TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Afghan Tribal Arts at the Pasadena Bead and Design Show!

Handcarved semi-precious stones made into beads,
a specialty of Afghan Tribal Arts.

My friend, Abdul Wardak, is in Pasadena for the Bead and Design Show there. Abdul is the owner of Afghan Tribal Arts and has been importing from Afghanistan and the region since the mid-1980's. Beads are a big focus of his family owned business, but so are textiles, carpets, carvings and other tribal crafts from the region.

July 30 - August 2, 2009, 10AM to 6PM
300 Exhibitors and Workshops
Wearable Art, Bead and Fabric Handwork, Trade Supplies
The Hilton Pasadena, 168 South Los Robles Avenue, Pasadena, California

Abdul Wardak at a bead show.

Abdul does many of these bead shows, but he also wholesales to ethnic galleries, boutiques and sells directly to collectors. His normal route focuses on the Midwest and Southeast, but he is interested in making some contacts on the West Coast, too. Visit his website, Afghan Tribal Arts, for contact info and for more images of the types of beads, textiles and products he normally carries. The show info states:

Nomadic and tribal jewelry from Afghanistan and Peshawar; Turkman and Pashtun crowns, silver jewelry, Pashtun wedding dresses, vintage clothing, beads, jade, carnelian, lapis lazuli, silver, findings, embroidered and beaded textiles, camel tassels, interior decor, kilims and carpets.
California Ballroom #C190

Catch your fancy? I know I absolutely love everything from that region! People may know about the war in Afghanistan, but little do they know about the beauty of that country and its people.

Abdul Wardak of Afghan Tribal Arts in Afghanistan, 2002

Abdul began the business when he realized what an economic impact his purchases had on the lives of small businesses and artisans in his home country. He also has a deep love and appreciation for the products themselves, their beauty and the skills involved in making them.

If you meet Abdul on this trip, you will have the pleasure of enjoying a warm heart, great storytelling and certain unpredictable laughs. His sense of humor is always brimming, even now as his back is giving out. You will also meet Roshan, Abdul's oldest son, who is learning the ropes and will hopefully keep Afghan Tribal Arts in business as my dear friend gives his back a needed fix through surgery and rehabilitation.

You can read other posts about Afghan Tribal Arts in this blog.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles, Part 2: The Artisans

“I feel in harmony with this work.”
Loek Khonsudee, Member, Panmai Group, Northeast Thailand

By Ellen Agger and Alleson Kase
All Photos © Ellen Agger 2009

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles works with rural communities in Thailand and Laos where women have long been recognized as valuable and equal members of their families and communities. These artisans:

• transform barks, berries, leaves, seeds and silk cocoons into gorgeous weavings
• create traditional and contemporary designs using traditional floor looms
• develop and use natural dyeing techniques that support their health and the environment

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles is building trading relationships – based on fair trade principles – with a growing number of weaving groups and non-governmental organizations in Thailand and Laos that work with village groups. We want to introduce you to a few of these groups.

Panmai Group in Thailand works with silk production
and organic weaving production.

Panmai Group has 250 members living in 3 provinces in Northeast Thailand in both Khmer and Laotian villages, who draw on these traditions in their designs. These women are very skilled in sericulture (the entire cycle of silk production) and are proud to weave only organic, village-reeled and naturally dyed silk yarns. They are expert and widely respected for their dyeing skills using natural materials, protecting both their own health and that of their environment.

Prae Pan Group in Northeast Thailand dye cotton naturally
and weave silk.

Prae Pan Group has 200 members in 7 villages in Khon Kaen province in Northeast Thailand. They are highly skilled at supplementary weft weaving and the natural dyeing of cotton, although they weave silk as well. Prae Pan, like Panmai, has been operating for 20 years and is proud to be entirely villager-run and self-sufficient.

During a recent visit, women from both groups told us that this work allows them to stay in their villages where they can live with their families, grow rice and practice their foremothers’ art – while preserving it for their heirs.

Pattanarak Foundation works with
disadvantaged and stateless peoples along
the Thai border.

Pattanarak Foundation works to balance development and conservation among disadvantaged communities and stateless peoples along Thailand’s borders. Their products are handmade with an indigenous species of cotton organically grown along the Thai-Lao border on the banks of the Mekong River. After spinning, dyeing and weaving, some products are sewn by projects in the west of Thailand along the Burmese border. This helps forge links and exchange ideas between communities that are experiencing similar challenges. One village group working with Pattanarak specializes in indigo dyeing, always popular for its lively colour – “nature’s true blue.”

Saoban provides technical assistance and training for
low income textile entrepreneurs in Laos.

