Risky Business

This month sees the fifth anniversary of Miso Funky starting up. It’s been quite a 5 years. Things have changed radically since the first tiny steps me and Jo took, knitting a few scarves, literally slinging them in a carrier bag and taking them to a school fair in Edinburgh. We expanded, we contracted, we expanded again, set up the first indie market in Glasgow, helped form the Glasgow Craft Mafia, found our niche, scaled back personnel, scaled up production, took on helpers, outgrew several wardrobes and even got some things on the tellybox.

The past two years, it’s just been me and it’s been a hectic two years. I’ve brought my little business to a point where it could easily become my full-time occupation (if only I could lose my taste for foreign holidays and spontaneous shoe buying) and to where Miso Funky is an easily-recognisable brand and a (albeit minor) force to be reckoned with in the grand scheme of things.  I’ve met a lot of people along the way on the journey, who’ve been friendly, supportive and genuine in those things for the most part (and tried to reciprocate that), along with some villains and I’ve learned A LOT.

I’m damn proud of what me and Jo, and latterly I, have achieved and I’m excited about where it’s headed now and what might be round the next corner. But all this is not without it’s struggle.  I’ve spent every waking (and sometimes, nodding off over my sewing or laptop at 3am after a 10 hour shift at work, non-waking) moment on the business, either creating, designing, doing admin, researching, answering the endless, endless emails or fighting one of the many fires that spring up. I’ve taken on the running of another company, and all the extra admin and labour that involves and I’ve roped in several helpers, not least of all my long-suffering husband, who helps out with making stock, as well as logistics of said stock and the logistics of his frazzled wife, doing the cooking, the cleaning, the laundry and basically making sure I am still alive. All this on top of having had an organ removed last year (the notorious gallbladder) and still suffering the after-effects of that, with another hospital visit to look forwards to next month.

So – what is the point in all this, I can hear you sigh? Well, I didn’t knock my bloody pan in doing all this just to have it ruined with this:

This is an actual bona fide listing from Etsy, which thankfully has either been taken down or expired now. I found it via  Regretsy, a site which lampoons the worst/craziest things from Etsy, an online market place which allows makers to sell their handmade crafts. Handmade. Craft.

The last time I checked, iPhones are not handmade. Or in any way even loosely craft-related. Or indeed vintage, given that the item in question can’t be more than 2 or 3 years old (the craft community somehow goes hand-in-hand with vintage). Seeing this listing was pretty much the final nail in Etsy’s coffin for me as a seller, as I can’t understand how it would be able to slip through the filters to be allowed to be listed, let alone someone sitting at home thinking Etsy would be the place to list it for sale.

Now, I know this is turning into an epic post, but bear with me. I know that Etsy and it’s ilk are very useful tools to designers starting out. I also know that for well-established people who don’t have the time, skills or unflinchingly generous friends to make their own website, it’s invaluable for being an online storefront. But it’s not for me anymore.

It’s taken me so long to come to this conclusion, but this today sealed the deal – an open letter from Mary Portas to the UK Handmade Community.

Cutting to the chase, when I saw the letter to Mary Portas last week, my initial reaction was, oh, that’s a good idea.

But then I read it again.  And I saw that, to me, it came across as demanding something that we should be working towards anyway. A bit “woe is us”. A bit like asking for specialist treatment because we’re doing something “different.” And I felt uneasy and a little bit cringey that it had been written. And then I felt bad that I felt that way because I am the biggest supporter of the notion of handmade over High Street there is and the community that goes with it.

But then I read Mary’s response which, in her inimitable way, spelt out the hard facts. That until the community as a whole gets it act together and starts behaving in the way it wants to be received, it won’t get anywhere. That there is a wide gulf between handmade and homemade, which we all already know, but that the gulf is not widened any further by our own actions (the example that springs to mind from the response is the point on product photography). The fact that vintage iphones are unacceptable and we are damaging our businesses and the reputation of handmade by letting this happen and being associated with it.

