Why I Don't Like Hearing "You Should Start an Etsy Shop"

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Every so often, I end up in a frustrating mental merry-go-round ride over a single sentence. It will start when I hear the third or fourth person express the same sentiment. I start seeing the sentence as a societal script that comes out almost like a verbal tic. I dissect it and analyze it in my head at length. I start parsing the literal words from the intended meaning. “Overthinking” is an understatement; I’m aware that the level I read into these statements would seem crazy to most people, but I can't help it.

All that to introduce the particular sentence that has been driving me up the walls: “You should start an Etsy shop!”

I know, I know. Of all the statements that have potential to offend and disgust, I picked the well-intentioned compliment people pay to those who make things. Even tumblr activists would have to huddle for a few minutes to find the ills of this comment. And yet, it makes my jaw clench as I force a smile and silently calculate if it's worth my breath to explain why I'm not going to do that.

This cues my disclaimers. I'm aware that this sentence is meant as a compliment. I'm aware that people who say it may not be aware of the maker’s specific industry or craft. I'm aware there is no intended malice in these words. I'm aware that the underlying message being conveyed is, “I think your creation is lovely and has value that others will easily recognize.” I get it. My goal is not to take a steaming dump on this verbal token of appreciation. I simply want to explain why I, and I alone, twitch when I hear or read this sentence.

For the record, I have had an Etsy shop since July 2011, but it's been effectively closed since January 2013. I stopped generating inventory because working as a one-woman sweatshop, cranking out the same products repeatedly, didn't feel creative for me.

For starters, this statement makes simplistic assumptions about the maker and their industry, the first being that the primary goal of the maker should be to profit financially. Guess what? Not everyone who makes things wants it to be their job! A lot of creatives pursue their craft as a hobby, purely for their own enjoyment. Additionally, some makers can't bear to part with their creations. When you labor so long on an object, it can be impossible to consider selling it. When I painstakingly make a quilt for myself with my favorite fabrics, it can be irksome for people to tell me I should sell it instead. Am I not a worthy owner of my own creation?

But what about professional makers? What's wrong with telling them to open an Etsy shop if their goal is to earn a living? The short answer: it's condescending. Paying the “Etsy compliment” to makers with professional aspirations has only two possible implications.

The first possible implication is that you're stating the obvious. The compliment assumes that business plan is to make a thing, sell that thing, rinse, and repeat. If that is the case, it seems pretty patronizing to tell the maker to do the obvious. People don't tell doctors, "You should practice medicine!" If you're in a STEM field, I'd wager there aren't a ton of people outside of your industry trying to give you career advice. But if you are a student of the humanities, the visual, or performing arts, you're obviously a dumb-dumb who needs someone with no working knowledge of your field to tell you how to earn a living. While creativity is easily praised, it's also easily dismissed as something innate to the maker. Yes, some people have natural talent, but that doesn't mean we makers pull this stuff out of our asses. We study, we practice, we research, we work hard, and we work many hours to get to the point when we can make badass things. Our creations don't happen by accident. Simply stated, we are not dummies. Realistically, I know that people who pay this compliment are not trying to call me stupid, but that's how it can feel when you hear it over and over.

The second possible implication of the Etsy compliment is that you're making incorrect assumptions about how the maker plans to monetize their creativity. Selling handmade items is not the only way for makers to generate revenue. There are tons of makers who earn a living through their work as designers, authors, educators, and bloggers, not as purveyors of handmade quilts or knitted scarves. It would be like telling a Julia Child to get a job as cook, when she's dreaming of writing cookbooks and hosting televised cooking shows that would teach consumers how cook for themselves. I'm no Julia Child, but when people keep telling me to start selling on Etsy, I wonder, "Is that all you think I'm capable of?"

So with all the ranting aired out, what would I prefer people to say instead? This is actually something I'm working on improving on a personal level: stop making assumptions and try asking questions. There are tons of things you ask that can spark meaningful conversations: Is this something you do for fun or would you like to pursue this as a profession? What would your ideal creative business look like? What is your favorite aspect of what you do? Who are your entrepreneurial inspirations?

So what do you guys think? Do you hear/read the Etsy compliment often? Does it bother you?


  1. Interesting discussion! I really like the questions you suggested!

  2. Well this gave me a good chuckle. A few years ago (when my etsy shop was open) this dummy says to me: OMG I just heard of this website called etsy, you should totally open a little shop. Umm yeah I have one and it's been open for a while now. Thanks for "letting me know." Aggravating and now everyone is like, "when are you opening up again." Yeah you never bought anything so what do you care? People blow.

  3. I feel you on the etsy compliment thing but I'm irked by it for other reasons.

    The biggest irk is, folks have no clue how freaking labor intensive etsy really is. They think you just take a pic, put it on etsy and poof, money comes to you. To make a decent income on etsy you gotta work at far more than just making the product to sell (and I won't get into the negatives of etsy as a venue, with it being an over saturated market place where folks under value their stuff just to get sales, etc)

    1. These are also my biggest gripes. An Etsy shop takes an extraordinary amount of time and effort to get the thing right. That issue, and it being wildly oversaturated are major turn-offs for me. I can't see the point of all that time/effort to sell the occasional item.

