David Sedaris and the books in the lobby

Last week a friend graciously invited me to hear author David Sedaris read from his work at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta (it truly is fabulous). Sedaris and I spent time together during the summer of 2018 while I listened to the audio version of his book Calypso ,and then  Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. He was a wonderful traveling companion.

David Sedaris (photo from author’s web site)

Drawing his keen observations about life to a close, he added that he likes to close with a recommended  book. On Wednesday he encouraged audience members to read The Dutch House by Ann Patchett. Sedaris explained that usually he suggests a book available in paperback, but that Patchett’s book is only out in hardcover, and well worth the cost.

Then he segued to how audience members should buy the book. Recently a friend called him, saying that Amazon had just delivered the recommended book. The author was a little put out with his friend. He adroitly pointed out that a local bookstore had copies of the book in the theatre lobby where the friend had attended Sedaris’s reading. Why walk past the book, right there, offered to you by a local business employing local residents, and order from Amazon?

Sedaris is right. For no more effort than perhaps standing in line for a couple of minutes, the local business put the book in the hands of every  customer that night. The same could be done the next day or the next week in their store. That’s what local businesses do.

So, with that in mind, as many people map out their holiday shopping with Black Friday bargains and schematics for getting through their list, take a deep breath, and put the list down for a minute.

What happens if you buy the gift in a store, handed to you by a real person in your community? Or at a local artisan and craft fair, where you may meet the person whose work you are buying.

Or, if you can’t find something locally, maybe you could do some homework and find an artisan who is making beautiful things, one at a time, with attention to detail, who offers them online. If you go that route, read the artisan’s “About” info and see why they are offering their work to the world

Make your list. Check it twice. Then buy the hardcover book, the artwork made by a self-trained artist who works with found materials, or the knitted shawl made with yarn dyed and spun by the person who then transformed it into the gift you are buying. Make the experience of finding the right gift an opportunity to build connections in your own community.

 

 

When handmade isn’t handmade (and a sale on gen-u-ine handmade)

I wrote this a few weeks ago and left it to marinate. Yesterday as cold weather arrived in Georgia I decided to have a sale on my handmade items. This post is a little about self-promotion. It is also about a company that bends words to boost its bottom line.

Last year on Etsy, the largest online site for buying and selling handmade and vintage items, I had two shops, one selling moderately priced felted wool accessories and another featuring cashmere and fine wools. It was a crowded place with plenty of competition, but being in the crowd is often the best way to be noticed by customers.

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cashmere scarf made with a repurposed thrift store sweater

I sold scarves, fingerless gloves, iPad sleeves, and cozies for cold drinks (o.k., most of them were made to fit a beer bottle, because beer is good). If a buyer searched cell phone covers, they could end up with results that placed a handmade phone cover like the felted ones I make one at a time, next to a plastic case made in China. Often the plastic stuff kept showing up in greater numbers on a site “devoted” to handmade goods.

Last summer I worked on combining my two stores, got a local artist to create a fabulous logo, and began to build a new Etsy shop for The Sassy Gal.

The day I opened The Sassy Gal, Etsy announced a radical change in their policies for shop owners, one that includes a definition of “handmade” that exists in a special dictionary only available to the Etsy owners and CEO.

Now, for Etsy, “handmade” includes outsourcing the manufacturing of items. In short, if the shop owner/artisan designs it, the item can be made anywhere, in any manner, and still be “handmade.” There’s some gobbledygoop about transparency on how things are made with the onus being on the seller to disclose and the buyer to find that disclosure. Etsy says they will require ethical manufacturing (manufacturing just doesn’t fit with handmade). Does Etsy think it or its shop owners can police working conditions for overseas sweatshops and factories?

Etsy charges shop owners for listings. The more we list, the louder the cash register rings for Etsy. If shops can outsource the manufacturing of their inventory they can list more. More listings = more revenue for Etsy. Handmade? Buyers should check their dictionary.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been late to the party, but I arrived just as the discussion section provided to sellers and buyers exploded. And amazingly, I made a sale just days after opening my shop with very little inventory listed.

But the changes are dramatic.

When I search Etsy for cashmere infinity scarves (a scarf that is a circle of fabric one loops around the neck) hundreds come up. Last year at this time there were thousands. Now my listings show up readily among similar items. That may help me, but fewer choices may also mean fewer shoppers.

After asking some folks and doing some research, I opened a second Sassy Gal shop on another site. Zibbet is a distant second to Etsy, but I think the gap may be closing.

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Visit The Sassy Gal at Zibbet

And the exodus of artisans to Zibbet, just on October 1, when Etsy redefined handmade, caused the Zibbet servers to crash. Zibbet is rebuilding its search capacity to handle the influx of new listings as shop owners leave Etsy altogether or duplicate their listings with Zibbet.

Zibbet’s owners say they will only allow artists and craftspeople making items one at a time by hand to sell with them. They went so far as to post a “pledge” for sellers and customers to sign (It’s a little overboard, pledging not to buy “mass produced,” because the computer I’m using now was mass produced. And remember, the uproar at Etsy started with how “handmade” is now defined by Etsy’s CEO Chad Dickerson and the private shareholders of the company).

I don’t know where most of my online sales will happen. There’s a lot of time left between now and the beginning of the year, my busiest time of year. I’m curious to see which site has more traffic and which one has more actual sales.

There are lots of ways to define sales success. In a few months I’ll know if it is spelled
E T S Y or Z I B B E T.

As we ease into the shorter days of fall

imagesA few years ago I read an article in the AJC (I think) about how Labor Day and the return to school impact people, even those who have long ago sent their last child to school. The article described the way we remain tied to the traditional school year. As school buses slow traffic, adults often find renewed vigor in picking up projects abandoned in the excitement of spring and the heat of summer. For those of us in the soggy South, gardeners are still hoping for a few good tomatoes, yards have grown tall, and dogs have been told too often “We can’t go walk in this storm.”

In June, six months after welcoming 2013 with three of the finest women I am so grateful to call my friends, I took measure of the first six months of this year and checked in to see where they/we are. We will spend the last hours of 2013 together too. Sizing up, bidding farewell, celebrating, and welcoming anew, all rituals of the seasons.

In the mean time my list is full. There are at least two rooms and one porch floor to paint, pictures to hang, and furniture to sell, donate, or put to use where we see better purpose. I have a new website and Etsy shop to launch for my handmade goods. My goal of paddling 12 rivers in Georgia finds me with the plans to make the Savannah the ninth on the list in two weeks. I’ll spend a weekend with college friends and feel like we never left campus at all.

The summer long project I have called The Big Shed will continue until the content of every box we have stashed away is explored, and every drawer opened. I have too many clothes waiting to be listed on eBay that no longer fit my life or my waistline. In a few weeks I’ll have a “you pick, she picks” with my daughters to send things to their households.

I don’t long for the short dim days of winter, but I love what fall has on tap for me.

Measure twice, cut once

The Friday Photo
A weekly photo inspired by art, community, and spontaneity
October 19, 2012

Design decisions

This felted cashmere sweater is waiting patiently for me in my sewing room. Working with cables and other designs can be a challenge sometimes, in addition to any signs of wear that send things to a thrift store. I think I’ve just about worked through how to use this cast-off treasure.