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Viva La Craftolution: Etsy Movement Cracks Over Politics

You would think that Etsy, the groundbreaking Web site that serves as a $90 million market for designs made by small-scale artisans, would be populated by placid, like-minded sellers who humbly connect with buyers much like a smiling vendor at the farmer’s market. But Etsians (or Etsyans)–as Etsy’s artisans sometimes call themselves–are also known to flock together to cross-promote each others work and propound shared interests.

World Wide Knit in Public Day

You would think that Etsy, the groundbreaking Web site that serves as a $90 million market for designs made by small-scale artisans, would be populated by placid, like-minded sellers who humbly connect with buyers much like a smiling vendor at the farmer’s market. But Etsians (or Etsyans)–as Etsy’s artisans sometimes call themselves–are also known to flock together to cross-promote each others work and propound shared interests. That’s where the trouble started.

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One influential group of Etsians called the “Craftivists” see themselves as a collective, lobbing stones at global corporate culture. Here is the group’s own definition:

The Etsy Craftivism Team is a team of progressive Etsyans who believe that craft and art can change the world. Some of us use our work to carry messages of protest and political activism. Others believe that the act of making craft can be an act of resistance. Still others see that by buying and selling directly from the maker we are challenging the all pervasive corporate culture that promotes profit over people.

But then someone within the group raised the specter of an endemic liberal bias. What about the libertarians, conservatives, and straight-up Republicans among Etsy’s 1.8 million members?  

Some Crativists insisted that the definition implied no political affiliation. But tweak a couple words and you might get a passage suitable for slotting into the Little Red Book, 2009 edition. The disagreement led to the formation of a splinter group that, as of right now, still has no name (or definition). Read the comments on the post above to see the collective teeth gnashing. 

The Craftivist hubbub is a tempest in a teapot, but it does reflect the unusual challenges that crowdsourced businesses like Etsy will confront as they grow. A group within Etsy could easily foment enough discontent to catalyze an online Web site dedicated to a certain political stripe of handmade objects. While a separatist site would be unlikely to challenge Etsy’s overall dominance, a collection of such sites could siphon away enough buyers to have an impact on sales.

Related: The Fast Company 50 – #44 Etsy

[Image via Todd Huffman]

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About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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