These two women on opposite sides of the globe are transforming their artistic passions into profitable businesses by selling their handmade treasures through the global online marketplace Etsy. Platforms like these are empowering women across the world, offering them new ways to support themselves and their families, while also introducing customers to unique handmade products from various cultures.
“My initial order on Etsy came from California,” Banerjee shared. “Receiving an international order made me feel like a successful entrepreneur.”
Etsy and similar websites are creating fresh opportunities for female business owners, while also contributing to women’s economic participation and prosperity.
Currently, women make up 39 percent of the global workforce and 46 percent in the United States, according to the World Bank. In India, the rate is 22 percent, with 81 percent of working women being self-employed.
Recognizing the potential for growth in South Asia, Etsy is actively working to raise awareness among Indian business owners about the platform. By teaching sellers how to utilize the website and optimize their online presence, they hope to attract more sellers.
Access to business opportunities has the power to transform lives, not just in India but also elsewhere. As the United Nations agency UN Women states, “Women’s economic empowerment is fundamental to achieving women’s rights and gender equality.”
At the age of 27, Banerjee was working in the human resources department of a project management company in Kolkata. She felt drained by a job that she described as monotonous and lacking creativity.
Despite acquiring a master’s degree and gaining work experience, Banerjee wasn’t content with her career path. She began developing a comprehensive business plan that covered all aspects, including the name, product design and range, inventory, and government regulations.
Like many Etsy sellers, Banerjee is a self-taught businesswoman. The online platform provided her with an easy entry into the retail market.
Etsy enables individuals without formal business training, or those who cannot afford a physical store or marketplace booth, to sell their products on a much broader scale than ever before.
Devi Chand, residing in the southern city of Chennai, India, established a store called “Papermelon” in 2009, specializing in eco-friendly paper jewelry. She eventually started showcasing her creations on Etsy. Initially, she found the website somewhat challenging to navigate.
However, with time, Chand noticed significant improvements in the website’s interface and listings. It has become more user-friendly and easier to navigate the platform’s operations.
Chand expressed that Etsy is an excellent choice for working mothers like herself.
“Wearing nice clothes and going to a traditional job from 9 to 5 is not something I can afford, so Etsy is the ideal option for me,” said Chand, who has a 5-year-old. “The hours when my child is at school are the hours when I can work.”
Halfway across the world in Missouri, Tipton relied on library books and online courses to help develop her business. She experimented with different ideas “to determine what was successful and what failed,” she stated.
“It was, and continues to be, a learning experience,” she added. “But I discovered that I genuinely enjoy the business aspect of things.”
Like any business, launching something requires a significant amount of groundwork, particularly when it’s a one-person operation.
“At the beginning, I was working long hours to get things started — 6 or 7 days a week, sometimes until 10 p.m.,” she remarked.
After eight years, she has settled into a more reasonable schedule. However, it remains a full-time job and her primary source of income.
Etsy, much like the many stores it hosts, is a homegrown platform that originated in a Brooklyn apartment in 2005, created by three friends with a talent for crafting. Their concept — the passion project of a creative trio — has flourished into a website with 2.1 million active sellers, according to Etsy.
From its modest beginnings in New York, Etsy has risen to prominence, going public in 2015 through an initial public offering (IPO) worth $100 million. The company’s prospectus outlined the demographics of its sellers, revealing that 86 percent of them are women.
Embracing its global reach, in July 2018, Etsy expanded into new markets with a lack of independent-craft offerings, such as Germany and India. Himanshu Wardhan, the CEO of Etsy India, expressed that India’s market holds significant potential for handicrafts.
“India possesses an abundance of handloom and handicrafts, and what makes it even more extraordinary is that every artisan has an incredible story to tell,” Wardhan stated. “This is incredibly exciting for us at Etsy, with our worldwide community of 2 million sellers. We firmly believe that these immensely talented artisans should not miss out on opportunities due to a lack of digital knowledge,” he added.
When the company expanded to India, Etsy and ‘Daastkari Haat Samiti’, a national association of craftsmen with members from all Indian states, organized a photography workshop for traditional artisans.
During this event, Jaya Jaitly, the founder of ‘Daastkari Haat Samiti’, a politician, and a promoter of Indian handicrafts, commended Etsy for its efforts.
“We are grateful for Etsy’s assistance in empowering craftsmen to navigate online promotion and marketing,” she stated.
“Karigars (craftsmen) now have the skills and even design awareness, but they need help in adapting to the digital world’s presentation methods.
