Race, Featured Sellers and A Question For Etsy

I’ve got a bone to pick with Etsy.

I know. I know.  I’ve had a lot of bones recently.

You’re wondering “where is she going with this?” and I’m wondering “where is this going to go?”, but nonetheless, I feel it needs to be said…Where are the non-White and non-Asian vendors on Etsy? I’m dead serious here.

Several weeks ago I was looking through the “Featured Seller” postings and saw maybe 3 African-American females (not males, which is a whole topic for a later time) before stopping. I think I got to page 10, so I can’t be sure of the total amount.  Just play along with me, okay?

My friends will know that this topic- “race”– is something I don’t talk about often. As a matter of fact, I really only discuss or think about race when asked about it.

Why? Well because I try to think of myself as Sara. Actually, I only think of myself as Sara.  If/when the topic of race comes up, then I think about myself as Sara who on first appearance is brown and has curly hair and non-White features, but then I go back to thinking of myself as Sara and how I’ve dealt with racism in my personal bubble. This does not mean that I don’t disagree  or act like racism doesn’t exist or hasn’t ever existed. I have felt racism and the effects of racism. As a matter of fact, they’ve strongly helped create the confidence and “I don’t care” attitude that I exude.

As a “minority”, I am much grateful for the sacrifices made by the individuals who fought with their lives so that I can have the “freedoms” that this democracy “allows”. But I also thank my paternal grandparents who were an interracial couple in the 60s in the United States. I think about how much my grandmother loved my grandfather and I think about how much my grandfather loved yes, my grandmother, but learning about other cultures. I often say that my grandfather was “darker than night”, yet he was  a “free” man thanks to his ability to not be identified as just be a “black man”.  Their ability to face fear (racism is fear) directly and live their lives gives me the ability to walk around proudly as Sara Stroman. And just Sara Stroman. Yes, I’ve got some history in my family (I also like to tell people when they ask why I have a Jewish name, “probably from the German Jewish family that owned my slave ancestors in the South”), but I am Sara Stroman in 2011. Whether you, or someone else tries to box me into what they think I should be boxed into, I refuse and will throw curve balls to shatter your boxes. This goes for everything about me, including the relationships that I have with people from different races, cultures, economic backgrounds, etc. I choose to live a life where I don’t focus on race.

I think the other part of this is that I’m “mixed”; I love that I am, too!

I love that my roots stem from France, Africa and Central America. I love that my Mom has Mayan ancestry and her father, my grandfather, has Spanish (from Spain) ancestry even though he’s from Honduras. I love that my Dad was born in France to a feisty French woman who was properly nicknamed “Frenchy” and an African-American soldier based in France. I love that I can crave a baguette as quickly as I can a corn tortilla.

I have embraced it all as part of being an “American” and therefore I have no identity issues. Or rather identity issues have fallen to the way side as I have grown up and learned to live my life not dwelling on my race and who I am not. I don’t wish I were more of one or the other and I never say that I’m this or that.  I am me. The end. Or as my aunt would say, “period”.

I believe that race will always be an issue as long as we continue to see people based on the way they appear rather than for who they are and what they offer.

I realize that based on that last statement my question to Etsy is a bit off, but you know, whereas I am idealistic, I’m not unrealistic and so I think it is worth pointing out that Etsy has not featured as many sellers/crafters/small businesses that are owned by Latin or African-American people in their weekly “Featured Sellers” series.

After having this realization, I went to the best place I could think to find an answer to my next question, “How do Featured Sellers get selected?”- The Community area of Etsy.

There are endless postings asking about how to become a Featured Seller and as I read through some of them, I found the following answer to my question:

How do I become a Featured Seller on the home page?
The Featured Seller is always handpicked by a member of Etsy’s staff. We look for ingenuity, well-made items, interesting descriptions and top-notch item photos.

There you have it! Etsy staff selects who to feature based on their preferences. Which is fine, they run the show after all, but what does it say about the Etsy community, or the staff? (By the way, I’ve been to the Etsy offices numerous times, I’m not talking crap about their staff-they are all nice and funky individuals who I would love to call co-workers.)

Is Etsy just a place for homogeneity? 

