When a buyer comes to Etsy there is no doubt they intend to find a unique, one of a kind, handmade item, & are willing to pay a bit more for the originality Etsy & it's shops offer.
Let me preface this post by saying: My goal is not to throw anyone under the bus, which is why I've been kind enough to black out shop names, unlike many other bloggers, because I understand having children to support. However, as I laid awake last night until 2 a.m. scrolling in astonishment & slight disgust, I realized it was my duty to write about this because I think it is a horrible, unethical thing to do on a selling platform that was designed to appreciate genuine, handmade products & the fact that it is shop's like these that put under the little shop's. I know there are loyal, die hard handmade customers out there that would appreciate knowing whether or not they are getting an authentic, handmade item.
So. When I started out on Etsy I was completely stoked about the handmade revolution. I was thrilled to be part of a community that all supported each other with the idea that a Mom or Dad could earn a living from their home and take care of their children at the same time. As many other honest small, handmade, home based businesses go, my wheels started turning. I went from designing my own t-shirts and baby bodysuits to wanting to expand my brand. I decided that I wanted to offer accessories for boys, girls, women, and men. I began working with headbands for little girls and bow ties for little boys. My Etsy shop was going so well I barely had time to produce a new headband per day. I was purchasing fabric and making rolled fabric flowers by hand and completely assembling each one from pure scratch. I remember thinking to myself , "How can anyone make any money with the time alone it takes to manufacture these headbands? Not to mention, the cost of the materials."
This isn't the first time that question has stumbled it's way across my plate. Many beginner sellers have asked me how they can make money sewing, making jewelry, etc. because so many Etsy shops offer such low prices that it isn't worth their time to produce. One day I was randomly searching and came across some shabby chic wholesale flowers on Etsy. Of course I wondered what it was and clicked on it. Low and behold, after searching for some little girls headbands , I had found how everyone was doing it for so cheap. No harm there. Everyone that manufactures a product has to purchase supplies and clearly these were supplies. I design my baby bodysuits & t shirts, but the bodysuits & t shirts are a supply for my company. Just like people making baby blankets aren't making their own fabric. Their fabric is a purchased supply. I was grateful to find an easier way to improve my business & expand to better support my family. My headbands were my own unique creations & I could purchase the supplies I needed to assemble them from several American wholesaler's, still building my business upon being designed & made in the USA.
However recently I stumbled upon something so much greater. In my crusade to support handmade in the USA, since it became completely obvious to me I wasn't going to have the time to make them myself, I decided that I wanted to start purchasing wholesale from American made manufacturers for my website (NOT MY ETSY SHOP- MY ACTUAL WEBSITE. ALL CONTENT IN MY ETSY SHOP IS DESIGNED & MADE BY ME FROM START TO FINISH. I DO NOT HAVE ANY CURRENT EMPLOYEES TO EVEN HELP ME BAG MY ORDERS). I typed into my search bar "wholesale head wraps made in the USA". As you can imagine American manufacturers were scarce. If you continue reading you'll see why. Several China wholesale websites came up and suddenly several photos that I have seen from several shops on Etsy all popped up as well.
This is no secret, it has been a hot debate several times in the handmade community. Some Etsy sellers have argued that China stole from them and I found it ironic that they would claim that after doing this very simple math equation. Take your cost of fabric & thread. No biggie, right? Wrong. Factor this: after cutting your fabric, pinning your fabric, sewing your fabric, turning your fabric right side out, possibly top stitching, sewing and assembling your bow, & attaching your bow to your head wrap, even for the experienced seamstress this cannot take any less than a half an hour, but actually took me approximately 50 minutes. If you have an employee making them for you- it still doesn't make sense. You have a headband at $4.95 & you pay your employee, say, $10/hr. Even if you can manufacture 2 head wraps in 1 hour - that only pays your employee & doesn't even begin to touch the cost of supplies. If you could make 3 in an hour it would cover only your supplies & your employee. So where is the profit?
Does anyone want to tell me how selling one of these head wraps for $4.95 - $10 you can possibly make any money at all? One of their Instagram pages has photo's of 'their' bows on sale for $3.95 and oh! There are only 50 pieces left! Sounds handmade to me!..... NOT! They even have a photo of the blonde girl above saying, 'We have the cutest customers!! Please continue to tag us!!' $3.95! Yes, you read that right! Etsy's policies are very clear. A quote from Etsy policies states: "Handmade items are designed and created by the shops that sell them. Because transparency is paramount on Etsy, we asked sellers to publicly list all members of their shops and, if pre approved, any manufactures involved in creating their items. Reselling an item the seller was not involved in creating is not allowed in our handmade category." I would love for Etsy to require them to sit down in front of an Etsy rep with a sewing machine and crank out some of these headbands!
IN ALL FAIRNESS, several of these Etsy shop owners claim that they were stolen from, not the other way around. It is obvious the natural rebuttal from a seller would be to argue that THEY were stolen from, however the evidence sells them out. Many of these sellers have shot themselves in the foot with their pricing. There is no way to sustain being a legitimate, handmade business in the USA with prices like that.
