What does “handmade” actually mean?

What does “handmade” actually mean?

Merriam-Webster defines it as “made by hand or by a hand process.” Synonyms are “handcrafted” and “handwrought.” Antonyms are “factory-made,” “manufactured,” and “machine-made.”

People may have varying ideas of what the true definition of handmade is. That’s fine. There’s a little gray area.

Personally, I’ve never considered anything mass produced to be handmade. Whether it’s being copied thousands of times by individuals who are probably not being paid a fair wage, or if one prototype was designed by hand and now thousands are made by machines, the artisan’s hands need to be directly involved.

For example, if I make a charm and then slip it on a chain, is that handmade? I believe yes because I made the charm. If I buy a charm that is mass produced and then use my hands to slip it on a chain, is that handmade? No. If all my hands did was open two package and combine them, then no, that is not what I believe the spirit of handmade is.

The nuances of what defines handmade is a good discussion. Artisans and craftspeople can decide for themselves where they fit on the handmade scale, and their customers can decide if they want to purchase something handmade or not. 

Unless, of course, the term “handmade” is being used without accountability and without any desire to stick to the sprit of what handmade really is. 

At Punky Jane, the vast majority of our designs are what we consider to be truly handmade. A small handful of offerings are assembled, using charms from trusted artisans slipped on a chain or made into earrings. We also combine already made charms with our own handcrafted pieces. 

Etsy is helping to destroy the spirit of handmade

The Watchdog segment recently aired on a BBC show called The One Show exposing goods sold on Etsy that were actually purchased in the UK at a discount shop and then resold on Etsy as handmade. Etsy’s response was that the offending items would be removed. Several weeks later, the three sellers highlighted in the segment are still reselling their goods, including the items called out on the show.

It doesn’t take long to find items on Etsy that are clearly not handmade on their marketplace, as well as mass produced items that can be found for less at your local discount store and are just being resold. As a longtime seller on Etsy, it’s incredibly sad to see the original vision and mission of Etsy trashed. 

But, I’m a realist. Things change. Etsy is a business and they can do what they want to do, and I can choose to use their platform or not, right? It’s just not that simple. 

By continuing to allow items that are clearly not handmade to be listed and sold as such, in additional to false advertising, Etsy is destroying the spirit of handmade, sowing confusion with buyers and abandoning their own stated values. And not just the original mission of Etsy, but their own current statements.

Etsy loves to market that they are a “community doing good” and are “supporting independent creators.” Their current “about” page states:

Keep Commerce Human

Etsy is the global marketplace for unique and creative goods. It’s home to a universe of special, extraordinary items, from unique handcrafted pieces to vintage treasures.

In a time of increasing automation, it’s our mission to keep human connection at the heart of commerce. That’s why we built a place where creativity lives and thrives because it’s powered by people. We help our community of sellers turn their ideas into successful businesses. Our platform connects them with millions of buyers looking for an alternative—something special with a human touch, for those moments in life that deserve imagination.

As a company, we strive to lead with our guiding principles and to help spread ideas of sustainability and responsibility whose impact can reach far beyond our own business.

Clearly, Etsy is trying to have it both ways...SAY they are for small independent creators but still bank the enormous revenue from allowing flea market style resellers to remain.

So what can we do to defend handmade? 

Two words: caveat emptor.

  1. If you buy something on Etsy that is not as advertised, return it and get a refund. Be sure to leave a review for the shop.
  2. If you see something that is clearly not handmade but is listed as such, report it to Etsy. This feels like a terrible game of whack-a-mole without any prizes, but I still do it.
  3. If handmade matters to you, seek out artisans that you can confirm make what they sell. It’s sometimes hard to tell, but a little digging can usually flush are the fakes.
  4. And lastly, until Etsy makes a change by either admitting they are also a flea market, or eliminating resellers, don't believe what Etsy says. Their actions say it all. Artisans and customers who value handmade deserve better.

I will personally continue to do what I can to defend the spirit of handmade, and when I shop, I will be an informed consumer. I hope you will do the same.

<edited to add> While finishing up this post, Etsy announced that they are raising transaction fees, so sellers now will pay more for each sale on Etsy. I wouldn't mind if they hadn’t in the same breath said they are doing it in part to repair the integrity of the site. That's right, they let the reseller cat out of the bag and now all sellers have to pay to rebag said cat. Wow. Just wow.

I also wouldn't mind if any of the fixes they promised with the last fee hike had been implemented. I'm still waiting...

#SpiritOfHandmade #DefendHandmade #ProtectHandmade