Saoban is a Vientiane-based marketing outlet for over a dozen village groups that work with the Participatory Development Training Center (PADETC) in rural Laos. At Saoban’s shop, young entrepreneurs develop business skills while providing much-needed markets for village products that range from bamboo-silk handbags to naturally dyed silk scarves. This is part of PADETC’s vision for Laos: education for sustainable development.

Mulberries is the market brand of the Lao Sericulture Co., a not-for-profit organization that is accredited by the World Fair Trade Organization (formerly IFAT, the International Fair Trade Association). Its goal is to strengthen the position of women in Laos by providing them with dependable incomes and to preserve their sophisticated weaving and natural dyeing techniques. Women are further trained to bring diverse skills and environmental sustainable to the complex cycle of silk production with extraordinary results. Founder Kommaly Chantavong was a nominee for 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 for her work on this important project that is recognized for its poverty alleviation, cultural preservation and peace building.

Green Net Coop helps Thai organic farmers market their products. One Green Net project brings together grandmothers who grow, spin and weave organic cotton in Ban Kokkabok in Loei province with sewers in Panmai Group in Northeast Thailand, who transform the cloth into children’s sunhats and baby products. Read the story of the Kokkabok Women’s Cotton Group.

Fai Gaem Mai helps groups in Northern Thailand
develop handwoven silk products.

Fai Gaem Mai
is based in Chiang Mai University and helps community-based production groups in Northern Thailand develop handwoven Eri silk products, one of the textile products that TAMMACHAT carries. The Eri silkworm feeds on the leaves of cassava, rather than mulberry, providing additional income for villagers already growing this high-volume, low-value commodity.

Suan Nguen Mee Ma Company (Garden of Fruition) was founded by Sulak Sivaraksa, who was honoured with the Right Livelihood Award (the “Alternative Nobel Prize”), to explore new markets for indigenous crafts, to publish educational materials and to act as a small-scale, practice-based “think tank.” Among their projects, they support small groups of farmers in Nan, Thailand to revitalize organic cotton growing, spinning and weaving, and to preserve heritage varieties of naturally coloured cotton.

Each of these groups bring their special skills in creating their unique products. We feel honoured to work with and learn from them when we visit on our annual networking/buying trips, deepening our relationships each year. The products highlighted in this post are available at TAMMACHAT Natural Textile’s Fair Trade Textile Events. Select products are also available in TAMMACHAT’s Online Shop. Visit www.tammachat.com to learn more.

Voices of the Weavers

“You must consider the whole process if you want to support this art.
It is difficult to produce by hand.
Our work is real women’s group work, handmade art and tradition.”
Mae Samphun Jundaeng, Chairperson,
Panmai Group
, Northeast Thailand

“We want to work with natural dyes –
it’s better for our health and for the environment.
The colours we use in our weavings depend on the plants
available around our village.
I am told that most people appreciate my work –
especially the colours.”

Noi Simpree, Member, Panmai Group, Northeast Thailand

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles imports fairly traded, naturally dyed, handcrafted textiles directly from the artisan groups that create them. TAMMACHAT, which mean ‘natural’ in Thai, was established in 2007 by Alleson Kase and Ellen Agger. Alleson and Ellen love textiles and had been involved with both fiber and empowering women for decades.

Ellen Agger, co-founder of TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles. See Part 1 of this post to learn more about TAMMACHAT's mission.

Ellen is a member of our Fiber Focus Group.

Clicking on her slide show below will take you to her page:

Find more photos like this on Fiber Focus


Monday, July 27, 2009

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles: Empowering Women Artisans in Thailand and Laos, Part 1

By Ellen Agger and Alleson Kase
Photos © Ellen Agger 2009

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles imports eco-friendly, fair trade fashion and home decor from rural Thailand and Laos. TAMMACHAT, which mean natural in Thai, was established in 2007 by Alleson Kase and Ellen Agger. Learn more about the artisan groups TAMMACHAT works with in Part Two of this post.

Ellen Agger, co-founder of
TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles

Why we started TAMMACHAT

Two reasons: First, the more idealistic one, was to realize the sayings that “another world is possible” and “vote with your wallet.” We believe that people impact human rights, communities and the environment with every purchase we make. So, it’s important that people have access to fairly traded and environmentally friendly products.

Second (and this is more serendipitous and more personal), we were in the right place at the right time. A few years ago we were traveling around Thailand, searching out weaving groups, an interest of Alleson’s since 1980 when she first traveled in Guatemala. The women we met at one weaving co-op told us their sales were down, which meant they had to limit membership in the co-op. Right away, we knew we were going to connect their desire to expand their market with our desires to find new and meaningful careers.

