Ah, Etsy. We’ve all gone down the rabbit hole of surfing through pages of beautiful handmade products, admiring the skills and ingenuity of creators all over the world. It’s astounding just how much variety there is on the site. There really is something for everyone. And of course, that’s what makes Etsy so powerful. With so many people browsing, it’s a great way to get attention for your own handmade goods, and it’s so easy to get started! You don’t need to know anything about designing a website or handling the complexities of ecommerce, but if you really want to turn your business into a profitable endeavor, you’ll need to do more than just click a few buttons. Get the inside scoop from some more of Etsy’s top artists and makers who’ve used the platform to make it big.
UK based artist Louise Verity was making literary gifts for sale on Etsy—cute, blocky frames featuring vintage book pages and quotes—and was enjoying a modest success while working a regular nine-to-five job in HR. When she went on maternity leave from that job, she decided to use the time to really see what her handmade business could do. As it turns out, a lot! She never went back to her HR job, focusing instead on growing a business that now employs more than a dozen people. One of the biggest keys was tapping into an existing family business to provide the framing for her works—rather than purchasing the equipment and materials to do it herself, outsourcing gave her the freedom to focus on her own artwork without worrying about compromising on quality. It’s also improved the reach of her family’s business—the frames proved so popular they now offer them wholesale to other makers.
Sustainable, eco-friendly living might be chic and trendy for some, but for Leah Loudermilk, it was very nearly a matter of life or death. Her daughter was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies, and to avoid exposing her to chemicals that could make her reactions worse, Leah opted to clean house—literally! She switched from chemical cleaning products to natural ones, went from synthetic fibers in linens and drapes to all organic cotton, and eliminated plastics wherever possible. When her friends noticed the eco-friendly items Leah was making with the help of her mother, Leah realized there could be a real market for the products. Together with her mother, the two started Island Picnic, an Etsy shop that boasts a modest annual profit of around $7,000, which, so far, she has reinvested in the business. It’s not an industry for those without a little capital to invest, as Leah notes she and her mother fronted the money for all their pricey organic cotton initially, but with so many turning to a greener lifestyle, it’s an investment that’s paying off.
Roza Khamitova, the artist behind the Etsy store Shovava, creates scarves and shawls that are truly wearable works of art. Many feature winged designs that make the wearer look like they could take flight at any moment. Her top tips for Etsy success? Focus on great photography, and always protect your intellectual property! Registering her designs made it easy to have the law on her side when her designs were stolen and sold by counterfeiters. Knowing that her work was secure allowed Roza to branch out into more types of clothing—from her original scarves, she now makes headwraps, t-shirts, and even swimwear, all featuring her designs.
For Janice Worsley, the key to her Etsy shop success was tapping into the right market. She’d been making cards and gift items, but after deciding she wanted to turn her side hustle into a full time job, she knew she needed to move upmarket into more expensive items. Jewelry seemed like a good option, but after making the change, she still wasn’t seeing the level of sales she needed to make the business viable…until she got engaged and realized her gifts would be perfect for bridesmaids. Swanky Crafts signature bridesmaid’s bracelet was born, and sales grew by more than 500%! The business now has an additional employee just to manage the bracelets and administrative work.
Lucie Ellen had already been making wooden jewelry and housewares for years when she opened her own Etsy shop. She’d been working a makers’ faire booth on weekends, but the exposure Etsy offered helped get her work into additional shops and galleries. She says one of the biggest factors in her success has been hard work, pure and simple, and not stopping to compare her success (or lack thereof) with other makers. Most days, she puts in at least 10 hours, and she’s still doing most of the work herself, from creating the individual elements in her jewelry, to responding to orders and emails, to packing up and shipping out finished projects.
With quirky fiber art pieces, JuJuJust is the brainchild of artist Judit Just, who combines vintage threads and yarns and bold modern color palettes into made-to-order tapestries. She learned some of her techniques, like traditional weaving, from her mother at a young age, but spent years building up techniques and an aesthetic all her own. Part of her success, she feels, comes from good, responsive customer service. She tries to follow up with as many of her customers as possible, and has even been known to send work-in-progress photos for projects that take a little extra time.
Maria Fox started out in the handmade business as a teenager, making greeting cards that were sold in local shops. Around the time she started university, she took that DIY attitude to jewelry—unable to find things she liked, she started making her own. Her friends were big fans of her work, and she decided to expand to Etsy. The growth wasn’t instantaneous, but it certainly didn’t take long before the business outgrew her parents’ kitchen, where it had started. Today, Maria’s business employs eight people, with more on part-time to help at the holiday rush. Etsy is only one of her sales avenues, but she notes that it gave consistently rapid growth and offered some of the best tools for analyzing the impact of her marketing efforts.
“Colorful words to say you care” is the slogan for Michelle Baine’s Etsy shop, Four Letter Word Cards. It’s a perfect double entendre for the aesthetic of her handmade goods—from irreverent greeting cards that might make a sailor blush to adorable enamel pins featuring dogs wearing flower crowns. The ideas for her work come from the things she loves, including bright colors, an off-beat sense of humor, and celebrating the differences that make people unique. She’s a big supporter if the LGBTQ+ community, and her work often features representation of that community that’s harder to find in more mainstream greeting cards.
Sometimes, the key to getting out of the nine-to-five grind is a laser. No, not the mad scientist, take over the world, death ray kind of laser, but a laser engraving tool, like the one that the Darkhorse Gifts team uses to customize a whole range of products in both wood and leather. Though there’s a little something for everyone in their shop, one of their primary focuses is on creating items for weddings. From guitar picks as groomsmen’s gifts to monogrammed ring boxes to cake toppers, there’s a whole range of products geared toward the bridal industry. In fact, one of their bestsellers is their personalized wooden gown hangers, which are sold as keepsakes for the bride and her bridesmaids. This is the product that owners Aydon and Kirk credit with allowing them to finally leave their nine-to-five jobs and focus full time on their handmade business.
So often Etsy stores are born when creative people can’t find just what they’re looking for, and decide just to make it themselves. Of course, that means that they’ve stumbled across an untapped market, as Michelle Galletta did when trying to find a pattern for an embroidered doll that she wanted to make as a gift. Nothing seemed quite right, so she created a pattern for herself. Before she knew it, she was assembling kits for all levels of embroiderers and offering them up for sale in her new Etsy shop. Michelle recommends staying cohesive when adding products to your shop—she says it was tempting to let her creativity run wild and go in lots of directions at once, but keeping her offerings limited initially helped her make sure that what she was adding to her store was the right fit for her new brand.
Of course, not every Etsy store becomes an overnight sensation. For every success story, there are many more that never turn a profit. One of the great things about the internet, though, is that it’s leveled the playing field for small businesses. It’s no longer a matter of simply the biggest marketing budgets winning out. If your handmade goods are special, and you’re savvy at marketing them, you’re already on track to finding your own shop on our next success stories listing!