To Etsy and Beyond

Just as I was about to leave Etsy land--which like infinity, seems limitless--I came across another American purse-maker / seller. Darned if I can recall how I found her. All I can say is the hot pink camellias outside my window are in full bloom, my first grandbaby is due in days, and next thing I know my foreign-made Microsoft wireless mouse is clicking on the TT Totes webpage. These things happen. It's fate.

The TT Totes owner / seller lives near Westwood, Massachusetts. From her profile:

I have been sewing since I was a young girl making my own clothing and clothing for my sisters. After I had children I made clothes for them as well. I started sewing strictly handbags about 13 years ago for someone who sold them at craft fairs. I decided to strike out on my own just recently so I could experiment with different patterns and fabrics as I was not able to do this working for someone else. I just love it! I love the freedom to be as creative as I want and Etsy is the place to showcase the different totes I can dream up!

All my bags are ONE OF A KIND so you can be assured of a unique bag! If you see something you like don't hesitate because I don't make the same bag twice...

And thank you for supporting USA MADE goods.

When TT Totes seller Toni says "I don't make the same bag twice" she means business. I just scrolled through her offerings to link to my two purchases, and they're gone. The only two in existence are in a cardboard box headed to my northern California home. One's called "For Pleats Sake" ($55), the other's "Large Tote with Wooden Handles" ($46). Just now I looked again--like eating potato chips, you just can't stop--and found a "Tote/Diaper Bag," which would be great for mama-to-be Stephanie and considerably cheaper than the $200 Reece Li pricetag. And although Toni's bags have a whimsical quality, they're machine washable and soil and stain resistant. For $60, who could ask for more?

Once I'd tracked her down by phone, Toni told me more about how she first learned to sew as a child. Her deaf, mentally-challenged older sister, Marianna, taught her. "She's my inspiration," Toni said. I asked how Marianna had learned to sew. "She just knew. She had such a crazy sense of style. She taught me how to make the basics, like skirts. But you never knew what weird outfit she was going to come up with. She was so creative."

In college Toni studied biology, then entered the diagnostic radiology field. She became a radiation therapist, and rotated through various hospitals treating children and adults with cancer. It was a stressful, often heartbreaking job, especially the pediatrics component. After she had her three girls, Toni wanted to be home with them and do something fun. She'd always loved fabrics. After many years making purses for someone else and having to follow his decidedly non-artistic directives (copying purses made by others), she's really having fun. She's her own boss, and she likes that.

As Toni talks about her life making purses, a sense of peace comes through. Her girls are grown; she spends her days designing and sewing, each fabric leading her to a new creation. She makes five to 15 bags per week. "I just love my workspace, up here in my loft in our house," she says. "But I'm lucky. I don't have to rely on this for a source of income." Although she enjoys what she's doing, she doesn't want it to rule her life. When her husband arrives home each evening, she puts her work aside and heads downstairs.

So there you have it. Two different Etsy "companies," two completely different scenarios. Purse Peddlers Candy and Jeff actually live off their craft-making income. TT Totes Toni sews purses as a creative outlet.

I suppose the argument could be made that all but a few of Etsy's 400,000 crafters are getting ripped off. Think about the hours each e-commerce participant likely works to produce a single handmade item. Surely sellers barely make minimum wage. Meanwhile, back in the swanky founder-investor inner circle, Etsy revenue has reached $40 million. Should the company, as predicted, go public, the inner circle stands to make millions more, some would say on the backs of the underpaid, overworked handcrafters. But this would be the argument of the pessimist. Count me out.

From what I can see, Etsy's a win-win. It offers an affordable place for buyers to showcase their wares. Some break out, some are content to remain. I found shopping on the site convenient and easy. I liked how simple it is to communicate with the sellers. And I liked that I could search for products made in the USA.

By the way, should you purchase a belted hip pouch on Etsy and later wonder why, Inc magazine's Max Chafkin reports there's an outlet for your buyer-angst. "There is so much weird stuff on Etsy," Chafkin says, "that it has spawned a fan site," Apologies in advance if the site--should you venture there--offends. Consider yourself forewarned.

To my utter amazement, email suggestions on the USA-made handbag / purse / tote topic continue to arrive daily. Apparently there is purse-life beyond Etsy. More to come on that soon. But first, as promised: Vertical Shaft Impactors. From diaper bags to heavy machinery. Only in America, right?