By Beth Dugan
Etsy.com, the premier online marketplace for buying and selling all things handmade, has exploded in popularity in the last few years. Since their launch in June 2005, more than 100,000 sellers from around the world have opened up Etsy shops. Etsy makes it easy to explore the Chicago sellers with a “Shop Local” feature, and there are hundreds of talented and entrepreneurial Chicagoans out there, making their crafts, photography and artwork available online.
The Chicago-based Etsy stores cover the gamut from vintage resellers to custom-tailored dressmakers and crafters and artists of every ilk in between. Many times, an Etsy shop is the best way to start selling handmade goods without the expense of a physical store, or the trouble of traveling to craft shows every weekend. For 24-year-old Chicagoan Allie Mundigler, who runs Elizabeth Wren Vintage, it filled a gap she had in her life. “I found myself with a bit of time between jobs and decided to combine my love of vintage items, especially clothing, and my prior fashion experiences.” Elizabeth Wren Vintage has a sister store run by Mundigler’s mother, Kathi, which sells handmade scarves, bags and jewelry.
Many times, Etsy is the first step for young designers to take when getting their retail legs under them, and exploring a wider audience. Chicago’s fashion scene is definitely burgeoning, but can still be daunting and cost-prohibitive to break into with a retail location. Designer Lydia Krupinski, who designs and sells her fun, colorful and eco-friendly creations at Pierogi Picinic (pictured) on Etsy says, “I opened my online indie eco-biz this past summer after being badgered by friends and family to take my designs to the masses. I decided to start things out on Etsy since it is the Mecca of handmade goods. People who shop and sell on Etsy are dedicated to supporting independent small businesses that are often run out of home-based studios, like my own.”
Handmade creations, shopping locally and even businesses that use environmentally sustainable and “green” practices are also an important part of Etsy’s culture. Krupinski is not alone as an eco-friendly seller, and the idea of shopping locally is picking up steam. She explains, “The most important aspect of my business is to promote a truly sustainable lifestyle by providing people with fun and urban fashions that are created, packaged and shipped using 100-percent recycled materials.”
Etsy is also a great way to connect to Chicago visual artists without having to deal with gallery prices or attitude. Laura Berger is one such artist, and she is selling her work at her own Etsy store, Laura George. Berger opened her store on a whim, but found many benefits. “It’s an enormous network of like-minded sellers and shoppers, so that fosters a sense of community. Supporting and promoting independent artists is obviously the biggest pro,” says Berger. Krupinski gushes, “What I love most about Etsy is that it brings together unique individuals from around the world to support a common cause. Etsy users form a unique and tight-knit online community that is changing the way people shop.”
Etsy’s search engine makes it easy to find sellers in Chicago, artists who work in a particular medium, items of a particular color or palette, or those centered on a specific subject—including a large number of t-shirts, jewelry, knit goods, posters and even purses that are focused on our new president. Most of the artists and sellers are willing to work with customers on custom orders, rush shipping or other things that are more difficult to arrange when dealing with larger retailers.
Chicago is teeming with talented, imaginative and energetic artists and creative people. Etsy has become a place to shift through them in a friendly, organized and user-friendly way and find exactly what you are looking for. The next time you need a fuzzy yellow sweater to go with that pencil skirt, or are looking for just the perfect thing to hang over the new sofa you picked up, check out the Chicago artists featured on Etsy and see if you can keep those dollars local and the Chicago artists supported while finding exactly what you are looking for.