TAFA Takes Proactive Approach to Changes Within the Handmade Market

Since the introduction of Etsy’s new guidelines and the newly defined “handmade,” some of us in the creative community (me, me, me) have wasted spent our time exposing Etsy deception. In the meantime, while I have been relentlessly spewing venom and floundering about with where to take my handmade business, others in the handmade community have taken a more positive, proactive (yes, level-headed) approach.

One such group is TAFA (Textile and Fiber Art) whose TAFA List includes over 500 handmade textile and fiber artists from across the globe. TAFA is led by Rachel Biel, the group’s founder. (If you want to be reminded of what handmade is all about, visit the TAFA Market. The work of these artists is amaaaa…Zing!) Over half of the TAFA members have an Etsy shop, many voicing concerns over Etsy’s new direction. While some of these members intend to remain on Etsy, others intend to create a standalone site, and still others are taking a “wait and see” approach.

Rachel, in a proactive move to give the group a cohesive marketing platform, has created a phenomenal online market for TAFA shops through the use of MerchPin. The beauty of MerchPin is it allows the user to create a self-hosted storefront, while the back end work is done through an online marketplace like Etsy* (or others), making it convenient to incorporate multi-store products into one catalog. Rachel has done an excellent job of explaining how this works.

Rachel’s extensive work on behalf of TAFA provides a beautiful example of how the melding of creative minds toward one endeavor can change the handmade market for the better. Many thanks to Rachel for being in the forefront of this movement. Hopefully other groups will follow her lead in creating viable sales and marketing options for the independent handmade business owner.

*This is absolutely NOT an endorsement for Etsy.  In case you wondered.

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6 thoughts on “TAFA Takes Proactive Approach to Changes Within the Handmade Market

  1. Wow! What a nice affirmation! Yes, it’s really been hard to watch Etsy make choices that clearly penalize the handmade community. I keep thinking that they will wake up and reverse things, but when you read all of the documentation about what’s happened there (here and in the comments of many of the recent articles), it’s mind boggling. Yet, closing shop there is not an easy choice for many of us as it means throwing away years of link building and work. This is the thing that really gets me, that Etsy does not seem to acknowledge that a successful marketplace happens when there is a solid partnership between the administrators of the site, the sellers and the buyers.

    Etsy has done a lot of good for the handmade community over the years, offering a repository of tutorials, business tools, and giving visibility to many, many emerging entrepreneurs. Those of us who signed on early on saw huge improvements in seller tools and the site really is the visual leader for what a marketplace should look like now. It could be a superb market if it not only stuck to its mission but refined it. Instead, it’s base is becoming watered down with cheap products that can be found anywhere.

    We’ve worked hard to establish a presence there, with TAFA shops having a search result of over 4,000 products: https://www.etsy.com/search?q=tafa&view_type=gallery&ship_to=ZZ We have links all over the place pointing to our tag there and we can’t just throw in the towel and walk away. So, this new Market we are creating is an experiment to see whether we can offer our members a viable alternative that is not Etsy-centric. Merchpin has a lot of potential, but it has some glitches that make it labor intensive to run. As it is right now, it’s doubtful that we could build a huge marketplace, but it’s working well for the participating shops. We have 22 shops testing it right now and I would like to see it grow to 50 so that we would have enough product diversity to reflect our larger membership, many of whom do not have a shopping cart at all.

    Merchpin is especially interesting as a concept for small groups. Their site hosts a catalog which generates code, much like a huge Etsy mini or treasury. This code can be pasted anywhere, so several friends could band together and host shared products on their websites or blogs. Hopefully, it will continue to develop as more groups see its potential. We are interested in cross-promoting with other indie markets, so do connect with us if you go that route.

    All of us face a competitive market and a depressed world economy, so selling online and charging fair prices for labor, supplies and design are challenges we face anywhere, whether on Etsy or in self-hosted sites. That’s why groups are so important. Join or form local ones for face-to-face support and create alliances with online ones for virtual communities. I have grown tremendously from our TAFA members, even though I probably will not meet most of our members in person. My mantra with our group is “Together we can do great things!”. If not on Etsy, then we need to be smart and collectively shape other options that work for us. Technology changes constantly and we have more opportunities now than ever before to make those tools work for us in our favor. I hope that each of you who is struggling with direction and frustration can harness that into something positive that will give you sustenance and a solid financial base.

    • Thank you Rachel for your thoughtful post. I agree that Etsy has done much for the handmade community, which is why their latest changes feel like a knife-in-the-back. It is certainly understandable that leaving the site would be very difficult for those whose Etsy roots run deep, and that is the biggest tragedy of the whole Etsy mess. Yet, I have faith that the handmade community will rise above the Etsy blip in handmade’s history and come out just fine on the other side. May be a struggle to get there, but the combined creativity, honest work ethic, and resilience of community members will go a long way in moving us forward. Keep up the good work. You and TAFA are most inspiring!

  2. Rachel has worked tirelessly and I have a good feeling about the TAFA market.I have a shop on Etsy and I am not happy with the direction so I have been working to set up elsewhere .
    The work of the folks at TAFALIST is second to none and the true spirit of handmade.

  3. Thanks, Patty. I think that most of us struggle with these issues and with finding a balance between creating and selling. It’s especially difficult for those who really depend financially on selling their products in order to meet bills and keep a roof over the heads. Along with all of the opportunities that are available online (and the cost involved with time, learning new skills, etc.), many of the brick and mortar shops and galleries that once supported the handmade community have closed their doors. I had my own shop for 20 years in Chicago and never made any money at it, barely scraping by. I finally moved away to a small town in Kentucky and here there are no options for me outside of what I can do online. Having this online community has been a wonderful thing for me, but it’s true, it’s all such a struggle.

    In the end, we are all making some kind of a choice in how we live and how we spend our waking hours. I love what I do, even though I’m still not making enough to cover my needs, still scraping by, but I thrive in this community, can take my dogs for a walk when I want to, can go dig in the garden in the middle of the day, and don’t have to answer to anyone else.

    At one time, Etsy provided a significant income for me, bringing in around $800/month. I’ve barely had any sales since November 2012, so I don’t count on it anymore. I see being there more as an advertisement now. Listings are cheap and if something sells, it’s cream on the pudding. But, for those who still depend on their sales there, the drop in sales has been terrifying. Several of us were talking about this on one of our forums awhile back and we realized that all of us who had experienced this drop in sales had it happen at the same time, in November of 2012. Does anyone know if something changed significantly then that would do this? I’m thinking something in Search must have been altered significantly…

  4. Pingback: HABlog: Discover Handmade Autumn Nov 15 | Handmade by Cari

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