The art, craft of Etsy

Locals make and sell furniture, artful creations through popular website that has community feel

By Ashley Swanson, Columbian features news coordinator

Published:

 

Featured Clark County Etsy stores

Christy Jarvis and Randall Campbell

OrWaDesigns.etsy.com

Amy Stewart

Junghwa.etsy.com

Tara Kloida-White

SevenAnNine.etsy.com

Did you know?

Etsy was founded in 2005 as a way for hobbyists and fans to share their sometimes geeky creations with fellow crafters. The site lets its members sell craft supplies, items that are vintage (at least 20 years old), or items made exclusively by the seller’s hands.

Etsy’s community sold 5.6 million items in September, equaling $109.5 million of goods sold, according to site’s most recent statistic release. Compared to September 2012, that’s a 39 percent increase in items sold.

They also recorded 1.81 billion page views between its website and mobile app during the month of September.

The Rise of the Do-It-Yourself Ethos

It’s a question more and more people are asking: Why buy it when you can just do it yourself?

Emily Matchar explored what she coined the “new domesticity” trend in her recent book “Homeward Bound.” During her research the author found that a growing number of people, many women, are embracing crafting and the DIY lifestyle.

Part of the shift, she said, is because of the lagging economy; selling your own goods online or at local bazaars can bring in some much-needed extra income. Additionally, websites such as Etsy have created a strong community around these hobbies.

“I don’t think this new domesticity phenomenon would exist without the Internet,” Matchar said. “It was modern technology that spread interest in these types of things.”

While the Web has spurred interest in homesteading hobbies, Matchar said part of new domesticity is about occasionally stepping back from modern conveniences as a way to return to the so-called simple life. However, choosing to knit a sweater as a hobby is much different than needing to knit a sweater so your child can stay warm in the winter.

“People who were homesteading the American West, that was an incredibly difficult thing to do — especially for the women. It was very isolating,” Matchar said. “Now people that are trying to go back to the past, they sometimes find they feel more connected than ever.”

But, as with any trend, it’s hard to say how long it will all last.

“I don’t know if people are going to be raising chickens in Brooklyn in 10 or 15 years,” Matchar said.

— Stover E. Harger III

In this golden age of online shopping, there is also a parallel trend of wanting to spend our money on authentic and meaningful things, from local produce to crafted furniture. Three local artisans from Clark County have catapulted their creative wares across the globe, thanks to the website Etsy.com.

"There's stuff that you'd never expect (on Etsy); there's a never-ending amount of things on there," said Christy Jarvis, a Fruit Valley resident and co-owner of OrWaDesigns. Etsy lets each seller set up a virtual storefront on its site, much like a physical craft market.

OrWaDesigns' shop is filled with retro bookcases and coffee tables that might please anyone shopping for modern furniture. Prices range from $80 for a small side table to $1,300 for large entertainment credenza.

"Sometimes," Jarvis said, "I think, 'How the heck did this happen?' It's kind of shocking that we became furniture-makers."

As a hobby, Jarvis and boyfriend Randall Campbell liked to fix up old furniture they found and then resell it. But they knew nothing about building mid-century furniture when they started. Campbell taught himself by examining how old furniture pieces were assembled. He is responsible for all of the building; Jarvis lacquers and stains the furniture. She also handles the shipping and customer service through the site.

"Someone asked for a big television stand, then everyone wanted one and we started selling it like crazy," she said.

The duo capitalizes on the popularity of mid-century furniture. "We make it affordable," Jarvis said, using pine instead of fancier walnut and building each piece from scratch. "Everything's custom. That's why we do well: We build to order.

"I was pretty nervous the first time we shipped stuff — 'What if they don't like it?' It's something they'll be using and having it in their home. It seemed weird at first, and now it's just normal, now it's a compliment, for people to decorate their homes with (our furniture)."

Amy Stewart opened her Etsy jewelry store in 2010, when Etsy was still a strange concept to those not in the know. She describes her aesthetic as "simple, everyday pretty. I try to create all my pieces to fall within that feel. I get my inspiration from what I see." Her store, Junghwa, has more than 11,000 sales, thanks to her designs.

And her designs are resonating with many looking for simple pieces they can wear every day. "A lot of my jewelry is exactly what people are looking for. It was stuff I was trying to find but couldn't, so I made it." Her items range from $15 rope bracelets to long 14K gold necklaces at $71. Her jewelry has

been featured in fashion magazines like Lucky, Cosmopolitan Bride and the wedding-centric website Emmalinebride.com.