That doesn't even begin to crack the surface considering some sellers are all using the exact same pictures as other sellers that are the exact same pictures from the China wholesale website! So are these sellers trying to convince us that they all had the same idea and they all use the same model and then China stole from all of them and put their items on their wholesale website? It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out how not likely that is.
I've heavily scoped this China website. I have scoured articles all day about Etsy sellers claiming they've been had by Alibaba. It sure doesn't add up, though! From everything I've read & concluded, if that were the case, just like Etsy, Alibaba will remove items that infringe on the intellectual properties of another, but they haven't removed any of these photo's. I'm going to take a guess that the photo's may very well have been those of the shop owners, but the Alibaba manufacturers started using them because they make the items & felt they had the right to. Otherwise, a simple complaint from the Etsy sellers with proof it was their photo- 48 hours Alibaba would remove the photo's. Not only that, but let me reiterate- PRICING. The pricing for the U.S. sellers just flat out DOES NOT MAKE SENSE! It does not add up. One of the shops that claimed Alibaba took their pictures was quoted in an Etsy team here in 2013:
No offense, but judging by the broken English in the shops original statement, it seems like damage control to me. It seems like it was planted there because they felt they were on the verge of being found out. Does it not? Notice how someone mentions that "Ali sites are pretty good at removing them"? Funny how 2 years later & they still aren't removed. Someone must not have been able to furnish proof!
Then there was this blog post blasting Three Bird Nest. We've all heard of Three Bird Nest by now, I'm sure. You can find the full blog post from Indie Untangled here: http://indieuntangled.com/make-1m-year-selling-knitting-successful-etsy-importer/ , but what I found MOST interesting was what was in the comments at the bottom. You can read for yourself, but I've blacked out the names on my end. I found it crazy that in these blog comments contained EVERY company that I have researched for this blog AND THEN SOME. With legitimate handmade sellers BEGGING for someone to expose them. Now, I just came across this article tonight & most of this post of mine was written this morning so I'm editing to add the comments as I thought they were highly relevant to what I'm trying to convey:
I'm not going to lie- I want one! I love them. I think they're adorable. I've even purchased from Three Bird Nest & some of these other shops before I knew what was going on. I wanted to purchase from the community that provided for my family. I wanted to give back. Now that I have seen what I've seen- I won't purchase one. I'll take the time to make a few for myself. I would've paid an extra $10 for a headband for it to be authentically handmade and know I was putting money in the pocket of a work at home Mom. I would've paid an extra $10 to know it was going towards the attention to detail that a handmade item requires & that a seller/maker takes pride in making.
Wait! I'm not finished. Let's move along to crochet! Anyone that crochet's know it takes a lot of time. Everyone knows that, right? Right. When my newest Son was about to be born I was searching for something turtle related as an inside joke with my oldest Son because he LOVES turtles. I found the cutest little item! A crocheted or knitted turtle 'cape'. It lays over baby's back and has a hat attached to serve as the turtle head. I found this bad boy for a STEAL! I noticed the shop was only charging $15.99 for it & I just couldn't believe it so I messaged them (I was naïve back then) to ask if it was really handmade. I cannot believe I expected an honest answer, but I sort of did. Of course she said hers was handmade. I noticed another one was $40 which seemed far more realistic to me. I don't know a whole lot about knit & crochet, but I do know that this turtle shell looks like it'd take a very decent amount of time & no way could it be handmade by a shop in the USA for $16. Fast forward to months later (which is now) after searching for these headbands, I remembered this incident of the turtle shell. Just for grins I typed it into Google & sure enough, there it was. On the same China wholesale website. Do the shop owner's that sell these for so cheap really want to claim that China is stealing their idea or their photo? How could a shop owner even think that would be believable by Etsy, consumers, or other shop owners? Even if China truly did rip off their design- that still does not answer how they are able to sell them for so cheap. What kills me is they use the EXACT same pictures.
If you're a veteran Etsian, you've probably already seen these photo's before on Etsy anyway. These should be eBay items & if you are purchasing China wholesale, you should open up an eBay store. Etsy was intended for legitimate, handmade artist's. If you are one of these shop's and would like me to post credit to you, let me know & I will. If you want to come forward for me to share your story, I'm open to that too.
Also, I am not against wholesaling. I am against fraud and pretending to be handmade if you are not. I am against blatantly disregarding policies for the almighty dollar, especially when there are other selling platforms that would better fit what you are trying to accomplish. I am against trampling on others to get to the "top".
These items certainly do beg the answer to who copied who. In the end, I'm sure it doesn't truly matter because, most likely, these shop's will never be held accountable to questioning or subject to termination for violating policies. If these items were truly handmade, though, I don't think they'd be listed on a wholesale China website. Most of us handmade artisian's that are interested in wholesaling our items cannot afford to do so at China prices.
Tell me your thoughts! Is it o.k.? Should it be o.k.? Should Etsy convert to being the next eBay? Is the problem too big to contain?
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