Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hello Etsy Conference

I went to the Hello Etsy conference at the Pratt Institute here in Brooklyn this past weekend. I didn't blog about it beforehand because I did not know what to expect! The schedule, full of speakers who were economists, CEOs, business owners, environmentalists, activists, and sociologists, was somewhat intimidating and I was not sure how relevant it would be to me. But, as you know, I have an Etsy shop and I now live in Brooklyn, so how could I pass it up? I could not! And I am pleased to say that the weekend was incredibly stimulating and motivating. Definitely not a how-to-make-your-shop-better conference or even a networking conference. More of a come-and-find-out-what-a-big-important-thing-you-are-part-of conference.

As someone who has struggled many years with how to best make a living using my artistic skills, I joined Etsy because it was a new and exciting way to showcase those skills. I never gave much thought to the greater economic implications. So it was very interesting to learn that Etsy is a model of how businesses are going to HAVE to be structured in the Third Industrial Revolution, which we are now on the cusp of. Pretty serious! Hey, happy to be here! Feeling somewhat inadequate about my abilities to properly explain all this, I urge you to read this article by one of the key note speakers, Jeremy Rifkin. This man said some amazing things and many were more than a little scary!

The last hour of the conference, we had a choice of several "creativity classes" to sign up for. This did include one class titled "Etsy Shop Critique Workshop" and one on "How To Start An Etsy Shop", so there was that bit of a shop-talk possibility. There was also fabric dyeing, xerox transfer techniques, stretching and priming canvases, and puppet-making as more "hands-on" choices. I chose "Business In The Gift" lead by Charles Eisenstein, which was described as a chance to learn how to "explore ways of living in accordance to your ideals in a world seemingly ruled by money....". Finally my life-long struggle was going to be answered! I signed up for this before I heard Mr. Eisenstein speak on Sunday afternoon. I was even more excited to take the class after hearing him speak because so many things he said resonated with me. Specifically his description of today's suburbia with it's empty playgrounds and extensive parking lots serving huge, blocky, ugly, windowless "big box" stores like Walmart. I have been there and done that. This is why I so happily live in Brooklyn! He spoke about how separate we have become and, in contrast to all the other speakers, he vocalized uneasy feelings about the internet being our major connector. I have those same feelings even as I sit blogging away alone in my apartment!

On to the class. It ended up being a rather strange final wrap-up, at least for me. Mirroring the speakers, the class was made up of present and future economists, business owners, artists, Etsy shop owners, and environmentalists. So, of course, the all-too-short discussion was frantic and unfocused. I threw in my two cents questioning how, in the context of the enormous and global Etsy, a crafter can be paid for the time and materials involved in truly making a unique and special item. Because this is how I originally viewed Etsy, as a place to finally achieve that. My naive hope was that Etsy would serve as a sort of  "educator of values" to buyers who would become willing to pay the extra money for this value. Instead, in general, Etsy became a place for people to go to find items that are less expensive than in the stores (as in this article which came out one month after I joined Etsy). The group chewed on this for awhile and what we came up with, at least in my interpretation,  is that selling unique items at a fair price for the maker is not easily achievable on Etsy. A more face-to-face communication is required to have someone want to pay that extra money for something that is "unmeasurable", meaning of more emotional and personal value. We talked about the need to tell the story of hand-crafted items in order for people to attach that higher value to them. There is also the reality that, of course, people want to see it and feel it with their own eyes.  So my conclusion was that Etsy may be good place to show hand-crafted items but not necessarily the best place to sell them. An unsettling way to end an Etsy weekend!

Still, it was fun! I met some really nice people and it WAS great being in a big room of people with similar goals. I went there alone, so there was an awkward moment at lunch when I found myself living most everyone's worst nightmare: being a new kid in the school cafeteria. I looked out, holding my lunch box, at the sea of tables and faces. I moved through this sea, hoping to find an approachable group. A group that was interacting but not so involved in that interaction that a stranger could not break in. I am happy to report success! I met a nice group of talented women and we were quickly exchanging information and email addresses. Having such a good time, we decided to celebrate by going together to "The Photo Booth Party".

And here is the result of that!

That is me on the left (having a bad hair day), followed by Martina Skender, Erika Barratt, and Emily Richard. Hello Etsy!

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