Josh Silverman, Etsy’s CEO.
Remember that time in mid 2021 when we kept seeing photos like this out of California?
I don’t know about you, but it felt like the harbinger of the apocalypse to me.
It was right in the height of the worst of the fires that I got an email from Etsy letting me know about yet another change to the platform.
I was excited — for a little bit. At first glance, it seemed like they might finally be answering our prayers.
You see, Etsy has this reseller problem. We don’t mean vintage sellers, or people outsourcing production of things they’ve at least designed themselves. We mean people that buy things made in sweatshops, and pass them off as handmade to unsuspecting buyers.
It’s horrible for us. Imagine handcrafting all of your items, and having to compete in prices with a bunch of liars pretending factory-produced products are handmade.
But I’d like to addend, if it takes a BBC Watchdog special to get 4 resellers removed from the platform, we are in trouble!
At first glance, the Star Seller Program looked like a way to help legit handmade shops and unique vintage shops shine. It said it would highlight great customer service, and my customer service is utterly stellar.
Then I looked into how it actually works.
The Star Seller Program is a dumpster fire.
You’re judged on three metrics to qualify. First, star ratings. You need 95% 5 star ratings in your shop. Eighteen out of nineteen 5 star ratings, and you’ll qualify.
If you receive a glowing 4 star review, it counts the same against your total as a one star review.
The second metric you’re judged on is message response rate. You must respond to 95% of all messages within 24 hours. There is no way to set off-hours on the weekend, and have that 24 hour counter start when you return on Monday. If you want a weekend off, you have to set an automated reply. I hate to do that. Autoreplies are so impersonal and robotic.
The way the program is designed, you could just set an auto reply, keep renewing it, never respond to any messages, and still qualify.
The third metric you’re judged on is on-time shipping and tracking. You must ship 95% of your orders on time, and with tracking. For many sellers, that means no more shipping stickers and tiny letter-class items cheaply. And can you see how that requirement would be a distinct advantage to anyone who doesn’t offer made-to-order items, and a distinct disadvantage to those who do?
The Star Seller program was announced on July 28, 2021, and would go live on September 1st. We had a little over a month to prepare for a program in which we would be judged for our last three months of activity.
I couldn’t qualify for it until November 1st. My shop, with thousands of customers regularly telling me things like I’m their “fairy hatmother” and that they felt the most beautiful they ever felt in their life while wearing my designs, could not qualify.
This happened because of aspects of my shop that are unique to handmade sellers who make items to order.
The star ratings I qualified for, no problem. Over a thousand ratings in the life of my shop. I’ve never received lower than a 4 star, and I can count 4 stars on one hand, and have fingers left over.
My message response rate was abysmal. Around 60% I believe. Part of this is because my customers often find me on the weekend and I respond on Monday. Another part of this is because of the way the Etsy platform is designed. I make a lot of things that match each other.
For instance, just in the photos above: fascinator, hat, red overskirt, black lace underskirt, bustle petticoat, garter shorts (holding up the stockings at left), stockings (I make those by upcycling tights so that they come in plus sizes), shrug, and gloves.
On every listing on Etsy, there is a nice big “message” button to contact the seller. Anytime someone pushes this button, a new message thread will open. It’s common for someone to get so excited about discovering my items, that they open up to 6 message threads asking me questions about different things.
Before the Star Seller Program, I would just respond to all 6 questions in a single message thread. After the Star Seller Program, I guess I’m supposed to respond to all of them individually?
“Hi! I’ve responded to your message elsewhere. Thanks!”
“Hi! I’ve responded elsewhere, sorry to spam you. Thanks!”
“Hi! I’ve responded elsewhere, I’m really sorry, Etsy forces me to do this.”
“Hi! I’ve responded elsewhere, and I promise I’m not a robot. Could someone please send that memo to Etsy?”
“Hi, I’m so sorry. I should just give up on being a Star Seller on the Etsy platform, since it forces me to do things like this…”
No, I haven’t done anything like that. I’ve been silent about all these changes, except to friends and family. I don’t know why, but I thought my customers wouldn’t support me if I spoke out. I’m so grateful to have been so wrong about that.
The first time it happened after the Star Seller announcement, I clicked the button to sort all those additional messages into spam. I needed a way to mark messages as “not needing a response” and from my research, it seemed like the spam folder would work that way.
Then I felt horribly guilty, because it wasn’t spam, it was beautiful excited messages from a beautiful excited person who was happy to have found me.
And I’m still not sure if that customer was notified when I did that. I thought they weren’t, but I also haven’t been able to find definitive info on the subject. That haunts me a bit.
The other thing that I could not qualify for is the on time shipping and tracking metric. It’s common for people to purchase things in-stock in my shop, and ask me to make a different size. I run a backlog of sewing orders, so this takes 4–6 weeks to do, and the customer is perfectly happy with this timeframe for a made-to-order treasure.
Etsy, however, only lets me change the shipping date 21 days out in the future on an order, and I can only change the date once.
Perfectly happy customers with delayed shipping dates on orders, due to those orders being made just for them, caused me to not qualify as an Etsy “Star Seller”.
I am a Star Seller. I don’t care what Etsy says. I was so angry at that point, that that is when I made the decision to fight back. To start some kind of collective action against Etsy.
I didn’t for two reasons. One, the orange-sky photos coming out of California insisted to me that the world was ending. I was tired.
Two, I knew that Star Seller was a bad thing to fight over. It’s hard to explain how it’s so damaging to those of us with really unique businesses. There’s a reason why this article is so much longer than others in this series!
But I also knew Etsy wasn’t finished. I knew there would be another change.
I knew it wouldn’t be long until they made yet another decision that hurts us, but helps their bottom line.
Next time, Etsy. The next time you hurt me, I will fight back.
Update: Etsy made changes to the Star Seller program shortly after the Etsy Strike. Some of the things I talk about in this blog post are no longer true. The program still disadvantages made-to-order and small sellers, and it still forces a poor work-life balance on makers like me, but today, it’s not quite as much of a dumpster fire as it was for the first year after its inception.