Thoughts on the Three Bird Nest controversy


Ever since the Daily Mail ran an article about a mom who sells $65,000 a month through her Etsy shop, Three Bird Nest, a bunch of articles about this shop and Etsy have sprung up on the internet. (Like this and this.) What's noteworthy are the comments - most are critical, pointing out that her items aren't handmade but mass-produced in Asia, how she deceives consumers by not disclosing this, and how Etsy has changed from the champion of handmade to just another market place for reselling cheap stuff bought on Alibaba. Everybody in the handmade world has an opinion, and I too would like to add my two cents.

Yes, it's a shame that Etsy changed its policy and opened its doors to mass-produced items disguised as handmade. Yes, it puts those of us painstakingly making everything in our shops with our own two hands at a disadvantage. And yes, it's hard not to feel resentful towards shops like Three Bird Nest which thrive on cheap imports marked up with fancy presentation.

But the bottom line is that people are buying these items, and no one forced them to.  And my guess is that it's NOT because they believe these things are handmade.

The cold hard truth is that many (if not most) consumers don't really care whether an item is handmade or not. They are looking for stylish products with affordable prices, and if they happen to be handmade, great, but if not, not a problem at all. They may like to buy limited edition or one-of-a-kind items made by artists in the first world, but the prices are often inhibitive.

Some people seem to think that if resellers disclosed the origins of their products, consumers would move away to authentic handmade shops, but I don't think that's the case. Disclouse is unlikely to affect sales much.

People who've bought from Three Bird Nest probably knew full well that the products weren't handmade, or didn't even give it a thought. They liked what they saw, they found the prices reasonable, they clicked 'purchase'. That consumers would abandon shops that revealed the true manufacturers is wishful thinking.

Even before Etsy changed its policy in 2013 to allow outsourcing production, the site was rampant with mass-produced items falsely labeled as handmade. We have had to compete with them since the early days. The only difference is that Etsy is not pretending to care any more.

So what do we do? I've said this for years, but the only solution is to make better things. Better than the stuff churned out by the thousands in factories. Better so that people won't mind paying more. Better so that we can make a living on fewer sales. 

If people can't differentiate between our stuff and mass-produced stuff, we can't blame them for choosing to pay less for the latter. And no amount of disclosure on the resellers' part will bring business to us.

If we feel our business is threatened by shops like Three Bird Nest, it's probably time to scrutinize our work. We shouldn't really be threatened at all, because their customers shouldn't be our target. We are operating in different markets. Or at least we should aim to be. Our goal should be to attract those who actually care about handmade, about uniqueness, about art. It's inevitably a much smaller market, but we are not Target or Macy's. We don't need to please everybody and anybody, we just need to focus on reaching the few that love our work.

In short, it's honestly quite annoying when resellers are so successful and get all the media attention which helps them even more, but anyone can legitimately sell mass-produced items on Etsy now, and nothing is stopping us. If profit is paramount, we can all pack up our tools and start buying on Alibaba, hire a professional photographer and seek to emulate Three Bird Nest's success. But I'm pretty sure that's not what most of us makers want to do. What we can do is hone our skills and senses, strive to make beautiful things, and have the business savvy to know how to reach the few whom we need to reach.