|By Katherine McKerrow
Early in 2005, Rob Kalin, a carpenter, painter and photographer in his 20s, was looking for a way to market his creations online. Dissatisfied with eBay and other Internet commerce sites, Kalin decided to take matters into his own hands and, along with two friends, spent three months designing and coding a site that would allow artists and crafters to share and sell their work like never before. On June 18, 2005, Etsy.com, an Internet marketplace, was launched.
However, what Etsy’s founders hadn’t reckoned on was a growing crop of vintage and antique items and “shops” appearing on Etsy. This development in the Etsy story may prove significant for the antique and collectibles industry, as well, since a new group of collectors and antique lovers, whose demographics might surprise you, is growing online.
Etsy is expanding by leaps and bounds, with nearly 200,000 registered sellers and more than 1 million registered buyers. In 2007, $26 million in merchandise was sold – by mid 2008, that number had already reached $30 million.
All it takes to register as an Etsy seller is inventory. Etsy charges a listing fee of 20 cents per item and claims a commission of 3.5 percent of every sale made. Sellers establish, name and “decorate” their personal “shops.”
The company provides support, as well as a vast network of online forums, chat rooms and blogs, in which members can connect, share ideas, show off items and give advice and tips.
According to survey results released on March 6, 96 percent of Etsy users (including both buyers and sellers) are female. The typical Etsy member is also young: The average age for buyers is 32, and the average seller is slightly older, 35. The survey also showed that while 82 percent of buyers and 86 percent of sellers are from the United States, there is a growing population of international users.
Etsy was originally founded to host shops of handmade items and is a frontrunner of what is being called the modern “DIY (do it yourself) movement.” In a way reminiscent of the 19th-century Arts and Crafts Movement artisans’ eschewal of the Industrial Revolution, modern “DIYers” are, to a point, rebelling against mass-produced consumer goods – making, trading and buying homemade crafts, jewelry, clothing and art. According to the website, Etsy was created “to reconnect producer and consumer, and swing the pendulum back to a time when we bought our bread from the baker, food from the farmer and shoes from the cobbler.”
Vintage dealers have begun listing items on Etsy, and according to Adam Brown, a member of the marketing team, the site is “happy to have them.” Perhaps it’s the recycling aspect of purchasing older goods that has appealed to the DIY crowd. Currently, there are more than 100,000 vintage items listed on the site. Etsy classifies anything 20 years old or older as “vintage.” However, that doesn’t mean the site is chock full of secondhand junk.
Instead, a number of interesting Etsy shops offer high-quality, attractive vintage merchandise. On any given day on Etsy, the browsing shopper can find retro kitchenware, Victorian jewelry, mid 20th-century décor, clothing from the Edwardian period and even fine antique furniture.
Blue Bell Bazaar, a shop owned by Gosia Korsakowski, offers a charming selection of decorative items. No stranger to the antique trade, Gosia, a native of Poland, worked for a while in an antique mall. About four years ago, she began designing glassware. In January 2007, she opened her Etsy shop to sell her glass, as well as her favorite vintage finds.
Gosia chooses pieces with a decorator’s eye, and it’s no wonder that a number of her clients are stylists for home décor magazines. “I buy things that I would keep in my home, if I had more space,” she says. One of Blue Bell Bazaar’s trademarks is the artfully composed photographs of its merchandise. Gosia also e-mails clients with a weekly newsletter of new finds.
The name of the shop itself came from a treasured antique – “an old navy blue Christmas ornament, which I got from my grandmother,” says Gosia.
Another interesting shop is Calico Vintage, which is owned by Melissa, a 25-year-old from Ohio. Interested in vintage clothing since high school, Melissa began selling on eBay in 2004. She opened her Etsy shop in January, but has already acquired a following.
Calico Vintage offers many different retro styles, but Melissa’s specialty is clothing made by Gunne Sax, a San Fransisco-based clothing company that was bought by Jessica McClintock in 1969. Famous for its “prairie revival” fashions of the 1970s, Gunne Sax-style dresses and separates are coming back into vogue. “I truly love anything made by Gunne Sax,” says Melissa. “One of my favorite things that I’ve sold was a 1970s maxi dress with the biggest flared sleeves I have ever seen! It was definitely one of those ’I wish it fit and I could keep it for myself’ dresses.”
While the majority of Calico Vintage’s clientele is female, Melissa sells vintage Gunne Sax apparel to women of all ages. “One of my very best customers is in her 50s, and she buys from me quite often. I also have several gals in their late teens and early 20s who buy, as well.”
Penn Dutchman Antiques of Chicago also has a successful Etsy shop. However, unlike most of the other vintage shops, Penn Dutchman has been in business for more than 30 years. Penn Dutchman established its Etsy shop in March, at the suggestion of a few of the North Side store’s customers. Amy Mowery of Penn Dutchman says that the business is “really happy” to be a part of Etsy, as it’s “a really nice way to promote stores.”
Most of Penn Dutchman’s Etsy buyers are young artists and students. Although the shop does offer larger items, such as antique furniture, some of Penn Dutchman’s best sellers have been vintage costume jewelry. Amy has found that many of the Etsy clientele purchase vintage items that can, in turn, be used in their own crafts and artwork.
Penn Dutchman’s Etsy shop has a far reach, and the store has sold and shipped items as far away as the U.K. and Norway, but offers delivery service to local buyers. That allows the online shop to offer substantial pieces of antique furniture.
The growing legions of Etsy sellers and buyers are establishing an important Internet marketplace for vintage – as well as handmade – goods. This young and vibrant set may be the future of the antiques trade, collecting everything from vintage fashion to mid-century décor to antique furniture.
Blue Bell Bazaar: www.bluebellbazaar.etsy.com
Calico Vintage: www.calicovintage.etsy.com
Penn Dutchman Antiques: www.penndutchman.etsy.com