What motivates us:
We want to live in a world where:
• women have choices about and control over their lives within their families and communities;
• people are fairly and adequately paid for their work; and
• everyone uses resources wisely and according to their needs, so that communities and the planet are preserved for future generations.

Thai weaver hanging organic silk,
coloured with natural dyes, to dry.

© Ellen Agger 2009

Fair trade in action
As social entrepreneurs, we want to encourage fair trade and ethical consumption. This means:
• knowing what goods are made of
• where they are made
• how their making impacts the people who make them, their communities and the environment

TAMMACHAT Natural Textiles imports fairly traded, naturally dyed, handcrafted textiles directly from the artisan groups that create them.

Weaver at her loom in rural Thailand weaving
organic cotton table runners.

© Ellen Agger 2009

Handweaving, one of the world’s oldest arts, continues to be practiced with amazing skill and well-deserved pride in many rural villages in Thailand and Laos. The silks and cottons woven by women in these areas reflect cultural traditions that have endured from earlier times, passing from mothers to daughters.

We select each piece of wearable art, each table cloth and wall hanging, and every length of hand-loomed fabric that we purchase. Every textile chosen displays technical expertise, aesthetic beauty, careful finishing and sustainable production.

We travel extensively in rural Thailand and Laos, visiting weaving villages and artisan groups, to learn firsthand about the textiles we buy and how they are made. After 2 years of trading, we will apply for fair trade accreditation with the World Fair Trade Association.

We support the artisans and communities that create these textiles by:
• paying fair prices set by individual artisans and artisan groups
• building long-term trade relationships with artisan groups and non-governmental organizations that work with village groups
• supporting environmentally and socially sustainable practices, and appropriate technologies used by artisan groups in the creation of their products
• providing international markets for this work to help preserve this women’s art form and encourage the younger generation to continue these traditions

Raising mulberry silkworms in traditional bamboo baskets
to create organic silk yarns.

© Ellen Agger 2009

Natural fibres, natural dyes
Whenever possible, we source organically produced natural fibres. Heritage varieties of silkworms are raised without chemicals in artisans’ homes rather than in factories. The cocoons spun there are painstakingly hand-reeled into yarn, yielding extraordinary beauty and value. Traditional varieties of cotton, in 3 natural colours, are grown organically, most often on the banks of the Mekong River. Unique, nubbly textures result from ginning, fluffing and spinning these fibres by hand.

Before weaving, silk and cotton yarns are hand-dyed in small batches with organic materials that are locally raised or sustainably gathered. Emerging from these village dye pots are colours that range from subtle to intense, in all the rich hues that nature can create. Of course, some yarns are woven in their natural shades of white, cream, butter yellow or tan.

Age-old designs for contemporary life
Many of the pieces that we buy use designs and techniques that have been handed down for generations. Others – especially weavings that are sewn into clothing, bags and cushion covers – combine the beauty of naturally dyed, handwoven fabric with contemporary flare. We work with artisan groups to develop new products, such as the 100% SILK. 100% ART silk squares for quilters and other fibre artists – developed with the expert colour sense of Panmai Group members and advice from internationally known quilters Valerie Hearder and Laurie Swim in Nova Scotia.

We also buy traditional designs, such as khit (supplementary weft) and mudmee (tie-dyed yarns that produce a design when woven), choosing pieces that will be popular with western consumers.

How we sell these textiles
We sell these handwoven textiles at Fair Trade Textile Events that we organize in communities throughout Atlantic Canada and beyond. We also opened an Online Shop to make select pieces available anywhere in the world. We also have a shop on Etsy. Everywhere that we take these textiles we tell the stories behind them, because this showcases the real value of this beautiful work.

For more information, visit our website. Also enjoy the TAMMACHAT travel blog written by Alleson and Ellen.

Ellen is a member of our Fiber Focus Group. Clicking on her slide show below will take you to her page:

Find more photos like this on Fiber Focus

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What is an Artisan? The Story from Maker to Market (Aid to Artisans)

Aid to Artisans works with producer groups around the world. They are an excellent organization with a hefty track record. Here is their description of what they do:

We create economic opportunities for artisan groups around the world where livelihoods, communities, and craft traditions are marginal or at risk.

We blend a passion for the deep-rooted cultures and handmade traditions of the developing world with a commitment to building profitable businesses. Environmentally sound practices are at the foundation of our methodology. We recognize that we can only bring lasting economic growth if we provide an integrated approach to product development, business skills training, market access and eco-effective processes.

We accomplish this by working together with partners in the countries where we work and in the markets we connect artisans with, leaving behind an infrastructure that continues to support the artisan community long after we complete our mentoring.