      I have a stall at a weekend market once a month and think it's far better for me to compact my time into 7 hours once a month than little windows multiple times a day. You also can't afford to be away from your online presence for terribly long lest customers get bored and go elsewhere. It may work for many, but I think most people's perception of Etsy is a very simple one that just doesn't match the reality.

  4. I get what you're saying, I do, as I've heard the same thing many times. I've also had, 'Wow, that's amazing. You could sell that for {insert insultingly low dollar value here}!' But it's not their fault they don't get it. People ask inane questions and say ill-informed things about other people's obsessions, no matter the subject. People don't get quilting but then I don't get my husband's record collection or people who play golf or ride bikes obsessively or people who can only talk about their jobs or TV shows. I'm sure I make ignorant comments or ask stupid questions about other people's interests, or I don't even notice when they mention their interest in the first place.

    I find there are a few people who show an interest in my sewing and make the odd etsy comment because they think what I'm making is good and has value, and then there are people who don't even notice there's a sewing machine in the middle of my house or if they do notice, they certainly aren't going to ask about it in case it gets them into a conversation they don't want to have.

    When people suggest I open an etsy store I just tell them there's no money in selling quilts, only in selling to quilters and I'm not interested in doing that. Since they're only being polite in the first place that usually wraps up the conversation and we can move on to something else we're both interested in discussing.

  5. I get the comment and I usually don't have the energy to explain my reasons why not. They are never interested in buying, just telling me to sell which is kind of weird. Can't I create and give for my own enjoyment?

  6. Try to extend the tolerance & respect you wish you were getting.
    Many people do not know people who make things. Hard to imagine, when nearly everyone I know makes things, but for some, the closest they get to makers is the virtual community on Etsy & then they don't know them, they just know of them. And since they don't personally know any makers, they have no idea what to say to someone who does. Perhaps their, to you, inappropriate comment is the only way they they can express interest in what you do. Ignoring what you do would be the real insult.

  7. I have been asked that and it doesn't bother me as much as the ENDLESS requests....and even begging by friends and family to make things for them...or their kids. Constant..Like making a quilt is something I can just easily do. Its even better when they offer to "pay me for my time"...Clueless. People that don't make things have NO IDEA what goes on in the minds of people that DO make things!! And..when they want to pick the fabric....Ugh. I was just asked yesterday ( actually begged) to make a queen sized Curious George comforter. Really. I would rather stick pins in my eyeballs!!!! Thank you for an interesting and thought provoking blog post! I am a HUGE fan of your work, and find you endlessly inspiring!!!

  8. I've had most of this conversation with people i know repeatedly (it's also the reason i stopped doing craft fairs -- to many near arguments with strangers)-- I also have an etsy shop but there isn't anything in it currently because of the limited purchases for larger items and the whole point of handmade is to be individualized and special. Many times I would get people in the online shop asking for a different version or size of the items I had on hand. I also found that it takes away from the joy of creating and the time that i have to create because I'm not lucky enough to be a full time crafter.

  9. I don't get the you should sell these on etsy compliment, but I do get the "you should sell these" compliment. YES, it is annoying. People get pushy even after you explain yourself why you don't(as if i should have to explain myself). Likewise, if I post a project on Facebook, I get IM's of people asking me how much I charge to make x,y, and z. If I had a dime for every t-shirt quilt I was asked to make...My good friend kept urging me to sell things when I would show her. I make bags wallets and quilts mostly. She wanted me to make her a bag. I said OK, lets go to the fabric store and you pick the fabric, buy it and I will make it. after her purchase of 1 yard exterior fabric, 1 yard, interior fabric, 2 yards of stabilizer, a zipper, and hardware, I think she spent about $50. And the project was labor free since she is my BFF.We get to her house and she said," OK, now i get why you don't sell your things." Only us makers understand we don't want to work for slave wages. I even made a FB rant post of why I don't sell things. Occasionally i will sell wallets when I get on a wallet making kick. they are a quick fun project and with all the lovely fabrics out there, I can't wait to see each finished project. Also, I can get more bang for my buck with them.BUT, then people start trying to put in custom orders and I'm like....BACK UP ASSHOLES, I HAVE TOTAL CREATIVE CONTROL HERE;) I mean really?? Do they tell Tommy Hilfiger to make it like this instead of that????

  10. Just found your blog through the stash builder's site. I like what you have to say! Whenever people say, "you should sell that on Etsy!" I say, "would you pay $1,000 for this quilt? Or $250 for that small purse? Because that's what I'd have to sell them for." It ends the conversation quickly. And they leave the conversation with a little understanding. I also used to post at the end of every blog entry where I made something, the cost of materials and amount of time it took me to make something. It really is an eye opener how much handmade costs!

  11. I thought I was the only one who feels strangely insulted when someone else tells me to start a shop or a business selling dresses. These are the same people who are thrilled to buy a $10 dress at some fast fashion store. It's as if they think they are doing me a favour by asking me to make them a dress!

    I'm still thinking of a good response for these. So far, the most non-offensive one I use is "my skills aren't good enough" though someone has then asked me to go take professional classes to brush up my "skills". Really?

  12. I love that I came across this, I feel this way too. My standard response is "I don't want to turn my hobby jobish." I pretty much quit posting my creations on Facebook because I got so tired of the "make me one like this....." or "I would love to have this." I'm glad you put my thoughts and feelings into words.