The essential Etsy

Etsy, the global online marketplace for vintage and handmade items, has its UK headquarters in Summers Street.

Image: Rose cut grey diamond ring with white and yellow gold by Tamara Gomez.

What is Etsy exactly?
The laid-back alternative to eBay’s online emporium, but with a craft-oriented rather than cravenly commercial twist. Goods for sale vary from gold leather earbud organisers to a felted wool hamster dressed as Hamlet.

How did Etsy get started?
As a tech project for three US college grads who wanted to see if they could devise an online peer-to-peer craft selling-and-buying forum (in the US crafting is a huge and respected cultural movement; viz Martha Stewart). Etsy launched in 2005 with an ethos that all the goods on sale should be handmade, and instantly struck a chord. Its handmade vibe extends to its name: even Etsy staffers are coy about why it’s called that.

 What are the key trends on Etsy?
Burlap (hessian to us Brits), concrete and metal, so a modern mix of the raw, the industrial and the faintly nostalgic.

Pg 20 Main ABC copy

Image: Alphabet coasters by letterpress printers SORT (Society Revisionist Typographers)

Why did Etsy UK base itself in EC1?
Because, “Clerkenwell is really central and creative,” says Etsy UK spokeswoman Jenny Gresham, referring to EC1’s long-time craft connections. “Being the heart of designer makers it made perfect sense. It felt we could really be part of a community.” Community is the keyword here (though not in an SEO sense). It regularly hosts seller/buyer workshops and ‘craft parties’ in its office and around the country, and its forum trills to the sound of mutual support. No trolls here (except the hand-stitched, felted kind, natch).

What are Etsy’s Clerkenwell offices like?
Not dissimilar to Google’s eclectic London HQ with vintage furniture and accessories, but with added Etsy values: handmade toys; hand-painted logs; reclaimed barn doors;and a crocheted zebra-head on the meeting room wall. The industrial overhead lights were salvaged; the noise-absorbing wool ‘clouds’ on the ceiling came from natural acoustics experts Woolly Shepherd; and the reclaimed-wood desks were made by Etsy seller WickedBoxcar. It doesn’t have Google’s gloss but does have a Brooklyn meets homespun-hipster air. A weekly lunch (‘Eatsy’) takes place at a huge farmhouse table and features lots of cake and vintage crockery. Despite all this fun, work somehow gets done.

Pg 20 Main Blobs

Image: Sea urchin containers by ceramicist Ikuko Iwamoto.

‘Clerkenwell is really creative, it felt we could be part of a community’

Does Etsy have any EC1-based designers?
Several, including letterpress printers SORT (Society of Revisionist Typographers); ceramicist Janet Stahelin and porcelain designer Ikuko Iwamoto, who work out of Craft Central; Cockpit Arts jewellery designer Tamara Gomez, who specialises in rough diamonds and gemstones; and jewellery-maker Day C London Jewellery. SORT’s Theo Wang says it’s an enjoyable website to sell on, citing the “level of interaction with customers”, ease of use, well presented design, and Etsy’s genuine support of crafts. Search for all the EC1 designers mentioned here on Etsy’s homepage.

Hasn’t there been some kind of Etsy controversy lately?
Etsy has compromised on its initial criterion that all items be handmade by the seller: fine for those selling three items a week, but when orders reach 200 a day for a hand-stitched bag? It also went public in April. Some users think Etsy has betrayed its artisanal origins. Maybe. Back in the day, craft makers had limited options to sell their work: these days they can sell to the world (factoid: Laura Ashley herself started out selling hand printed tea towels). And Etsy is still the best place to buy exquisite hand-knotted Berber rugs or hand-woven Ecuadorean blankets short of going on holiday.

Pg 20 Main Cups

Image: Dotted tallmugs by Ikuko Iwamoto.

What’s in the pipeline at Etsy UK?
A selling exhibition, Four Corners of Craft, at The Old Truman Brewery, as part of London Design Festival from 24-27 September. Possibly a pop-up shop for Christmas. Keep an eye on Etsy’s blog ( for details. Unlike rival buyer/seller forums, there’s little emphasis on sales figures but much on design trends, culture, socialising, learning and just having fun. Etsy customers do live the crafting life.