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Etsy Enables Artisans’ Growth

  • Marlo Miyashiro has helped some 1,400 craftspeople find a market via the website Etsy Rain. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/MCT)

    Marlo Miyashiro has helped some 1,400 craftspeople find a market via the website Etsy Rain. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/MCT)

  • Marlo Miyashiro, who makes sterling-silver jewelry, has used the online platform of Etsy to expand her business and unite other artists. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/MCT)

    Marlo Miyashiro, who makes sterling-silver jewelry, has used the online platform of Etsy to expand her business and unite other artists. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/MCT)

  • Marlo Miyashiro has helped some 1,400 craftspeople find a market via the website Etsy Rain. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/MCT)
  • Marlo Miyashiro, who makes sterling-silver jewelry, has used the online platform of Etsy to expand her business and unite other artists. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/MCT)

Marlo Miyashiro starts with a sheet of sterling silver.

She then uses wires, pliers, a jeweler saw and small torch to transform the sheet into sterling-silver charms and etch comic-book phrases like “Kapow!” or “Zing!” on them. Or she engraves on silver promise rings “I love you.”

The Seattle jewelry maker started selling her art 20 years ago at craft fairs and eventually in more than 200 stores. Now she displays photographs of each of her creations with a catchy description like “Do you have a special saying between the two of you?” and “Maybe you just want to make them laugh?” on Etsy.com, an online site where people sell handmade crafts and jewelry.

“Technology moves so fast that having a place like Etsy was a welcome find,” said Miyashiro, who has shipped 431 orders from her Etsy store I Make Cute Stuff since 2007.

Etsy started eight years ago in Brooklyn, N.Y. It now has more than 900,000 active shops and more than 25 million members. Last year those sellers generated $895 million, a 70 percent increase from $525.6 million in sales in 2011.

Traditional retailers have caught on.

Seattle retailer Nordstrom launched in June its second collaboration with the e-commerce site called “Etsy and Nordstrom Present: Weddings.” The 80-piece collection, available in select stores and online, features handcrafted work of five Etsy artists, including one from Seattle.

Andrea Wasserman, national bridal director for Nordstrom, said the Seattle retailer was attracted to Etsy because that’s where “people go to find art accessories that really come with a story.”

“We want those pieces to be part of what we have to offer in the Nordstrom wedding suites,” Wasserman said.

Seattle artist Erin Brooks said she read Nordstrom’s message 10 times because she was in such disbelief that they selected her items. Her “Marguerite” Bridal Sash comes with a price tag of $398.

Brooks said she started her store Serephine three years ago to sell vintage-inspired bridal sashes and hair pieces. She said she remembers buying a headpiece for her own wedding from a vendor in Australia but was disappointed she could see dried hot glue on it.

After making her cousin a headpiece and a few more, she decided to launch her site full time.

“I try to make things that will stand the test of time and that I would wear for my own wedding,” Brooks said.

The Nordstrom-Etsy deal is part of a national trend, says Paco Underhill, author of What Women Want: The Global Marketplace Turns Female Friendly.

He said there’s a “sea of sameness” in the items national chains stock. He said with Etsy, consumers are finding unique products.

The receiver of any gift from the site will look at their gift and connect with it more simply because they know someone made that item by hand, Underhill said.

For artists like Miyashiro and Brooks, the online platform propels them beyond a crafts fair and helps them navigate the e-commerce-sales channel. Etsy charges sellers 20 cents to list an item for up to for four months and collects a 3.5 percent transaction fee on each sale.

Dayna Isom, a public relations specialist for Etsy, said in an email the decline in availability of full-time jobs means the economy is moving in the direction of independent and nontraditional work. She said 77 percent of Etsy shop owners are women.

“The barriers to turn an idea into a product, and market it to a global audience, have decreased dramatically,” Isom said.

With lower barriers comes a new set of challenges.

Miyashiro is one of the founding members and current organizer of Etsy Rain, a community of more than 1,400 artists in Washington state’s Puget Sound region who own independent shops on Etsy.

The group started with just 11 people in 2007 but slowly developed into “this great excuse to get out of their studios and meet,” said Miyashiro. Its goal is to bring Etsy sellers together and to support people looking to start their own shop.

“You have to know what your personal brand is,” she said. “The more authentic that brand is, the more likely you are going to find people who will resonate with that message. It’s not an easy thing to do.”