I think that in a rare moment for me, I’m wearing my “hey, I’m a “minority” cap”. What that means is that I’m thinking about how Etsy is represented to the people.  I know that Etsy has a large base. I hear from people all the time that they simply LOVE Etsy, but I don’t think I’ve ever really paid attention to the racial background of these people. Now that I’m pondering this, I’m going to pay attention.

Maybe I’m the one who needs to diversify my group?

Possibly.

As an Etsy seller, I would hope that my product gets viewed by lots of different kinds of people from different backgrounds.  I am aware that all of these people will not be in my “target market”, but what if some of them are and I’m not reaching them? (At this point, I’m not reaching a lot of my target market, but the fact remains that I want to be able to reach them.) While I may not come across as someone who is not White (my dearest aunt calls me a cracker with cracker friends- NO, I’m not kidding!), I still am not White and some times people are comforted by that-they are buying from someone like “them”.  I know, I know. I can’t even believe I wrote that sentence, but I did because I think there is some truth to it.

I’m not saying that someone wandering to my Etsy shop is going to instantly feel a connection to my “mixed” background, but I do have a picture of myself holding a card I’ve created as my shop main image. Right off the bat the customer can formulate an idea of who they are working with and buying from. Other than the picture, I try to do a good job of not sounding like anything outside of a story-teller and intelligent, passionate, and sometimes silly individual who loves paper products in my listings.

Maybe that is the point- that you aren’t supposed to see the seller and therefore are only supposed to pay attention to the products. Which is great considering that I don’t want people to just be personified by their race in general, but if you look at the shops that are always highlighted, don’t all the models seem to always be White or Asian? Making my question a bit louder- Hasn’t anyone inside the ever-growing Etsy community  noticed that it seems homogeneous? 

Images reign supreme on Etsy, but they also are heavy hitters for any industry. Humans are saturated daily with images of everything under the sun- from things as silly as a water bottle to images of celebrities in glamorous dresses and weighing no more than a hungry child in Somalia for no good reason. Women see these images and are inundated with self-doubt and a bunch of other image related issues.  They want to replicate what they see. It takes a strong person who can see these things and still take another road. I say that as someone who is strong, but can sometimes see images and want what I see, too. I am human.

Which leads me to the other way in which Etsy sellers sell their products – language. Doesn’t that too have an effect on the buyers? Furthermore, doesn’t language itself leave the field open to questions such as “is this a vendor I would buy from regularly?” or “does this product align with me and my beliefs?” A lot can be read and judged by a few simple words.  You can learn about a person’s level of education, social abilities, communication skills, and even their marketing talents. You can often tell if a person is genuine or not.

At this point (sorry THIS is a LONG post), you’re probably wondering, “WHAT does language have to do with this?”. I’ll tell you now because I’ve been on the receiving end of the, “You talk like a white girl” comment. The language a person uses can also “tell” (I mean that as loosely as possible) if a person is yes educated vs. non-educated (which I think is the bigger meaning here), but whether someone is a native English speaker or not and what the person’s background is. Does the language have typos? Heck in our culture now, people write horribly, so you can even tell someone who is older and someone who is younger.  It says a lot. Which means your language has just as much power to attract or not attract someone to your shop and your products.

People want to feel like they fit in and that is what has been so great about Etsy- crafters have united! Etsy is a place where crafters and handmade lovers can get together and share their love and draw creative strength from each other. Not only that, but it is also a place where consumers can go for unique, handmade and special items. It’s reach is vast and non-ending, especially as they open offices in Europe (I can reach international buyers now!).

Whereas other websites have launched on the same premise-everyone has a niche and everyone can find a place online to really feel connected and part of a community- Etsy has exemplified what it truly means to create a community and have it grow (their growth is incredible!).  BUT what if your community is a bunch of sellers and buyers who not only engage in transactions, but develop relationships? At some point there is going to be a question about the faces behind the shops. Right? Yes! And then that brings me back to the main question of why aren’t there many non-White or non-Asian as featured sellers on Etsy? Maybe the real question is why aren’t there many non-White or non-Asian sellers on Etsy in general?

I don’t know the numbers and I didn’t look to see if it is even possible to find the numbers. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe that Etsy asks for our race when you sign up, but I do really wonder just how many African-Americans or Latina/o(s) are selling on Etsy? If there are many, why aren’t they represented, especially as Featured Sellers?

I am sure that there are countless sellers who show ingenuity, well-made items, interesting descriptions and offer top-notch photographs and also happen to be women of color.