This video reminds us that every product that reaches the market has passed through many stages and many hands, each with their own set of demanding tasks. Visit Aid to Artisans to lean more about all of the technical assistance they provide and for information on the many groups they work with around the world.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Ecological Arts by Rebecca Burgess

"The role of Ecological Arts is to create art in order to understand and revitalize natural systems. Founder Rebecca Burgess has been a teacher and artist for many years."

As an environmental educator and textile artist, I am consistently looking for ways to engage students and the public in hands-on textile arts techniques that move us one step closer to living in greater harmony with the planet.

Ecological Arts offers a series of workshops
on using natural dyes and weaving.

I created EcologicalArts in 2004 as a way to house the sustainable textile arts processes that I was both creating and learning from other artisans around the world. Inspired initially by villages like Pejeng, Bali, and Sukhonakon, Thailand, places where women grow and spin organic cotton, raise and ferment indigo, and work cooperatively to produce beautiful finished goods. These villages illuminated sustainable textile production for me. Upon returning home, I felt the calling to start my own tradition.

California Fleuristic Province, home of Ecological Arts.

I live in the California Fleuristic Province, it is among the 25 most bio-diverse places on the planet. I felt there must be species here, in my homeland, that I can use for color- and thus avoid the carbon footprint incurred from ordering all of my dyes from overseas, or even out of state. In the process, I have become a natural dye harvester, restoration gardener, and an unintentional steward. I prune, I weed, I replant, and I seed- it's all a part of the harmonious and reciprocal process. Stewardship and dye work are now hand-in-hand activities for me. My garden is both a restoration site for native and useful dye plants, and an experimentation zone of Indigo, prairie wildflowers, and pokeberry.

From plant life to yarn color, dyes by Ecological Arts.

While there are still dyes such as cochineal, and logwood, whose colors I have not found sustainably harvested substitutes for, I was able to find and create recipes for every color of my hearts desire. And, there is still a lifetime of experimentation left in the fields and hillsides of my homeland.

As a canvas for these natural colors- I connected with the local sheep ranchers, angora producers and organic cotton farmers. These relationships have given me the opportunity to economically support local fiber producers. They create some of the highest quality raw materials in the world, and yet their origins are at most 70 miles from my home!

These processes I undertake are nothing new in history, they are in fact quite ancient, and yet- I feel that every moment of creating with nature’s raw materials is a novel experience. The permutations and possibilities for what a textile artist can do with the resources within his or her community is truly stunning.

Yarns by Ecological Arts.

Rebecca Burgess graduated from UC Davis in Art History, and while in the central valley spent time studying at DQ Native American University. Searching for art outside the academic canon, she found a Native American basket weaver. The artistry, ecology, and function of the native baskets became her inspiration. While traveling throughout the United States, and Asia she found remnants of ecologically focused textile art traditions.
Through each investigation she became increasingly inspired to begin a local tradition within her own bio-region. Ecologicalarts was born in 2004. An organization dedicated to creating, reviving, and teaching, art forms that utilize resources to promote thriving eco-systems.

Rebecca is a member of the Fiber Focus Group, has a blog, website and sells on Etsy.

Find more photos like this on Fiber Focus

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Colorjack - a Tool for Playing with Color by Gina DeLorenzi

Considering the cost of artistic materials, angst over making a mistake purchasing fabric or paints or other art expenses can lead to procrastination, loss of a great idea or ineffective artwork.

Sure, looking at magazines for appealing color combinations is one solution. But those glossy pictures are not my own creation and I have had no success translating magazine adverts to real art. I like Color Harmony by Hideaki Chijiiwa for musing over color choices.

It’s portable and can be taken shopping. And then there are professional programs available that can provide color mixing, but are expensive to buy.

Colorjack is a website that has 3 tools to get instant color palettes. These tools are called Color Theory Visualizers. To use Color Galaxy, just let your cursor hover over any of the array of colored boxes and a palette appears. To use Color Sphere move your cursor around on a ball. Color Studio has you moving your cursor along bars. The colors chosen indicate their RGB (red,green,blue) values. Hue, saturation and value (HSV) codes are automatically generated.

For Photoshop enthusiasts, Colorjack has a link to a list of links for Photoshop tutorials plus several other color related websites.

For quilters who don’t want to be constrained by the fabric industry’s annual colorways in printed quilt fabric, Colorjack could help you delve into your stash and try some different color combinations using what you already have.

Artists working in oil or other media, dig out your half used paint tubes and enter what you have on hand into the software.

An unexpected color combination just might inspire that vague idea wandering in your dreams or sketchbook. Plus using up, recycling and rethinking our product stashes are always smart ideas.

