Craft-focussed e-commerce site Etsy launched in 2005 as a place for makers of handmade items to find a global audience for their creations. And it has worked. As of August 2018, the site boasted almost two million sellers and just shy of 36 million active buyers, with shops and shoppers hailing from almost every country in the world. Etsy is a marketplace where vintage women’s dresses rub shoulders with terrariums, oil paintings, scavenged sea glass and wedding calligraphy without anyone batting an eyelid covered in organic eyeshadow.
Filter by location and Bristolian makers can offer you copper drop earrings, customisable nightlights, a Wes Anderson-themed colouring book, antique maps, vintage buttons, leather bike saddles and all manner of goods printed with hot air balloons and/or views of the Clifton Suspension Bridge.
This is a disparate community of makers working their side-hustle around jobs and children, or doing full-time hours in the studio to support themselves solely through art. Bringing them all together is Bristol Etsy Team, a regional group supported by Etsy that forms part of a national network of makers. Set up in 2013, Bristol’s team has 1,200 creative people on the books. Members can tap into an active Facebook group, free monthly meetups to discuss all angles of running an Etsy shop, plus annual selling events – all run voluntarily by five women.
“The monthly meetups are open, they’re free and they’re really casual,” says Jodie Curley, who has been co-captain of Bristol Etsy Team for the past two years along with Ellie Longhurst of Little Paisley Designs. Jodie creates nature-inspired illustrations paired with uplifting quotes and sells cards and prints as Sunshine for Breakfast. “There’s a complete mix of people that have had their businesses established for a few years and have tens of thousands of sales on Etsy, and people who have only just set up their Etsy shop and worry that they won’t have anything to contribute. We encourage anyone to come along.”
The latest meetup takes place on a gloriously spring-like Sunday morning. A long table has been set up at Friska on Park Street, occupied by a couple of cups of coffee and a pile of pastel-coloured yarn. The three team leaders of Bristol Etsy Group are taking advantage of the quiet to get some work done.
Wearing a dusky pink embellished jumper made by fellow local maker Dakota Rae Dust, crochet artist Emma Bassey of Stitching Me Softly works on a three-colour pattern developed for a magazine feature. Next to her, contemporary cross stitch kit maker Kate Blandford examines her hands after weeks of work on a new project. “Feel my callous,” she says, holding out her thumb to Emma. Opposite them, Sophie Moloney of Moloney Makes rapidly lays down rows of her signature chunky graphite grey wool to make a snood, knitting needles clacking as she chats. All have been part of the team for the past two years.
As it approaches 11am, the table begins to fill with makers wearing fantastic statement acrylic jewellery, hand-dyed scarves and clothes they have made themselves. Sophie pulls out a wad of worksheets about improving an Etsy shop and hands them out, the sheets all carefully gathered into piles with rose gold paperclips. Numbers swell to around 30 – last month it was more like 50 and you couldn’t move – and the table tops fill up with personalised stationery retrieved from tote bags made on a kitchen table just up the road.
Given the penchant for handmade, vintage and one-of-a-kind adornments that fill independent shops and market stalls around the city, you might not notice an Etsy maker if you were to walk past them. But collected in this close environment they have a very deliberate, put-together look. It’s a look of someone who will never face the horror of spotting another person wearing the same outfit and think: one of us is going to have to change. But if that did happen, they could stop them with a smile and say: “I made that.”
“Sometimes I can’t even find my own things on Etsy,” admits Jodie Marks, squished onto a bench seat in the corner with a cup of tea as the session gets underway. After working for a decade in the creative industries, she has just taken the plunge to work on her own art full time and today is her first session with Bristol Etsy Team.
“I was talking to someone earlier who said I need to treat my Etsy shop like an actual shop: you can’t put your stuff in there and then walk away for six months,” she says. “You have to redo the window displays; you have to make sure you’re giving the right messages.” Right now, Jodie says her shop is popular with “men with beards”, buying her clean illustrations of forest scenes and cosy log cabins photographed against fresh snowfall.
It’s insider tips for improving a basic Etsy shop – the best tags to add, how to write a persuasive description, how to take photos from flattering angles – that Jodie and many of the others who are just starting to sell their work have come here looking for. “It’s good to be able to go on that journey with people with similar experiences,” she says. “You don’t know what you don’t know so you have to be open to learning from others.”
A cafe thrumming with chatter is a far cry from a tiny desk squeezed into a corner at home, designed for working alone, and around the room connections are being forged. Phones swap across the table for contact details and Instagram accounts; tips are dropped about Hootsuite and crowdfunding and buying A4 recycled envelopes in bulk. If you can’t store 1,000 samples at your house, here is where you might find someone with a studio to share them with. Got a subscription box that needs filling? Here you’ll find collaborators.
Sky Procter, an artist and illustrator who goes by the moniker Sky Siouki, has used the monthly meetups to make friends and grow her network. As part of Bristol Girl Bosses, an Instagram collective of eight local makers, her work was among that sold at a pop-up shop in The Galleries just before Christmas, in a joint venture between Bristol Girl Bosses and Bristol Etsy Team. She has been coming to the meetups for two years.
“It’s just been really great,” she says. “We’ve made a group of friends and through that we’ve had a hub to help each other out and do more. The collective is about friendship: it’s not so much a public thing as us having support and the chance to ask each other questions. It’s really nice to have the support of a group of people who know what it’s like to be a maker working on your own.”
The tables begin to empty as the meetup winds up for another month, makers leaving with a book full of notes, an Instagram account full of new followers and plenty of ideas for improving their shops. “Bristol Etsy Team is an incredibly supportive platform,” says co-captain Jodie, emerging from a deep conversation. “You just find people offering advice and if there is any criticism it’s constructive in a really helpful way – they want you to win as well. We’re bringing together as much Bristol creativity as we can.”
Find out more about Bristol Etsy Team at www.bristoletsyteam.co.uk
Main image by Beatrice Bonheur