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A Not-So-Rare Bird

A Not-So-Rare Bird

It is said that there are no original thoughts. That may be somewhat accurate: it’s a rare thing, indeed, to discover a truly original item.

Given its homey, “handmade” folksy feeling, Etsy might seem to be a place you might find all kinds of original things. Unfortunately, for the most part, that isn’t the case.

Clicking around on the site, there is an alarming “sameness”—no shortage of delicate faceted gem stone jewelry; bountiful crocheted baby hats with cutesy ears; endless boring, beige and powder blue-ness–

–and so many silhouettes of birds that
the “aughts” will certainly go down in history as the decade of vague avian imagery.

The first time I encountered Scrabble tile charms I was, well, charmed—adorable graphics decoupaged to the backs of the game’s wooden letters. Then I did a search for them and found hundreds. HUNDREDS! Granted, those hundreds of Scrabble tile jewelry makers are all selling their little tiles like proverbial hotcakes, which I find vexing. Why do people want so much of something that everyone else has? If they were shopping at the mall, I might be able to understand. But they’re shopping on a site that prides itself on the original!

Etsy features hundreds of “Scrabble pendants”: trademarked and generic images resin-mounted onto trademarked game pieces. How is this original and handmade, again?

In celebration of this sameness, I created a “Treasury” on Etsy—a Treasury being “an ever-changing, member-curated shopping gallery of handpicked items”—of what I consider to be Etsy clichés: the aforementioned bird silhouettes, crocheted baby hats, chunky cowl neck scarves and owls, another inexplicable common Etsy occurrence. I titled it “Oh So Etsy.”

click to enlarge

Following up on my initial foray into Etsy slams, I came up with another treasury that featured nothing but jewelery made using one particular little bird charm; I called it “A Not So Rare Bird.”

There are dozens of these little bird necklaces and earrings online, many of them virtually identical. (Words of advice: if you’re going to use such a common, iconic component in your “creation,” for crissakes make it different in some way!) And, believe it or not, doing a search on Etsy for items tagged with the word “original” actually brought up one of these totally NOT original pieces of jewelry.

As I said, it’s a rare thing to discover a truly original item. But it does happen, and when it does, it makes me smile! Check back next time when I chat up a few “chicks” who actually managed originality.


  • I love birds.

    I love etsy. I have easily spent hundreds of bucks there.

    But I have wondered the exact same thing as you. OMG why???

    That bird silhouette was the most ubiquitous symbol on DIY thrift-store dinnerware back in the ’90’s, where I come from.

    I would love to see you to aim this 45-caliber genius at “Steampunk” shit over there.

  • HA! Yes, steampunk deserves a big ol’ smackdown too.

    Great post Abby. I didn’t really know this was happening on Etsy since I never buy jewelry… it’s pretty despicable, and laughable too that people are buying that junk.

  • Don’t forget the deer silhouette.

  • there are so many cliches on etsy that i have all but given up on it. when i am looking for something handmade and i venture to the site, it takes hours of time to find something neat or at least not crappy.

  • I think Etsy is just like a big, handmade mall – lots of knock-offs, a few rip-offs, but do some searching, and it’s easy to find some really neat stuff =) I have a shop on there, I like to think my stuff is pretty unique!

    • Tracy, your stuff is unique! I would totally wear that. I love the asymmetry of the one in your avatar shot, and all the chains & things are very cool.

    • Aw, thanks!!

  • This conversation misses a more important piece of the Etsy puzzle. It’s a piece LoveandTrash readers will likely benefit from considering.

    Beyond “samesame” aesthetics, Etsy’s negative impact on local economies can’t be overlooked. From Peddles a False Feminist Fantasy –,1 : “If anything, Etsy exerts a downward pressure on prices. At the local craft fair, an artist could charge a premium for homemade goods, because the buyer had few options. But Etsy puts the artist in Brooklyn in direct competition with the artist in Dubuque, or London. This forces each one to offer ever more attractive deals. Most artists can’t drastically increase volume (the usual answer to slim margins), because the items are supposed to be one-of-a-kind, not mass-produced, in keeping with the site’s whole ethos.”

    The question, to my mind, is whether participating in the Etsy economy at all undermines the global crafting community. From the artists I know who have sold through the site – even success is tinged with something sinister.

    • I’m not sure local craft fairs contribute all that much to their respective economies. It’s the actual “take home pay” of people who create, and whether these creative people are making a living or not, that’s important. From what I’ve seen on Etsy, many of their sellers are stay-at-home moms (argh, the acronym for kids-on-knee is escaping me!) who are supplementing their household income with whatever they make with the “hobbies.” Of course, then there are the artists (painters, as opposed to crafters; no offense meant in the distinction) who manage to sell their work for thousands, somewhat inexplicably, not because of the quality but, well, I can’t image spending thousands on a painting I can’t see in person (unless it’s by someone I’m already familiar with).
      There truly ARE so many variables. It’s merely amusing to take petty pot shots at what irritates than dissect the site completely… is doing the best job of all!

    • Regretsy is doing a great job. Also, the NYT article from some months back: did a good job of teasing out the threads. (Thanks for the Twitter shout, btw!)

    • I hear where you are coming from, and I read the article you posted. But I think there are a few things to consider:

      1. Etsy is a way for crafters and artists to get online. My personal experience in doing art and craft shows has been that a lot of the people that drop by my booth ask “Oh, do you have a website?”. For people who aren’t internet savvy, etsy is a way to have a website without shelling out the $$ for a domain, hosting, a designer, etc. It gives potential customers a way to reconnect with the artist. For example, they buy a piece of my jewelry (which has a tag that includes my etsy site). A friend, coworker, whatever, comments on it, asks the buyer where they got it – BAM they can give them my card, tag, whatever, and I hopefully get some more interest. As opposed to that buyer simply saying “oh, i got it at an art show.” I’m not saying that every seller will remember to do that, but it’s just another way to get some exposure

      2. It is very much true that Etsy is NOT going to make everyone rich and able to quit their jobs. In my opinion, etsy is just a potential piece of the puzzle. If someone wants to make money with their art, they will still have to go to shows, try to get in stores, and get exposure and sales other ways, etsy can just be a part of that.

      3. I think the people who are the most successful on etsy are the ones who already have a client base, and send them to their etsy site to purchase, as mentioned above. You can’t just throw something up there, and expect all the customers to flock to your etsy site and purchase YOUR “scrabble bird tile pendant” as opposed to the hundreds of other “scrabble bird tile pendant”. You already have an existing client base that you’ve built up through word of mouth, etc, and you send them to your etsy site.

      4. Lastly, I think etsy is good in the way that it allows those of us in small town areas to purchase handmade items that may not be available in our area. I’d much rather purchase a handmade scarf for $10, $20 whatever from an artist than the $5 one from the local Walmart. The “buy handmade” aesthetic is becoming more and more widespread, and sites like Etsy can help advance that.

      I don’t think online sites like Etsy will ever really take away from the tactile experience of seeing what you are buying in person, trying it one, feeling the textures, seeing the colors, and I think craft and art fairs will always have their place.

  • hey great information your site contains will return when I have time to read more.

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