Circus Quilt by Gina DeLorenzi, quilt artist

View featured Quilter of the Month, Suzan Engler
Sign up to receive future featured Artists of the Month

Gina is a self taught quilt artist. She creates visual and emotional impressions in her fiber art by allowing a relationship between various fabrics to emerge. The stunning results of her dyeing and sewing techniques energize the direction each art work takes.

Gina is a regular contributor here on Fiber Focus. Click here to see her past posts.

"Gina's kaleidoscopic quilt collages are a focal point on walls in any setting." Ellen Ray Panero New York artist represented in the Guggeheim

“The colors are so vibrant, one’s eye is mesmerized.” Eva Birkner

modern interpretations of a traditional art form
your inspiration zone


Monday, July 13, 2009

Vintage Weavings – to Restore or Not? by Catherine Salter Bayar

Vintage Turkish Cicim

Recently I had a great short conversation with another Fiber Focus member who mentioned she had done textile restoration for the US National Park Service. She and I agreed that vintage textiles, if repaired, should never show signs of this new work; the restorer should strive to make sure that her work is as unobtrusive as possible.

I personally love to see signs of usage in older kilims and carpets, as long as they are not in danger of completely unraveling. After all, these weavings were made to be used, not hung in a museum; wear is part of their history. But what should I do, if one of my customers disagrees with me and wants a ‘perfect’ vintage piece?

This was the case with an acquaintance who lives part of the year in our small Turkish town. I will call her G. She is an interesting, compassionate woman from a Northern European country who has been coming here to Selcuk for probably two decades now.

For the past several years, G has often visited our shop to chat when she was in town, and always purchases a piece of our handmade jewelry or a strand of beads before she left Selcuk. But each visit, she’d comment about a small old cicim I had draped over the armchair in which I sat.

“I really love that piece!” G would say, asking me about it. I knew it had been two sides of a Turkish donkey bag, though the longer ends have been unstitched. But this kilim was an interesting weaving combination I had not seen in a cicim before. Both sides use the fairly thickly spun, sturdy dyed wool typical of utilitarian cicims, but this time the weaver used the wool as the warp yarns (thick undyed cotton is more typical), then wove very thin undyed cotton through as weft yarns, creating a thin, slightly irregular ground cloth for the embroidered wool patterns worked on top.

Did the weaver just not have enough wool and opt for cheaper cotton? One end does have weft yards in the same red wool as the warp (below), but this appears to be the end where she started weaving. So maybe she was experimenting to see how this densely woven but quite thin piece would turn out.

That it is rather monochromatic is not common for a cicim either, which to me means this weaver may have had more sophisticated tastes than the usually riotously colored cicims. Or perhaps she did just not have access to more colors than this mellow red, grey, black and indigo wools and natural cotton she used. The shading variations in the ground are caused but more tightly packed sections of cotton weft yarns, an intentional play of texture I think, but we will never know her aim.

There are a few patched sections (below), though the patching is done in wool that looks exactly like the original wool yarn, making me ponder if these odd portions were also intentional and done in the original weaving? And yes, by now the edges are worn, the embroidery is a little asymmetrical and the patterns are not so well planned in spots!

In any case, I told G it was my favorite cicim and not for sale, since to me such a piece is rare and holds a special quirky charm in my eyes. Regardless, each visit she would ask me to sell it to her and each time I would decline.

This spring while I was in the US, G again came to our shop and asked my husband if she could buy the cicim. Since we happened to urgently need money that week, we decided to part with it. Abit and G agreed on a price; she gave him a deposit and took it away with her. Oh well, I thought. At least the cicim was going to someone who seemed to love it as much as I did.

But a week later, she came back to our shop and told Abit it was not worth the price they had agreed upon. She’d taken it to one of the local repair shops, and the man there had pointed out every frayed selvage, every worn spot and uneven hem, convincing her that it needed massive costly repairs. Worst of all, “He said it’s mostly cotton!” However, kilims commonly have cotton warps which don’t necessarily lessen their value. I’m positive the repairer was trying to make a big profit from a foreign customer. But she agreed with him that the cicim had to be restored completely and asked us to sell it to her for a fraction of the reasonable price Abit had asked, since it was so ‘damaged’.

As much as we needed the money, I immediately gave her deposit back to reclaim the cicim. I was horrified to think that the piece would undergo unnecessary major “surgery”. Perhaps the restorer would have done a good job on those unraveled selvages, but I was incensed that G had admired the piece for so many years, but then was so easily persuaded to find it lacking. To me, her need to have a ‘perfect’ kilim made her not worthy to have it. I’m afraid I take my kilims and carpets personally; they do become like members of the family to me.

What do you think, fiber artists and textile lovers? Should we have given in to our customers request for a cheaper price? Should older weavings be restored or left as they are? As a designer more than a business woman, I’d rather keep such an imperfect piece than make a sale.