I read this and sat back and thought, that’s what I needed to hear. That it’s OK to question the suitability of outlets like Etsy for your business.  That it’s not necessary to follow the pack because you feel you should be or you have to. And I have been feeling this way for some time and it’s just not for me, personally. I don’t have time to spend on the endless updating and tweaking that seems necessary to get any sort of consistent sales or enquiries from it and in recent months, I’ve wanted to be part of it less and less.

And so, I’m shutting up shop. Once my listings expire, it will remain empty, for all the reasons I’ve already discussed. And although I know that some people will think me crazy, I will sleep sounder knowing that my work, that I’ve literally put blood, sweat and tears into, will not be getting undermined by the fuzzy, out-of-focus photographs of old dreadlocks, the special multi-packs of deoderantand the homemade sex toys.

I wish the story could end there but there was a counter-response to Mary Portas which I read as just reiterating what’s already been said. To coin a phrase, you’ve taken that too far.  Better to gratefully receive advice that people pay a lot of money for and act upon it, I’d have thought. To get your own house in order before you start asking for a hand-out.  The debate will rumble on for weeks, months and maybe years to come, but I’ll be refocusing my efforts on making my business the best it can be and getting it into a position to be a real competitor in the marketplace, where being handmade won’t be the only thing I can call a point of difference to the big guys. (Product photography clearly being one of the major things I’ll be focusing on, before you think my hypocritical!)

What do you think about all this? I realise my standpoint won’t be the most popular of views, but it’s my view and it’s what I think is going to work for me. I don’t want to come across as denigrating anyone or anyone’s business, as I am fully aware that these are the personal choices that everyone must make in the running of their enterprise. I also appreciate that it took the UKHandmade people  a lot of thought and effort to do this in the first place and although I don’t agree 100% with the sentiment, I do wholeheartedly appreciate that it’s kicked off a debate.  I’m a nice person but I’m also a realist. I know my approach won’t fit everyone, but it fits me, and that’s all I can really focus on.

So don’t hold it against me that I’ve fallen out of love with Etsy and it’s counterparts. I’ve certainly not cast it aside as a buyer and will continue to support handmade and indie businesses by choosing where my hard-earned cash goes and choosing delightfully well-designed and hand-crafted items each birthday, Christmas, high day and holiday. But for now, I’ll be beating my own path through the handmade jungle and picking out that path more carefully than before.

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9 thoughts on “Risky Business

  1. I agree wholeheartedly with you Claire, I had the same feeling when I saw the letter to Mary yesterday – but I’m impressed with her realistic and honest response, pretty much stating what we should all know anyway!
    I’m also thinking about closing my etsy shop and doing my own one instead, I finally feel confident enough to go for it!
    x

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  3. I agree with you. I have a little shop on Folksy, but have been holding back on the marketing and promotion because I don’t want the folksy shop to be all I am, I want people to see my own site, and everything I stand for. I am fortunate enough to have a boyfriend building and working with me to produce my own site (not so fortunate that it is taking so long), at the minute it is just a holding page, but my hope is that people will appreciate my work and take me seriously if I can project myself as I wish, and not just jumbled up with lots of other people.

    I love Folksy for the community, and it is nice to have a chat on there, especially if you have spent 5 hours hand sanding beads, and I love it as a venue, somewhere for people to stumble upon you, but I don’t think that is enough.

  4. A big fat YES! The reply to Mary made me cringe a little bit.

    What you wrote about Etsy has made me think too – I’ve always seen it as an easy-to-use platform that’s attractive and brings all the handmade shoppers together making us easier to find but now you come to mention it…. whenever I do a search I do have to wade through a lot of crap to get to the good stuff. I’ve said before there should be a minimum standard. Hmmm…

    Good luck on your new path anyway! I’m sure I’ll be pondering this for a while.

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  8. another fab post! really enjoyed reading it, and since I read ‘The Scene is Dead’ I have been sorting out setting up a shop section on my own website, so that I will be able to close my etsy store. Since i signed up to Etsy at the start of this year, I have been very dissappointed, I feel like my handmade work gets lost in the middle of homemade and ‘vintage’ and have failed to make a single sale! It takes a LOT of effort and time to actually find the good quality handmade work on there.
    Thankyou!

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