As fashion continues to favor smaller, slower production and pieces that increasingly lean on artisans for interest, Handmade.com is entering the scene.
In a play to rival Etsy, the marketplace wants to better connect consumers with who made their goods — and do it all with greater impact on communities and lesser impact on environments.
“There’s this feeling of coming back to the special community where everything’s made by hand and artists are celebrated, makers are celebrated,” Handmade.com chief executive officer Roberto Milk told WWD. “You get really great quality works that are meaningful, and, in so many ways, the handmade way is the low carbon impact way.”
Handmade.com emerged out of Novica, an impact marketplace with a 20-year history cofounded by Milk, which has established artisan empowerment hubs around the world, helping artisans get things like microcredit loans and greater access to consumers to fuel their businesses. The aim with the new platform is to empower artisans to establish their own Handmade.com storefronts, manage their sales and ship their goods direct to consumers.
Its entry comes at a time when sellers are expressing concerns with Etsy’s policies. One seller in an Etsy forum post from July said “they are doing horrible things to sellers, more this year than last year,” and that sales of her paper goods were down 40 percent.
In its own admission in early December, company CEO Josh Silverman said, while the marketplace is “more than double the size it was in 2019,” it’s “not bringing our sellers more sales.” As such, the company cut 11 percent of its staff and shook up its executive team, with plans to cut costs and “reignite growth” for sellers in 2024. A Motley Fool article from late December said Etsy’s stock was “heading for a 27 percent loss in 2023 — and that follows a decline of more than 45 percent last year.” The stock, in fact, closed 2023 down nearly 33 percent to $81.91.
For Milk, Handmade.com could be the new platform he feels sellers have been “aching” for. In addition to what he considers fair fees, a Village Council comprised of an elected body of sellers from different parts of the world — “It’s kind of like the United Nations of sellers,” Milk said — will represent the platform’s purveyors in order to let sellers make the best decisions for themselves. Already, the waitlist of seller applications is growing.
Fashion, home decor and jewelry are Handmade.com’s key categories, and a considered onboarding process is set to keep the platform true to its name.
“We’ve made very conscious decisions to be very strict with who we bring onto the site; it needs to be handmade and it needs to be fair trade,” Milk said. “One of the things that we’re going to just say no to flat out is mass production. It’s hard for marketplaces that exist already to do that.”
Items in the marketplace include things like handwoven shawls and wraps from Guatemala, hand hewn silver jewelry from Bali and, in the home goods category, traditional Zapotec handwoven wool rugs from Mexico.
Handmade.com may also be a place for fashion players keen to partner with artisans — as labels like Dior, Chloé and Ralph Lauren have done in recent years — to discover new creatives to collab with.
Approved U.S. sellers are being onboarded in January, and sellers from Canada, the U.K. and European Union will follow in staged launches. Once a seller is approved, they can then invite up to five other sellers a month to the platform.
“We’ll let the community be in charge of adding,” Milk said. “We want it to be natural but we want the community to have some say in who they bring on so we’re not going to secretly get some offshore factory making cheap items and suddenly invading the marketplace.”
Handmade.com’s aim, Milk said, is to “create a better path for artisans….We’re broadening out the scope of everything and looking to be the best place for handmade.”