And now we enjoy it daily, since the cicim has been retired to our garden dining table. No worries – we promise not to spill our meals on it!

For cicims I will allow you to buy, please visit www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com.

Catherine Salter Bayar lives with her husband Abit in Selcuk, near Ephesus, Turkey, where they own a vintage textile shop and a water pipe & wine bar. A regular contributor of this blog, Catherine is also a member of our Fiber Focus group. She is currently working on a book on Turkish textiles. Visit Catherine and Abit at www.bazaarbayar.com or www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com.

Become a Bazaar Bayar fan on Facebook!


Sunday, July 5, 2009

1,000 Sales on Etsy

Top seller for Rayela Art: Textile Stamps from Afghanistan

A couple of weeks ago, I reached a goal many of us strive to achieve: 1,000 Sales on Etsy! That is an accomplishment, both on my part for persisting and actually coming up with 1,000 items to sell, and on Etsy's part, for its growth as vibrant marketplace for small time sellers like me. I started selling on Etsy on May 31, 2007, which makes it a little over two years, averaging 500 sales a year.

I thought I would use this landmark as a way to evaluate what this means in terms of making a living online. Those of you who are in the same boat will surely relate to some of what I've experienced and those of you who are newbies in this will hopefully come away with some good pointers.

Etsy is an online MarketPlace which allows sellers to open stores that sell things that they make, vintage items or anything that can be used as a supply in making crafts. The site is not juried, which means that among the bounty of treasures, one will also find garbage and items which stretch or even disobey the guidelines set by Etsy on what is allowed. As stated in their "About Us" page,

Who is Etsy?

Etsy was founded by Rob Kalin, Chris Maguire, Haim Schoppik and Jared Tarbell in June, 2005. We are a community and a company.

In the four years since its inception, Etsy has grown into a vibrant, international marketplace that has attracted high quality sellers offering an abundance of eye candy that is truly remarkable. Here is an interview with Etsy's founder and former CEO, Rob Kalin, talking about the financial side of Etsy as a concept:

As you can see by Rob's age, Etsy is a young company both in terms of how long its been around and in its leadership. Etsy, from its inception, committed itself to being both a marketplace and a community. They have succeeded in both and should have every reason to be proud of both their track record and the impact they have made on the handmade revolution. I do have some critiques about their methodology and priorities, but will address them late in this post.

1,000 sales! Does this mean that it is viable to make a living at online sales, even in this horrible economy? Well, let's take a look at what these sales mean.

As of today, there are 159,786 sellers registered on Etsy. A significant number of these, have only one item in their shop or have not had any new product listed in a couple of years. Yet, everyone who opens a shop on Etsy must have a hope that their product will sell, that they will generate some income from their time and energy invested in opening the shop. Then, there is a large percentage of sellers who use Etsy as a side gig for a hobby. Someone knits too many scarves, they are compulsive about it, everyone they know already got for Christmas and birthdays in the last five years, so they put them on Etsy in the hopes that they will at least get reimbursed for their yarn. Finally, there are those of us who sell on Etsy because it is part of our business. We need the sales because they are our income. The sales help pay our bills, materials, business expenses, feed our children and so on. If you look at the stores with the most inventory, you will see that they are selling supplies, mostly beads. Etsy Wiki lists the top sellers on Etsy. The top 14 have over 20,000 sales, and the number one seller, Lululaland, has over 52,000 sales! Lululaland has also been on Etsy for about two years, so even if each sale was a dollar, that business would be bringing in $26K just on Etsy. But, most of us are not selling in those quantities. Let's take a closer look at what 1,000 sales might mean.

Wikipedia states that Etsy makes money by charging a listing fee of 20 cents for each item and getting 3.5 percent of every sale,[28] with the average sale about $15 or $20 and mostly sold by women,[7] who tend to be college-educated and in their twenties and thirties.[21] Let's look at an average price point of $20 per item. 20 x 1,000 = $20,000. Sounds like good money, but when you think that 1,000 sales could take two years, that means $10K a year or $833 a month. Out of that, one has to take out expenses like the fees charged by Etsy and Pay Pal and cost of goods sold. Even if you make all of your product out of recycled items that have a very low purchase point, there will be costs involved in finishing a product, in computer maintenance, and all kinds of hidden fees or costs. If we doubled that pricepoint to $40 per item, we would have a more livable income of $1,666 a month. But, what if your rent is $1,500 a month? And, in this economy, selling higher ticket items has definitely become more difficult. Do you see the challenge here? OK, now I will share some of my experience and what I consider to be key to surviving through online sales.