She credits her sister, who sells bridal veils and other accessories on Etsy, with pushing her to pursue jewelry design. She makes every piece to order from her home in east Vancouver. "I try to limit work to Monday to Friday," she said. "I'm usually only making jewelry a couple hours of the day and shipping the rest of the week." By working in blocks of time, it allows Stewart to work at home and spend time with her young son — though she's always thinking of new designs to create.

"I've always been a hard worker, but I didn't care about the job; I never did anything before that I wanted to do forever," Stewart said, "Now, my work ethic is so different; I'm working all the time. I'm such a workaholic."

The downside for many shops, new and old, is standing out in a sea of similar handmade necklaces, scarves and totes.

"When I first started, I felt like there wasn't a lot of people selling jewelry, and if they were, it was so different from me. Now everyone does it," Stewart said. She's seen her new designs adapted by other shops a day later. She views the saturation as something to overcome with more creativity. "It pushes me to make more designs and keep moving forward. I wouldn't grow if I didn't have that mentality."

For ceramic artist Tara Kloida-White of the Camas-Washougal area, Etsy provided more flexibility as an artist and a discovered passion for sculpting leather. She and her husband, Jeremy White, used the site to sell their Celtic-inspired stone pendants. But when Kloida-White began to wonder if she could sculpt images in deerskin leather the same way she did with ceramics, "I thought maybe I can make some leather wristbands and sell them with the pendants." She taught herself how to create tooled and embossed leather while looking for something to do while living in England with her husband. Now her store SevenAnNine is filled with hand-tooled leather bags, wallets, knife sheaths and necklaces that range from $10 for the pendants to $575 for her leather handbags.

The ability to customize is the biggest advantage of Etsy stores, as customers can work with artisans to bring their needs to fruition, from custom wedding rings to party favors. And the draw of handmade shows in the numbers.

"I do a lot of custom orders. People contact me: 'I would like to have this type of bag with this symbol, or a re-creation of a father's wallet.' They start sharing with me their stories." Her customers have told her about family heirlooms they hope she can emulate, or they just discover their own Celtic heritage and want to honor it. She spent months creating a special medicine bag for a client, who rewarded her work with a $3,000 payment.

Kloida-White estimates that her goods sold through Etsy are divided 50-50 between regular and custom orders. But even then, she makes even the regular wristbands to a customer's specific wrist measurements.

"It really is a pleasure to make things for other people," she said. "There's just something very unique and fulfilling about making something for somebody that they're going to treasure for a long time."

The couple recently opened up their storefront Celtica in Westfield Vancouver mall for the holiday season. And with a physical store, Kloida-White and her husband must stockpile an inventory of their work for shelves. It will be just the two of them running the store, 12-hour days with no days off. But the nest egg at the end of their holiday store is worth it, she said.

At the heart of it, Etsy has offered many a chance to supplement or replace their income after the economic downturn through creative endeavors.

"We both lost our jobs about three years ago," said Jarvis, who worked as a receptionist. Campbell worked at a distribution company. This is now their full-time job, with furniture busting out the seams of their two-bedroom home, as they fill a backlog of orders.

"Our living room is a workshop, and we built one of those storage sheds in the backyard. We live in it, our work, but it's worth it, being able to do this."

"I have done the festivals, the lifestyle that you have traveling as an artist," Kloida-White said. "It's pretty inconsistent; you never know what you're going to make money-wise.

"Etsy opens that to any time of the year; it's like going to a big Portland Saturday Market, except you don't have to go to booth to booth to booth to find that special thing you're looking for."

Jarvis, the furniture maker and Stewart, the jewelry designer, recommend the key to success on the site is being active, either through Etsy's social media aspects of "favoriting" and "liking" items or through the site's forums.

"When you first get on Etsy, (your shop) starts off really slow," said Jarvis, who said it took almost two years before they started seeing their sales take off.

Stewart predicts that the handmade movement will also bounce to physical stores, as bigger stores like West Elm and Anthropologie are already promoting local vendors in the area with "pop-up shops."

"This is my full-time business; it's definitely a big factor into our income," said Stewart, who left her position as a medical assistant to pursue her dream of design.

"I knew what I wanted to do was being creative, and if I wanted to get a job in the creative field I would have to go to a lot more school and compete with a lot of people."

"Compared to five or 10 years ago, so many more people have their own businesses now," Stewart said, "They had to come up with something else (due to the economic downturn), and people, they're a lot more creative then they ever gave themselves credit for."