Etsy, an online marketplace for buying and selling handmade goods, was designed to help small business owners enter and thrive on the online market.
But another trend is emerging: some students at Syracuse University are using Etsy as a way to jump-start their careers in the fashion industry. I spoke with Jane Brinks, a junior fashion design major, and Danielle Quigley, a senior writing major taking jewelry and metalsmithing classes, about how they use Etsy and what they have learned from their experiences.
Vintage & Denim with Elephant Caravan
Brinks, who operates under the label Elephant Caravan, focuses on vintage goods, reclaimed materials and hand-embroidered denim clothing. Brinks began using Etsy as a way to resell items her family had accumulated over the years. After experiencing some success, she started using Etsy as an online fashion portfolio.
“I use it to showcase my style,” she said. “When I apply for jobs, I can reflect my overall look and style with a physical portfolio I’ve created.” Etsy has also allowed Brinks to explore what it is like to run a business. Brinks has sold 17 or 18 pieces ranging from $5 to $120. Her biggest hit has been custom denim embroidery.
Brinks began embroidering her own denim with personalized designs and motifs. After receiving positive feedback from friends, she decided to sell embroidered denim pieces such as jackets or skirts on Etsy.
“Sometimes people will send me a jacket and I ask what design and color pallet they would like,” Brinks explained. “After that, it’s my own interpretation of their idea.”
Aside from making money, Brinks explained that Etsy has given her a valuable skill set.
“It shows I have experience in the marketing and finance aspect of fashion, as well as creation collections and having themes and looks,” she said. When asked if she plans on running her own business after graduation, she says she can picture it.
“Before, I thought I would have to take a variety of business classes to understand all aspects of how to run a business, but Etsy has shown me that I can do it.”
Handmade Jewelry with Danielle Rose Bean
Quigley, who uses Etsy as Danielle Rose Bean, uses the site to showcase the hand-assembled jewelry she creates. She views Etsy as a marketplace that allows independent designers to showcase their work and says the site has allowed her to expand her reach internationally.
Quigley first learned about Etsy six years ago when she went to a flea market and met a girl who had set up her own online shop on the site. Quigley says Etsy has not only helped her create a thriving business, but has also provided a forum for networking.
“The forum section on Etsy is a great place to network,” she said. “I’ve met really important people in the fashion industry there–they’re looking for new talent, new designs, new concepts. Etsy is turning into a social network because of the forums.”
Quigley said the advantage to using Etsy over Facebook or Twitter is that people specifically visit the site to purchase the types of goods she sells, so her audience is already there and eager to learn more about her products.
Etsy has also led to opportunities that few young designers would have access to otherwise. By showcasing her work on Etsy, she has had some of her pieces carried in stores in Australia and Los Angeles, California. A stylist for an independent film being shot in India saw Quigley’s pieces online and contacted her about using the jewelry in the movie.
“I get a lot of hits from different retail stores or boutiques that want to carry my line,” she said. “Without it, it would probably be trying to get out there and go to craft fairs, which is a harder route. Etsy has made the process a lot easier.”
In terms of business, Quigley has sold 1,013 pieces–all carefully crafted by hand. Her items range from $22 to $300 and she noted that the expensive pieces often sell better.
“I think people like buying something that’s one of a kind,” she said. “I have a good client base and repeat customers and I try to go above and beyond for them.” This is evident in her 100 percent positive buyer feedback.
While her Etsy business has been a success, Quigley says she has bigger dreams.
“I have a jewelry distribution company talking to me about selling my line,” she said. “Etsy is fun and a good starting off point, but I see myself begin in stores and retail chains across the country.”
While Etsy is a tool to showcase a fashion portfolio or grow a business, Quigley says it shouldn’t be incorporated into fashion classes just yet.
“Learning about sites like Etsy in a class could be useful, but it’s important for people to do it themselves,” she said. “You have to want it. There are people on Etsy who aren’t successful, no matter how well they know the system. If you don’t have what people want, you’re not going to sell.”
Etsy generates revenue by charging sellers 20 cents per listing, per quantity in stock, as well as a transaction fee of 3.5 percent when an item sells.
Have you purchased items from Etsy, or sold your own creations there? Share your experiences in the comments!