How to Avoid Sweatshops & Factory-Made Products on Etsy

Etsy is a great marketplace for handmade and unique products where I love shopping for gifts. It's made it so easy to support individual artists and small businesses.  I also love and appreciate that I was able to make my first sales for Janery on Etsy - and to this day it continues to match me with amazing new customers.

Sidenote: The beautiful blue clutch purse above is by DaisyFaye Designs on Etsy.  

Unfortunately, with popularity comes a problem -  factories and made-in-China re-sellers* have flooded Etsy, making it harder to find truly handmade products - and turning some shoppers off to the whole site.

*Resellers are people who buy factory products wholesale and then re-sell them on Etsy, masquerading as a “handmade” business.

I’ve seen it firsthand in the purses and handbags category as well as in the jewelry and clothing markets. For example, try searching* for a Knot Ring in Silver on Etsy - you’ll find it for sale from multiple sellers:

It can also be bought for $1.20 on the website Alibaba, which is basically a wholesalers marketplace for factory-produced goods and knockoffs:

Alibaba Etsy Resellers

There’s more than one downside to this:

  1.  It is hurting the integrity of Etsy as a handmade shopping destination.  Some artists who have used it for years are migrating to other platforms out of frustration.
  2. The low prices offered by resellers make it hard for true handmade sellers to compete.  When consumers see cheap goods, they then think the artists’ more expensive creations aren’t worth the price charged by the artist.
  3. It may end up driving consumers away from Etsy, if they are disappointed when they receive a clearly not handmade product in the mail.

But I want to shop from artisans around the world! What do I do?  

Here are the guidelines I follow in order to try to avoid supporting a reseller or an overseas sweatshop when shopping on Etsy:

1. Check the company’s “about” page and see what they say.

Often their “about me” section is stilted, short, contains poor grammar, or sounds insincere.

This example doesn’t even try to sound handmade, in fact, they mention their location in Yiwu, a huge factory city in China.   It reads “We are from yiwu international trade city, we are happy to be your purchasing agent in China”.

2.  Check where the seller is located. 

This info is on the left sidebar below their name in the image above.  As a rule, if a seller is located anywhere in Asia, I won’t buy from them.  Yes, I know I could be excluding some true artists, but my main purpose in using Etsy is to purchase from local artists.

3.  Check how many items the seller has listed

I’ve seen some USA-based sellers with thousands of “hand sewn” products. One, in particular, made the news when she claimed to make nearly a million dollars a year with her “hand-knitted” goods.  Spoiler alert - not even the most talented knitter can handmake thousands of unique products at once.

4.  Is the price too good to be true? 

Remember that items that are handmade will cost more than items at Target.  If something seems to good to be true ($5 leggings?) – it’s probably not [ethically] handmade.  

While the above suggestions are generalizations, they are what I keep in mind when shopping on Etsy, in order to make sure I'm truly supporting the work of smaller artisan businesses.   Trust your gut, use your judgment, and  keep shopping on Etsy to support the great artists who are on there!

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