Abilities in taking pictures will be a valuable asset for that.
Online shopping and independent retailers
Etsy possesses something that conglomerates like Amazon lack — a collection of handcrafted, vintage and occasionally personalized items sold by autonomous retailers all around the globe.
Consumers on the site search for “merchandise that is distinct and that embodies their personality and style, not merely mass-produced, generic merchandise,” as described by Etsy. The assortment spans from quirky doughnut earrings, organic lotions and concoctions, to knitted feline coasters.
Selling handmade products caters to a specific audience, one that desires an emotional bond with the items they purchase. In the era of conglomerates like Amazon and Walmart, Etsy presents a practical yet distinct alternative.
Ruchi Pugalia, the founder of the store “Comfy Mummy” in Hyderabad, India, sells T-shirts, blouses, and sweaters designed exclusively for mothers and children. Pugalia initially commenced selling on the website in 2012.
“Monday morning is perpetually invigorating,” she expressed, “because I adore the vocation I engage in!”
Pugalia initiated her Etsy venture at home.
“Subsequently, as the work expanded–we were a small team–our operations relocated to a compact space in close proximity to our abode, to which we affectionately refer to as our ‘workshop’,” she shared. “My business has flourished over the years. Like any business, it had its ups and downs, but I am exceedingly content with the outcome.”
She proclaimed that it is “exceedingly exceptional” to have the opportunity to share her art with the world.
Buyers and Revenue:
When inquired about her customers, Devi Chand states that her buyers primarily hail from overseas. “As the INR (Indian Rupee) was not one of the available currencies when I commenced, my buyers were exclusively from abroad, and the only payment option was through PayPal. Additionally, until recently, PayPal did not accept Indian currency.”
Chand asserts, “Etsy serves as an excellent platform for developing a career as a handicraft merchant; however, one should not solely depend on an external revenue source, as policies may change or due to the fact that Indian sellers often face setbacks with shipment delays and availability.”
“A seller from the U.S. will undoubtedly possess an advantage when it comes to vending on Etsy, since if a buyer from the U.S. encounters my shop and a shop belonging to a woman in the States, they will naturally prefer the local seller due to presumed complications with international shipping. Although in reality, this is not the case, but buyers tend to exhibit bias,” she adds.
Chand, nonetheless, laments that “people are not as knowledgeable about it as they ought to be, and thus Etsy should organize workshops for women across India to enlighten them about the feasibility of selling their crafts from home without the need to establish a shop at any fair or market.” “Nevertheless, it remains an exceptional platform.”
On the other hand, Pugalia believes that those who actively seek them out will discover them, and Etsy has done an incredible job with their clientele and sellers. Merchants are afforded the opportunity to showcase their art to the entire world, and she claims, “This is precisely why it holds such significance.
When inquired about the expansion of her business, Pugalia declares, “The growth of my business has progressed over time, just like any other business. It had its highs and lows, but I am extremely content with the outcome.”
Commence Your Own Etsy Store
Do you sketch illustrations of your preferred local bars? Knit duplicates of famous figures? Craft your very own handmade candles?
You may want to contemplate launching your own Etsy store.
“Creating an Etsy store is relatively uncomplicated and can provide an ideal location for your products,” the organization explains.
Etsy.com is an e-commerce website that prioritizes handmade or repurposed items.
For a mere 20 cents, a vendor can initiate their own listing on the Etsy marketplace. This allows the 19.8 million Etsy purchasers to peruse and potentially acquire those handmade or repurposed items, according to the Etsy website.
There are a few crucial steps to sustaining a thriving Etsy store.
Initially, establish small and feasible objectives.
“Instead of devising task lists based on long-term goals, pinpoint small milestones that would lead [a seller] in a manageable and rational manner,” Etsy suggests.
Secondly, invest in photography that exhibits products in the most favorable light imaginable.
“Capturing photos that are precise, uncomplicated, and illustrative is fundamental to achieving success in sales,” Etsy states.
Lastly, approach an Etsy store as if it were a physical shop rather than a database. This will contribute to a more thoughtfully curated store.
“Offer a range of products that appear to complement each other,” Etsy advises. “Offer items at various price points to captivate diverse shoppers, encourage multiple purchases, and entice repeat customers.”
(This story is part of a series of special reports on India and the U.S. undertaken by the University of Missouri Journalism students. It was overseen by Laura Ungar, Midwest Editor/Correspondent with the St. Louis bureau of Kaiser Health News, and journalist Sujoy Dhar, founder of the Indian news agency India Blooms News Service.)