Shame on you, Etsy

etsy sweatshopsI have been thinking about leaving Etsy as a platform for my business (small though it is) since it went public in April, and now I am considering not shopping there either. That makes me sad, because there are so many awesome things available there, and it’s the best-known platform for handmade goods so as a seller, you have a better chance of having your products seen.

But Etsy ain’t what it used to be.

I first got concerned when I read this piece by April Winchell, the author of Regretsy: Where DIY Meets WTF. Regretsy is hilarious, but Winchell is dead serious when she writes,

“Etsy’s “handmade-only” rule went down the drain faster than a cold soy latte. For all its chest thumping about conscious consumerism and the handmade ethos, Etsy had to face the fact that it was never going to be a billion dollar company selling potholders and bedazzled tampon cozies. Especially since most of its “sellers” were not, in fact, selling. All they were contributing to Etsy’s coffers were 20¢ listing fees. That’s not going to take you from Williamsburg to Wall Street.

Clearly, Etsy had to add some other kind of merchandise to its marketplace. It couldn’t be handmade, but it had to jibe with the Etsy culture. In another masterstroke, it hit on the idea of allowing  crafting supplies and vintage goods on the site.

It was a smart move. But even with these additional revenue streams, Etsy wasn’t moving fast enough. It was going to have to show some spectacular growth to lure investors to the table.

And that’s when Etsy decided to allow factory-made goods into its vibrant handmade marketplace.”

Do you think actual handmade stuff can compete with stuff made in sweatshops in Southeast Asia and falsely marketed as handmade? Me neither. As Winchell puts it, nowadays “Etsy is Walmart with better fonts.”

I immediately looked into alternatives to Etsy, but to be honest, I got lazy. I had a lot of other stuff on my plate, I hadn’t made any new stuff to sell, and I was admittedly worried about losing potential customers if I went to some more obscure platform. I mean, I’m not making a living off selling a bottle of tincture every three months. I have made zero attempt at marketing at this point, in part because I’m more interested in ultimately becoming a clinical herbalist as opposed to an herbal products creator (not that those two are mutually exclusive). But being squeamish about marketing is one thing; voluntarily ditching your customers is actively shooting yourself in the foot. I’m not proud of that, I’m just being honest. (Too bad Etsy isn’t that scrupulous.)

But I think the time has finally come to make the break. Now comes news that Etsy is no longer allowing the sale of magical spells and metaphysical goods and services marketed as such. I don’t sell spells, nor do I buy them. (I don’t have a problem with them, I just like to DIY everything.) But I have browsed the offerings on Etsy because a lot of them are quite beautiful. There are some real artists out there putting some incredible creativity into making spell kits. Moreover, it seems that a lot of people do buy spells and spell equipment through Etsy, especially since eBay forbade the selling of spells back in 2012. In typical fashion, Etsy is not explaining the motivation behind this decision. But given that Etsy has shown itself more than willing to sell out their customers (the sellers) and investors for a few more bucks, I suspect that there is some financial reason underlying the ban on spells. But whatever the motivation, it’s an act of religious discrimination. Witches, pagans, and yes, even herbalists regularly have to tailor our wording to basically say that what we are offering is for “entertainment purposes” to conform to the prevailing worldview that what we do isn’t “real.” Now even that isn’t enough to protect our right to provide our goods and services. Note that the paraphernalia of dominant religions such as Christianity–your rosaries, crosses, angel statues, and whatnot–can still be sold on Etsy. One can sell a “prayer kit,” but not a “spell kit.” This reminds me of what Peter Grey of Scarlet Imprint publishers said in his essay “Rewilding Witchcraft”–the present toleration of witchcraft is not acceptance, it’s simply disdain:

“The reason that social services are not taking your children away is that nobody believes in the existence of the witch. We have mistaken social and economic change for the result of our own advocacy.”

When nobody believes what you do is any more than dress up, you have a fair amount of freedom to do it, but don’t think that means society has progressed to accepting your alternative religion as legitimate. When eBay banned spells, they said it was to “build trust in the marketplace,” implying that every witch with a shop is a con artist. This is the down side to having your religion, your worldview regarded as bullshit by the monoculture–if you make a dime off it, you are automatically legally a fraud. Still, Etsy has been willing to work with favored frauds in the past, even when they were exposed, indeed Etsy itself is being sued for fraud, so one can’t help but wonder what makes magic different?*

Herbalism is another activity that is tolerated because as long as we don’t claim to “cure,” “heal” or “treat” anything, as long as we take extreme pains not to even so much as imply that herbs are medicinal, it are seen as harmless nonsense. If you are an herbalist who happens to have a Ph.D., you cannot even be called by your proper, hard-earned title–“Doctor”–because that might suggest that what you are offering is “real” medicine. Heaven forbid. So I suspect that if Etsy is banning sales of magical or metaphysical goods and services, it’s only a matter of time until they crack down on herbal formulas and extracts. At the very least, I suspect they are going to get so restrictive about what wording is allowed that it will make it nearly impossible to sell herbal products.

If you are bothered by this and the potential it creates to limit our access to any and all non-mainstream goods and services, I urge you to sign this petition. And maybe consider taking your business elsewhere.

*UPDATE: In an article published yesterday in Quartz, an Etsy spokesperson is quoted as saying the rationale behind the ban is to “protect our community from business practices that prey upon vulnerable and desperate shoppers—such as those seeking a treatment for cancer or infertility, or those with self-esteem issues who are seeking a spell for weight loss or beauty enhancement (think penis or breast enlargement).” Thank you, anonymous Etsy spokesperson, for making my point for me.

Here are some links with information on online handmade marketplaces you can use instead of Etsy: 12 Etsy alternatives, 5 other handcrafted marketplaces, Best Etsy alternatives, and of course, for herbal products, there is PoppySwap, which is entirely dedicated to herbal stuff.