Since its launch in 2005, the Etsy online marketplace has helped forge a bold new craft and fashion recycling movement. In a short time, it has stretched its cross-stitched, organically moisturised and lovingly tailored limbs to reach a total of 43 million unique browsers, sellers and buyers in close to 200 countries around the world, making it one of the most powerful retail sites on the web today.
Within those 200 nations, including the US, where Etsy was founded and is based, exist around 800,000 shops, which showcase a combined figure of around 18 million product listings. With a little searching, you can find anything from handcrafted jewellery to vintage milk crates and bespoke leather lace-up shoes. The enviable and admittedly daunting task of sifting through all these products – the good and the bad – falls to Emily Bidwell, Etsy’s head of visual merchandising, who swung by Sydney and Melbourne recently to sit on a business panel at the L’Oreal Melbourne Fashion Festival.
The crux of Bidwell’s job is to maintain and promote the core of Etsy’s aesthetic, which, if you take into account the hulking bulk of product available, is wildly varied. But to tie Etsy together, Bidwell likes to think of it “as a kind of fresh, new take on handmade”. As she says in no uncertain terms: “It’s a new craft movement.” The difference to other online marketplaces such as eBay, is a sense of craftsmanship and curation, of attention to the way a product is photographed and displayed for sale.
For all the weird (an oil painting of the burning Twin Towers on 9/11) and wonderful (an incredible selection of hand-drawn, whimsical temporary tattoos) items sold through the site, there is for the most part an interesting and valuable context – a background to the seller, a story about the scarf of the shoes or the vintage necklace – which is a huge point of difference to a clinical transaction where a fast dollar is the sole motivation behind an online store.
“We’re looking at the stories that we want to tell, rather than, you know, just hawking goods,” says Bidwell. “It’s really more about [a store owner’s] engagement with their shop and their ability to present a product really beautifully.”
Even with the comforting context of a seller’s story, trawling through the belly of Etsy’s offerings can be daunting. The sheer number of product listings (just a cool 18 million) is enough to intimidate any newbie who lands on the page after following the scent of affordably priced vintage and bespoke goods. This is where Bidwell comes in. She manages the task of Etsy’s daily EDMs, which are sent to a colossal number of people worldwide each day, filled with an “editor’s pick” of products she’s unearthed while browsing the site, an essential part of her job. If Bidwell comes across, say, a particularly incredible letter-pressed set of cards from the UK, or a pair of hand-sewn leather sandals from Israel, it’s these daily newsletters where the products will ideally end up. An inclusion in these daily EDMs can skyrocket traffic to that particular store, making Bidwell the target to aim for a seller who has their sights set on making it big.
“We really want the site to be translated into as many languages as possible and to really be reaching out to lots of different markets, so we are not as much of a USA-centric experience,” says Bidwell of the site, which has found a rapidly expanding market in Australia. Every day there are new areas of interest popping up all over the globe. Israel has asserted itself as a hotspot for interesting emerging designers with a focus on succinct shipping and delivery, as has Mexico.
It would be hard to believe a woman who spends this much time digging through such an incredible array of products could walk away without purchasing a few pieces of her own here and there. “Luckily, I have a sense of satisfaction when I curate something,” says Bidwell. “Having shared it with other people, you get the same satisfaction as buying it, actually.”
It’s a claim that is suspiciously hard to believe, so we tested her on it. Here is a list of Emily Bidwell’s favourite stores on Etsy from Sydney and Melbourne:
Marcue – “These are 1930s-style handmade leather oxford shoes that come in the coolest colours. Think white oxfords and mint green lace-ups.”
Ginnie & Jude – “This shop has this amazing model that they go a long way with. They do vintage-inspired clothing, millinery, they use things like interesting buttons, and do custom work. I love this statement she makes in her profile: ‘statement pieces for the perennially overdressed’.”
Caramia Vintage – “The curation is spectacular – she specialises in vintage designer clothes, you can find incredible Pucci pieces and Valentino. I drool over it all the time!”
Georgie Cummings – “Georgie does this geometric patterned jewellery made from porcelain and brass and also leather goods. The leather is vegetable tanned and onto it she prints light geometric patterns, on wallets and things.”
Samah Designs – “She does acrylic laser cut jewellery. She kind of specialises in cool, big, Moroccan-style statement earrings, which are on point for the upcoming season.”