This week, through April 18th, I decided to put my Etsy shop in vacation mode (i.e. close it up) in solidarity with the Etsy Strike. My main shop here, of course, remains open and active.
My Etsy Story
I started Yardia as an Etsy shop in 2008, and have been using the platform ever since, even while growing my own retail website and my wholesale business at the same time.
The revenue I earned from Etsy was one of the reasons I was able to quit my day job and pursue Yardia full time in 2019, and in 2021 it still made up about 17% of my income--a small but significant enough amount that helps me to pay for things like food and health insurance.
So while I'm still unable to leave Etsy entirely without a noticeable hit to my ability to pay for basic necessities (though I'm slowly getting closer to be able to do so), I am in a privileged enough position to be able to close my Etsy shop for one week in solidarity with the the Etsy Strike.
What is the Etsy Strike?
Here are the demands, from etsystrike.org:
- Cancel the fee increase.
- Crack down on resellers with a comprehensive plan that is transparent, so sellers can hold Etsy accountable.
- Give ‘Golden’ support tickets to sellers affected by extreme AI actions (account termination, 45/90 day holds, etc.)
- End the Star Seller Program.
- Give all sellers the ability to opt out of offsite ads.
For a journalistic explanation of the strike, you can read this article from NPR, and for a maker's perspective, Janine Kwoh of Kwohtations wrote up a fantastic explanation of the demands on her blog.
But I do want to share some of my personal reasons of why I decided to participate.
Although the Etsy platform has been a big part of why I'm able to do what I do, over the past few years I've become increasingly troubled by how many of their business decisions were straying further and further away from Yardia's core values: Nature, Creativity, Empathy, Belonging and Harmony.
Empathy & Belonging
Since going public in 2015 and letting their B Corporation status expire, Etsy has, in my opinion, appeared to focus more on short-term profit generation and meeting demands of shareholders than the mission and values of the company that originally drew me into the community of makers and artists back in 2008.
Today, I see a company that on the one hand, for those of us with more established customer bases and brands, serves as an algorhythmic platform to successfully add onto our sales, and on the other hand, sells to newer or more inexperienced makers the dream of a quick and easy way to quit their day jobs and follow their passion, when the reality is that up to 65% of Etsy sellers earn less than $100 a year from their shops.
Business is personal, as Trudi LeBron says. It's important to me that Yardia as a business stands up for what I believe in, and earn me a living. I may not yet be able to financially leave the Etsy system entirely yet, but I can use my privilege to stand in solidarity with those of us artists and makers who can't, for whatever reason, participate in the strike this week.
Part of the creative process that I hold a strong value to is ensuring that what I put out into the world is my own creation. When I'm designing a new product, I'm careful to search through the works of my friends, artists I admire, and a simple keyword search on Etsy to make sure that I'm not subconsciously copying or otherwise infringing on another artist's intellectual property.
Unfortunately, these days on Etsy I find resellers on the platform who have copied my listing text and titles directly and are selling knock-off versions of my own products using what looks to be clip art for the product mockups.
The process for taking these intellectual property violations off the platform is currently neither easy or intuitive. If I am a buyer going to Etsy to search for a maker-created product, I want to make sure that what I am purchasing is indeed the artist's own work and not a copy or knockoff design, but at this point in time that isn't always a possibility.
The Star Seller program was introduced in 2020 to feature "the best in customer experience" on Etsy, but includes requirements for sellers to respond to messages within 24 hours, including on weekends. Etsy calls this program "aspirational", but it seems to aspire to an always-on hustle culture that contrasts a more human and less exploitative way of life.
I believe that it is a human right to have a balance of rest and work and I choose for Yardia to grow at a slower paced yet more sustainable and longer-term oriented artisan work-and-lifestyle. Our lives, health and, really, the creative process rely on our ability to rest and to take time off.
While I might now be in a position to be able to reject the premise of the Star Seller program for my own business without too much impact, I stand in solidarity with those artists who cannot.
A Note on Fees and Offsite Ads
Much of the coverage about the Etsy Strike has focused on the recent fee increase, and on the offsite ads program that is mandatory for sellers like me who have had some success on Etsy and have surpassed a revenue threshold.
What this means that Etsy can use my products in ads across the internet and social media, and charge me a 12% fee if a buyer clicks through the ad and purchases from my shop within 30 days. I don't have the ability to opt out of this. It also includes advertising via certain social media and tech companies that I otherwise intentionally choose to avoid giving my money to (i.e. I choose to not set up social media shops or run ads on these platforms) because of how these companies' practices and public statements have highly misaligned to Yardia's values.
This is in addition to the regular seller fees, which jumped by around a 30% increase this week, even after Etsy experienced a couple of record setting profit years during the pandemic.
So Why Am I Striking?
Overall, the main reason why I decided to participate in the Etsy Strike is because I went inward to check in with my gut and values. Yardia is a work in progress, and selling products online is a nuanced and complex system.
I'm not quite idealistic enough to believe that this strike will make an immediate difference, or any change at all, but I asked myself, what's the worst that could happen? I considered that the worst case scenario of participating is getting kicked off of Etsy and thus taking a 17% pay cut, which I'm sure I could figure out how to manage if that highly unlikely situation were to occur.
But by not participating, I would be making a business choice that goes against all of Yardia's values, and against what I believe in. So I chose to act and stand up for what I felt was right.
How You Can Show Support
As a buyer, here are a few ways you can show your support to makers like me this week:
- Shop Direct: if there's an artist you usually shop from on Etsy, see if they have their own website and choose to shop there instead.
- Avoid shopping on Etsy now through April 18th, during the length of the strike.
- Participate in the strike: You can learn more and sign the Etsy Strike petition here.
- Shop Local: If a maker also sells wholesale, introduce their social media posts, art or products to your favorite shops, to help introduce more wholesale accounts to their line. Or find out what independent shops near you their work is carried in and shop in person locally!
- Like, comment and share posts by your favorite artists on social media. This is one of the primary ways artists like me market our products, so your thoughtful comments and shares can really make a difference in helping us to get our work in front of new eyes.