My business, Rayela Art, focuses on textiles and supplies for the textile artist. If you look at my shop on Etsy, you will see that my largest categories are Fabric, Trim, Remnants (59) and Textiles, Quilts, Throws (54). You will find remnants from salvaged ethnic textiles and clothing as well as new, finished items like cotton spreads from India that make great quilt backs or that can be cut up as fabric. I have worked with handicrafts from around the world since 1988 and also have several skills including sewing, working with clay, and refinishing furniture. I started selling online about 10 years ago, mostly on eBay but I have also tried several other venues that have come and gone or that simply did not generate enough sales to make the effort worthwhile. Last year my income was around $32K, generated mostly by my online sales, but I also have a part time job, work on commissions, do henna tattoos in the summer and have provided some technical assistance for other businesses. I have cheap rent and a husband who helps subsidize what I fall short on. My income was not enough to pay for my expenses, but it was a great improvement over the previous year which was around $20K. My goal is to grow another 25% this year. I consider myself an expert in my field and have learned my business through the school of hard knocks. My hope is that you will find an easier route!

"Do not put all your eggs in one basket!" We've heard this over and over. And, it is true. My main outlet now is Etsy although I still keep my eBay store and have recently been accepted into 1,000 Markets where I have the things I make. I also have a booth in an antiques store in downtown Paducah which has started to generate significant sales. Online sales, like any retail sales, go through different, unpredictable cycles. Sometimes, a week can go by with no sales, and then all of a suddent there will be a spurt where there is activity here or there or on all three sites. As I stated above, I also have outside income and I find that I need that, both for the stability as well as for a foot in the "real world". Being tied to a computer all day, every day can become an unhealthy, isolating lifestyle.

Rayela Art: Vintage and Ethnic Textile Supplies on Etsy

Product Line
Define your product. I love many different kinds of crafts and have had experience in selling wonderful crafts from all over the world. When first started selling online, I also had a brick and mortar shop in Chicago. I had three different shops over a 15 year period, always focused on ethnic crafts from around the world and when I began selling on eBay, I sold baskets, carvings, jewelry and even furniture. I decided to focus on textiles because of the ease in shipping and storage and because I decided to focus my own craft skills on sewing. Having an identity helps customers understand your business. If you sell vintage, zoom in on one period or collection instead of having a mish-mash of stuff that will make your store look like a junk shop.

Avoid jumping on the bandwagon and selling whatever is hot at the moment. For example, the most saturated category on Etsy is handmade jewelry. Everybody who gets hooked on beads starts stringing them, hoping that their special selection will stand out. Very few do. It's one of the toughest markets to break into. I know how to string beads, too, and have made some beautiful necklaces and bracelets, but so have thousands of others. If you want to work with beads, think of some products that are less competitive: wineglass markers, pull cords, beaded curtains, and so on.

Price Point
Have a range of prices in your shop. My lowest priced items right now are at $7.50, mostly textile stamps like this one:

My most expensive item right now is this Suzani Textile at $180:

I have never sold an item that was over $200, although I have had customers spend more than that on several items purchased together. Give your customers and option and use your sections well. I don't sell anything under $5. I would rather group small ticket items together to make a $10 sale. I can't justify the environmental cost of selling really cheap items singly.

Product Quantity
Again, give your customer options! I try to keep my store on Etsy stocked at over 200 items. Right now I am low in all three stores and am working on photos of new items. Those of you who have spent some time on the Etsy forum will have seen post after post of sellers crying out for help, asking "Why am I not selling?" and you go take a look at their shop and they have three items, or at best, 20. What store can operate on low inventory? What street vendor ever sat on a blanket with three items to sell? If you are making your own things, it is hard to grow your store with a healthy selection, but it can be done. Think about growing your inventory and then later, just maintaining it. I worked out the numbers of how many hats and purses I would have to make to have a decent inventory. I could do it, but instead, I have chosen to re-sell the types of things I have in my store so that my sewing could be my creative work. Etsy gives us 10 sections. Try to separate your product line into those sections. It can be by price, color, size, type of product, age, whatever. Then, try to have at least 10 items in each category. That means, a stock of at least 100 items.

Make your store beautiful! Take good photos, explain who you are, what your policies are, and make it professional. If you can't spell or write well in English, have someone help you. Do NOT use texting as a form of writing, do NOT write everything in caps, and do use capitals in the beginning of a sentence. Remember, although Etsy sellers and management might be young, most of the buyers with disposable income will be savvy, professional women who are over 40. Until this recession hit us, 30% of my buyers were Europeans and Australians. English is the language used on Etsy and if you want to sell and make your store believable, use language as well as images to sell your product. Make your message positive and welcoming. Cultivate your online image.

Even if your photos are not great, make sure they are clear.

