other assorted goods: Gastank Guy’s robot faces found
a home on Etsy.
a Unique Marketplace
imagination, and interconnectedness help drive an underground
community of artists
are a funny breed. They spend their nights ripping apart piles
of ’80s T-shirts, reenvisioning the remnants as dresses and
scarves. They take glee in silk-screening images of Holly
Golightly onto baby bibs and gluing pop-art illustrations
of “famous Jews” onto the lids of little metal containers.
Any object, no matter how banal or practical, can become the
canvas or element-of-design to the vaguely bored, creative
masses. Restless tinkerers and daydreamers—it is good to have
them around. They help the rest of us stay honest in our disposable,
even better to have these crafty types online, at one tidy
Web site, where the vaguely bored, PayPal-enabled are able
to peruse the trinkets and unique fashions from the comfort
of their own couches.
Etsy.com is just such a site, a perennial favorite for in-the-know
The Etsy experience is simple and recognizable to anyone who
has ever ventured near a keyboard and mouse. Users must register
to shop or sell their wares. After registering, shopping is
a breeze: search, like, click.
Setting up a store is almost as easy: Come up with a memorable
name, upload a photo and a clever description of yourself,
and that’s it. You are set. You can market as many items as
you want, with multiple images and a description for each
item. The Etsy tools keep track of every item you’ve listed,
your customers’ comments and ratings, and provide a nifty
shopping cart. For this service, the Etsy crew take a 3.5-percent
cut from your sales, plus a 20-cent service fee for every
item—comparable to what credit-card companies demand for their
service at regular brick-and-mortar retailers.
The dominating rule at Etsy is that everything must be homemade.
Homemade from raw material, modified from vintage goods, or
drab sundries spruced up beyond ubiquity.
A cheap, white ceramic plate? Blah. An old-fashioned restaurant
plate touched up by Foldedpigs with the image of a human brain
and the romantic claim “I love you more than zombies love
brains” printed underneath? Delicious. That rubber trash can
in the corner of your kitchen? Yawn. The same trash can with
a slinky ’50s pin-up girl peering up from the lid? High-class.
A brown corduroy jacket goes from “boring professor” to “dashing
hipster” when the print of an giraffe lumbers onto its back.
Babies go from “defenseless droolers” to “kick-ass bawlers”
when a print of Bruce Lee is slapped on their onesies.
You get the idea.
But not everything at Etsy is kitchen wares and clothing.
For as many practical items there are at the Web site, there
are completely ridiculous bits and pieces, too.
No one needs an assortment of old motorcycle gas tanks painted
and modified to look like the heads of salty robots. But Gastank
Guy will be happy to sell you a couple. No one needs a functioning
iPod encasement fashioned out of an old Game Boy, or the vile
Dr. Wangenstein, a 3-inch-tall “Mad Scientist Extraordinaire
Needle Felted Sculpture” with towering yellow tufts of hair
dashing up from the sides of his bright-pink face. But Dr.
Wangenstein needs you to want him, and at Etsy dozens of people
from around the world have already peeped him in the day or
so that he has been up for sale. And that iPod carrier sold
after 200 people got to gawk at its inventiveness.
Since the first item sold on Etsy (a computer homemade by
the company’s cofounder, Rob Kalin) in 2005, the site has
built around itself a spend-happy, loyal following of eccentrics.
This year, the registered users at Etsy topped 200,000, with
a quarter of those users, 42,000, maintaining their own stores.
A staff of 18 fulltime coders, designers, and business types,
keep the site running.
The company’s founders said that they started Etsy to “fix
world commerce.” Kalin sums up his two-year-old site’s appeal:
“It’s so darn pretty and subversive.”
Pretty, yes, of course. The site’s design is spare and attractive,
and highly navigable, leaving as center pieces “monkey muffin
plushies” and demonic squid pillows. Etsy is pretty because
most of what the sellers are pushing is pretty darn cute.
But subversive, too, because what Etsy has done is given a
group of like-minded dreamers the opportunity to come together
and buck mainstream corporate trends with their own reenvisioned
marketplace. At its core, Etsy is a subversive action because
subverting the status quo means dreaming up what you want,
and then finding the means to create it. For yourself.