As an example, I’d like to present LinguaNigra. Her stuff is BOMB. Seriously. Take a look at her “Hand Etched Gold Plated Brass and Copper Bangles – Set of 3“. Aren’t they just amazingly gorgeous? (I wish I had $190 to just spend on them because I’d buy them and I don’t even wear bracelets!)  I don’t want to turn this into a shop critique because she’s had sales and a shop since 2007, but maybe what is holding her back from being an Etsy Featured Seller is that her descriptions and photos need more spicing up? I don’t know. What I do know is that I think her pieces are interesting, well-made, and most definitely show ingenuity. Her jewelry is a lot more interesting and bold than a lot of the other pieces I see for sale on Etsy. Whether her descriptions are bold enough, her work should speak for itself and attract Etsy staff.

What all of these thoughts boil down to is that I look at Featured Sellers as a source of inspiration. I’m always inspired by the sellers, but I’d be even more inspired if I read about a totally rad African-American or Latina or heck, even Native American woman who is following her passion, making her craft and money, AND was able to quit her job and do this full-time.  If I am inspired by that imagine the masses of other women that would be inspired! Furthermore imagine the amounts of people who might think of Etsy as a store front not just for ______(fill in whatever Etsy stereotype you have there), but for everyone.

I should point out that I am not talking about people just dabbling in hobbies, I’m talking about artists and entrepreneurs using Etsy to pursue their passion(s) and business. I get that there are millions of Etsy users and I’m sure that the staff has to weed through a lot of not-so-attractive shops to get to the gems, but I don’t think those gems are limited to White and Asian Etsy sellers.

Ultimately, I don’t think that Etsy is a big bad wolf here and I’m most definitely not screaming all around town “race” here, but I am interested in seeing a more representative group of sellers featured. Sometimes people don’t see things that are directly in their face. Like me, people get caught up in the, “well I’m just focusing on THIS” and fail to see how it comes across to others on the opposite side of the table.

Oh, lastly, a disclaimer of sorts, I do think it’s great that the Asian community is represented on Etsy. I really, really do. It’s refreshing given the racism that they have experienced as a group in America.  I just want a larger scale or representation.

I also didn’t write this to directly force change, I wrote this to start a dialogue about something I’ve noticed. While I would like someone, anyone, at Etsy to take note of the fact that the ” hey, I’m a minority” cap wearing Sara would like more of me to be represented, I’d also be interested in hearing how other people feel about this. Have you noticed this? Does this bother you? What do YOU, reader, suggest?

The floor is all yours.

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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

3 thoughts on “Race, Featured Sellers and A Question For Etsy”

  1. i am late but i appreciate this post. i think that you just have to be you and the folks will come. I tried to do a shop and realized wow, i almost have to sell out to get a sale. not my thing. I think you should work to try to promote but its a WHOLE nother thing trying to get in the mind of a customer who is of a different nationality then your. hence only black women buy carol’s daughter

  2. Well, I’m seeing this post years later, but surprise surprise, this is still such a relevant issue. I’ve noticed that it goes beyond race and into a social and cultural prejudice over styles and products. Etsy perpetuates a certain lifestyle amongst its featured products that are more or less targeted to a white upper middle class population. Yes, its not just Etsy, its pretty much all marketing everywhere; they tell you what you should live and how you should live based on race.

    I make jewelry using gemstones and beads and charms. Its very bohemian at times, simple, yet trendy. I love making wire jewellery and try to be unique in my designs. They are original and authentic; and I take pride in that. Through the process of marketing my items on Etsy, my browness become a more vulnerable issue for me than putting my art out for the world to see. When it came to posting photos of my items, I all of a sudden realized that I’m not white, and this is the type of jewelry that white people wear. It won’t look as stylish if it’s on such dark brown skin. I was not only self-conscious, but I felt as if the items wouldn’t sell as well because customers won’t see products in the manner and style they are used it – on a young slim white woman in a field as the sun is setting and some dandelions are blowing past her face . What I have not only learned but experiences as well is that, white skin has more value, integrity, and commercial adoration than brown skin.

    I am lucky to have lived a life that did not carry the burden of an tarnish race on my shoulders. At the same time it is not that this burden is not on me, but that I grew up sheltered and safe and very rarely realized that I look different from everyone else.

    But when it does hit you, it hits you hard.

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