Customer Service
Those 1,000 sales I made only happened because people out there decided to put their trust and money in my hands. And, I delivered. I am grateful for every single one of them, no matter how small the sale. And, when they come back, I almost weep with joy! I have many repeat customers which shows me that I have come up with a product line that is well received and that my customers like how I do business. I do not spend a lot of time and money on cute packaging. I respond immediately to every sale, thanking the customer for their purchase and informing them when I will ship (usually the next business day) and I offer free shipping on purchases over $100. I use the United States Postal Service for almost all of my shipping, printing labels through Pay Pal, and mostly using flat rate envelopes which fit most of my items. Almost all of my sales include multiple purchases, so those 1,000 sales really reflect perhaps around 600 individual sales. My cost in offering free shipping last year was over $1,000, so it is a significant cost, averaging about 10% of the total sale.

I cannot stress how important it is to treat your customers well. They do not need cuteness. They appreciate efficiency, quality products, good packaging, and timely shipping.

Ah, marketing.... This has been the major burden for me in this business of selling online. There is no way around it. You have to get out there and form your online community. A lot of it can be quite fun and I now count quite a few people who I will probably never meet in real life as dear friends. But, it is time consuming and involves constant vigilance of the new venues that are out there. I'm on a whole bunch of groups and networks and even twitter occasionally (watch my eyes roll around in my head!), but I focus my time, energy and money on this here blog (bad grammar intended), Facebook (which I think is an excellent tool!), Project Wonderful, and the Ning group that I started, The Fiber Focus Group. Some of my peers are in all of them, while each also has unique relationships that do not overlap into each other.

When I first started selling on Etsy, I spent a lot of time on the Etsy Forum. I learned a great deal there and have huge respect for the sellers there who take time to guide newbies and confused sellers into making sense out of many difficult issues. But, as I became more savvy with how it worked, many topics began to get repetitive and I also found a strong bias against people like me who work with cultural crafts. There is a definite clique on Etsy in favor of the young indie movement that excludes many traditional crafters or those who work in other craft areas. Then, when I started this blog, I was focused on creating content and found that each post took several hours to produce. Now, I rarely visit the forum, although I continue to refer others there.

I have subscribed to Google Analytics which analyzes traffic to my Etsy store. Over time, this shows what marketing efforts succeed in drawing traffic to the store. In the last six months, 38% of my traffic has been generated through Etsy's internal traffic (including my repeat customers), 23% through Google Key Words, and 4% through this blog. The remaining 35% was broken down into very small percentages from many different sources. You absolutely cannot sit back and wait for business to come to you! How you choose to build your online community is your choice, but it is important especially if you have limited income and cannot spend big marketing bucks on getting visibility.

Etsy Critique

I like Etsy. I think it has done a wonderful job in providing a beautiful venue for those of us who sell online. It is a huge community and a significant force in providing small businesses with a platform for economic change. I would like to continue to have a presence there for a long time and I hope that as it matures as a site, so will its leadership. I have several complaints that I have whined about in other posts, mostly related to seller tools and its search system. I also find it inexcusable that they do not find a place for fair trade products. The bias against cultural crafts that I mentioned above is really disheartening as the handmade movement is global and should include those who are underserved, lack access to larger markets and who do not have computer skills. I would buy much more from fair trade suppliers if I had an outlet for their products on Etsy. But, I respect their guidelines and stick to those items which I can sell there.

My store on eBay is sorely depleted right now, basically because I have lost the joy of selling there even though I have always had wonderful customers there, too. But, I don't like eBay's management and they have become very expensive. Yet, they provide the best seller tools I have seen on any online market and their search system works. 1,000 Markets is a beautiful model which I believe will become serious competition for Etsy. Even though they are only a few months old, they arrived with a mature, sensitive and beautiful template. I know that they will only keep on getting better and their number one goal is to match buyers to sellers in a vibrant way. Etsy's number one goal seems to be creating community, which is fine, but would be even better if they did that within a business model that made life a little easier for the seller.

Oh, I could go on and on, but these are my basic insights I thought I would share with you today. Whatever my moans and groans, I am deeply thankful that I even have this lifestyle as a choice. It's hard work and it takes discipline to attend to all the many facets of running an online business. You are tied to a business and cannot take off on trips easily. But, there is also a great deal of freedom that comes with this lifestyle. I have my first vegetable garden this year. If the weather is nice, I can go outside and work on it. I can go to the public pool if I want to. I can clean the house, play with my dogs, sew, read or do whatever the muse of the moment mandates. I treasure this freedom and for that, I thank Etsy for all that it has provided me in the last two years and I especially thank all of the customers who have made this 1,000 sales goal possible!

Now, on to the next one thousand!


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