Crafting a career: Wisconsinites on Etsy

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In a neighborhood on Madison’s near west side, you can find Juliette Crane in her office. The temperature is balmy. Her workplace is usually quiet, though today there is a soft buzz coming from behind her. Crane has learned to ignore such distractions. She looks over the mound of work on her desk and reaches for her office supplies.

You won’t find any paper in this office. No ball-point pens. No computer. No printer. Not even a desk chair.

Instead, there is a block of drywall supported by two sawhorses: her desk. Acrylics and pastels, vintage wallpaper and black pens are arrayed neatly in ceramic mugs. On her desk are two 10-by-10 foot gallery wrap canvases, each covered with paint. Crane works barefoot, and there is no chair because she prefers to feel the grass under her feet. A light breeze lifts her knee-length skirt. (Even on casual Fridays, she wears a skirt.)

An Etsy artist's tools

Crane uses these pastels for her paintings on canvas. Photo by Lukas Keapproth

Crane is fortunate enough to work in her backyard — a dream office for anyone who has ever felt chained to a desk. She is, of course, the exception to the starving-artist rule, as is anyone who manages to eke out a living painting canvases, not pushing paper. But a growing number of artisans, particularly women, are earning at least part of their livelihoods as Crane does: selling crafts on, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods. The website provides many Wisconsin women with a means to earn money from their hobbies. It also serves a social role, connecting artists from all over the world in a broad virtual community via forums and blogs.

Made Easy with Etsy

Founded in 2005, Etsy has over 6.2 million registered users, with 400,000 total sellers. That’s small potatoes compared to eBay, the granddaddy of all e-commerce portals (eBay has hundreds of millions of registered users). But Etsy’s gross sales have grown exponentially in the last five years, and topped $180 million in 2009.

Part of the website’s popularity hinges on its ease of use. Budding artists and vintage clothing aficionados might know how to create a product, but some have little experience building a website or marketing a brand. That’s why sites like Etsy can be helpful, says UW-Madison Business School Assistant Professor Phillip Kim.


“Having an active web presence is central to any new business being successful,” he says. “[Etsy] provides a platform for its users… [to set] up an online marketplace and [get] that visibility to their customers.”

“What’s cool about Etsy is that they make it very easy,” Barbara, who owns the Etsy shop Gracie and Me, says. “I don’t know anything about setting up a web store. On Etsy, it’s 20 cents for a listing. It’s very affordable.” (Barbara asked that her last name be withheld because she also sells jewelry in local stores, and doesn’t want her Etsy shop to compete with their business.)

The “already-there” platform for creating a shop on Etsy includes easy-to-use tools to upload photos and connect a Pay Pal account to a seller’s page. Users can bypass the business details to concentrate on their merchandise.

“By setting up with a company like Etsy,” Kim says, “You’re able to focus on what you do best as the artist or designer.”

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