Etsy strike with R.I. roots marches on as Indie Sellers Guild

WESTERLY – Four months after a global strike, Etsy Inc. sellers, led by Rhode Island maker Kristi Cassidy, are moving ahead with their plans to establish a union for independent artists selling through the e-commerce giant.

On Labor Day, the group plans to officially launch as the Indie Sellers Guild at a virtual panel and press conference.

Between the Etsy strike in April and now, the Guild and its supporters have already prompted positive changes for small sellers, said Cassidy, the group’s interim president.

Current Etsy policies are “still a problem, but it’s gotten significantly better,” said Cassidy, who designs and makes gothic wedding dresses and steampunk costumes. 

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In April, about 29,000 sellers signed onto a petition Cassidy created, which called on artists and makers to shut down their shops for a week in response to Etsy policy changes that petitioners say give an edge to mass-market producers and resellers at the expense of small shops.

A little over a month later, Etsy announced that it would make several changes to its Star Seller program that align with the strike demands. Some of the major issues raised in the petition were from this program, which gives special designation to shops that the site says provide exemplary customer service. But the Guild says that many independent makers don’t have the resources to meet the site’s original requirements.

Among the post-strike changes, Etsy reduced a previous requirement that Star Sellers must have sold at least 10 orders during their three-month review period, which Cassidy said can be difficult to accomplish for labor-intensive projects. The company halved that requirement to a more realistic bar, Cassidy said, at five sales.  

But the e-commerce giant did not acknowledge the strike when making the changes, Cassidy added, and organizers still have not received a direct response from Etsy.

The Guild is also continuing to push for other changes outlined in the petition, such as canceling increases to seller fees.

In a statement, an Etsy spokesperson said that the company “continues to listen to and learn from its 5.3 million sellers.” The statement also referenced the company’s May announcement on updates to the Star Seller program. “Since then, [Etsy] has continued to roll out updates, including updating its Star Seller criteria, unveiling a new Etsy Seller app, and launching a Purchase Protection Program – all of which have been received very positively by the seller community,” the spokesperson said.

Shifting policies prompt collective action

Cassidy spent more than a decade selling through Etsy without complaint. But that changed about four years ago, she said, when the site began rolling out new fees and other policies that hurt small sellers.

Earlier this year, Cassidy took to an Etsy-focused Reddit community to air her concerns, which many respondents shared.

Though she didn’t have previous experience with organized labor, Cassidy soon found herself at the forefront of the international sellers’ strike. The movement attracted 29,539 self-identified Etsy sellers to sign on to her petition, with around another 57,000 non-sellers adding a virtual signature to show their support.

Now, Cassidy spends her days selling through her personal website, Auralynne, her Etsy shop and working remotely with other sellers and organizers to continue the strike’s momentum.

With Etsy’s prominence and “de facto monopoly on the handmade market,” many sellers find that even with the increased cost and frustrations they experience doing business through the site, they can’t completely avoid it. But the organized sellers have shown they can take more power into their own hands, Cassidy said.

As for what policies the Guild will focus on next, that will be up to a membership vote, Cassidy said, as will the group’s longer-term leadership. But an early poll showed that many members consider resellers as their top concern. 

“After the launch, we’re going to pivot back to continuing to expose the situation at Etsy, and letting people know what’s going on,” Cassidy said. “The only thing that inspires Etsy to make changes to help its sellers is bad publicity, so we’re going to keep at it and gather more people to our side.”

The Indie Sellers Guild will announce its launch at 1 p.m. on Sept. 5 at indiesellersguild.com/launch. The virtual event will include a panel discussion with Cassidy and other Guild leaders.

Jacquelyn Voghel is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Voghel@PBN.com.