Monday, September 15, 2008
La Chapina Huipil Crafts Expands Etsy Store: Guatemalan Supplies!
It's not easy to find your niche on Etsy- the competition is fierce! But, some sellers find their market and are able to grow their stores into healthy operations. I've had the pleasure of watching Erin Stoy of La Chapina Huipil Crafts do exactly that! I asked Erin to share her experience as I think she has hit on the key to making a living through online sales: balance your handmade creations with complementary supplies. Look around your environment and see what you can find that others might want!
Other key lessons to learn from Erin: clear photos, affordable prices, healthy selection (her store is stocked with over 200 items right now), and good descriptions.
When I joined Etsy in May of this year, my plan was simply to continue selling my hand-sewn crafts made from recycled Guatemalan textiles. I'd had success doing that off-Etsy for the previous seven months, especially with my Christmas ornaments and personalized art for kids' rooms. However, with sales in my new shop starting off slowly, I began to brainstorm ways I could expand my product offerings. I noticed that the top sellers on Etsy were almost all suppliers, and that certainly made sense: Etsy is a market full of creative people wanting to buy interesting things with which they can make their own arts and crafts! So instead of trying to compete solely based on my handicrafts, I began my search in the local markets and shops here in Antigua, Guatemala, for textiles to sell as supplies. I'd already been selling bags full of my textile scraps, so this was the next logical step, and I began offering cintas (hand-woven hair ribbons) and squares of textile fabric, along with the occasional whole huipil (traditional hand-woven blouse worn by indigenous women and girls in Guatemala).
It took a change in mindset to make the move to sell something unrelated to textiles, as the name of my shop was and is "La Chapina Huipil Crafts". At first the idea of this change made me uncomfortable, as if I were abandoning my original vision, but then I came across a great little shop that sold ceramic beads made in Guatemala and Peru. I loved these little beads and charms, and I knew many of my customers would, too. Tiny Guatemalan people in traditional dress, little animals, fruits and veggies, and skulls (for Day of the Dead!) are just some of the styles of beads I now regularly stock in my shop.
Once I started selling beads, I found myself really wanting to try my own hand at making jewelry for the shop. However, jewelry is one of the most saturated categories on Etsy, so I needed to make a niche for myself. I found a local source for beads made of tagua, which grows in the South American rainforest and is an excellent and eco-friendly alternative to ivory. Using dyed beads and slices made from tagua seeds and nuts, I've had a great time making some simple jewelry, and the fact that it is environmentally friendly fits with my previous emphasis on recycled materials.
A few months into my expansion, three of my ten shop sections are dedicated to supplies. Some of my best sellers are different sizes and styles of Guatemalan worry dolls, ceramic beads, and lovely small prints -- great as scrapbooking embellishments -- by a local watercolor artist. I also carry some wood items like miniature handpainted masks and fruit.
Although huipiles are no longer the sole focus of my shop, they still have a special place among the other Latin American crafts and supplies. Offering supplies has greatly increased sales (though lowering the average selling price per item) and brought in many new customers who are not necessarily interested in the items I make myself. And perhaps most importantly, the search for new supplies is a lot of fun !
Erin Stoy of La Chapina Huipil Crafts is an American whoʼs lived in Guatemala for over a year, caring for the daughter she and her husband are in the process of adopting. During her time in Guatemala,she has developed a passion for Mayan textiles. She has been selling arts and crafts she makes from used huipiles (traditional, hand-woven Guatemalan blouses) since October 2007. Her blog is http://huipil-crafts.blogspot.com and her Etsy shop is http://lachapina.etsy.com.