Monday, May 4, 2009

Diversifying Craft: Where are we on Etsy?

As with most things exciting and new (friends, lovers, shoes, blogs), there is a honeymoon period wherein one is so overly smitten with the newness and the awesomeness of something, that they fail to critically examine the merits of the "thing" with which they are so enamored. Sometimes blogs aren't what you hope they are, people are often disappointing and shoes can be so incredibly beautiful but feel like you're walking on shards of glass when you wear them for more than a moment or two. These analogies are all bringing me to a discussion of something this case, Etsy.

For many weeks, I've been stewing over my thoughts and feelings on the subject of diversity at and on Etsy. I'm even in the process of writing a proposal to them for a piece on queer crafters with my queer and crafty cohort Bee Listy. Nevertheless, the general lack of diversity on Etsy is an important thing to discuss. We get caught up in the meta-discussions of diversity, or how lack of diversity in the craft/art community affects our bottom line, but we don't talk about how the culture of diversity is, in fact, lacking at Etsy. And when I say diversity, I mean inadequate and poor representation, both in numbers and Etsy-derived exposure, of people of color (POC), queer people (LGBTQ), disable people, fat people and other victims of the oppressive machine we call modern day patriarchy.

It would seem to me that the people responsible for subverting industrially-made consumerism, and the people committed to changing the face of capitalism, would also be committed to expressing the diversity that presently exists on their website AND ALSO charged with the intent to increase the degree to which Etsy is diverse. I found a website, QuantCast, who has produced what appears to be informal and roughly estimated statistics on Etsy's demographics (whether these statistics are accurate, I cannot say, but they *seem* right). Some of the most jarring statistics are also wildly unsurprising - Etsy visitors are 90% white, 29% make $60-100K annually, and 50% have attended some college, and given what we regularly find in Etsy's outreach modules...The Storque, the front page treasuries, and even in their special posts on Featured Sellers and Quit Your Day Job. What we see, more often than not, are the faces and products of white, heterosexual crafters and artists. Additionally, if we consider the roots of handmade crafts, from weaving to jewelry to dolls and clothing, they are often derived from ancient, traditional and intensely ritualistic cultural processes developed by people and communities of color. This opens an entire discussion on the horrors of appropriation in art and craft communities.

Maria Thomas, Etsy CEO, gave a talk this weekend at Hello Craft's Summit of Awesome and I listened to the majority of her talk via Etsy's Virtual Labs, as I was unable to attend. She highlighted the goal, if you will, of Etsy looking into the future...bringing customers to the existing and soon-to-be converted sellers. I argued in the chat platform of the Virtual Labs that it wasn't so much Etsy's responsibility to bring me sellers, so much as it was their responsibility to make their hosting site (for lack of a better description) more accessible to shoppers and vendors alike, leave the promotion in the hands of the sellers, which in turn would bring sellers more business. If the primary outreach regarding Etsy features and is promoted by white people, is Etsy truly focused on bringing a diverse customer base to the sellers currently on Etsy? Or are they just hoping to bring people with money in their pockets? I honor the reality that capitalism...the enduring quest to find a buck...fuels projects and concepts like Etsy. But at what costs?

When searches render few results for blog posts about heritage months and featured sellers generally fit a profile other than married, white and female, this paints Etsy as a one-trick pony. I don't want this for Etsy, and I imagine many other people (even those that are married, white and female) don't want this either. Because Etsy is so heavily influenced by its sellers and shoppers, I believe it is our responsibility to speak up. I plan on constructing a proposal for The Storque, about queer crafters as Pride season approaches. I also make a general encouraging and enthusiastic demand that Etsy internally examine this lack of diversity and charge themselves with repairing it. Additionally, I ask that POC, LGBTQ, disabled, fat and other crafters that have been and are marginalized within the big bad world and the craft/art world to stand up and share your experiences and your craft. Recently I have tried to find queer/LGBTQ crafters to very little avail; either we don't exist, we are afraid to speak up, or we can't find a connection between our craft and our identities (because, in the case of LGBTQ crafters, we don't all make rainbow-themed things). But the connections are limitless, as our craft is an expression of our self, and we deserve the opportunity to shine as brightly as everyone else.


  1. Interesting and thoughtful post, thanks.

  2. Great post. Very articulate rendering of a vaguely uncomfortable feeling I've had about Etsy that I couldn't find the words to describe.

  3. Wow! Thanks for this post. My girlfriend just pointed me towards this blog and I am glad that I took the time to read it. I have had some very similar concerns about Etsy. Great connection about white folks and crafts regarding appropriation.

    I'll keep reading!


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