Teens craft impressive goods—and careers—on Etsy
What many of Colburn’s satisfied customers might be surprised to learn, however, is that she’s only 15 years old.
While most commerce communities, such as eBay, require sellers to be at least 18 before opening shops, Etsy is a rare exception. So long as parents approve and supervise the business, minors of any age are allowed to sell crafts on the site. In fact, a group called Etsy Teens and Young Adults has more than 500 members.
Colburn joined Etsy when she was 13. The homeschooled Georgia teen learned about the handmade community through a friend of her mom’s. Her parents, who gave her permission to be interviewed by the Daily Dot, will technically own the shop until Colburn turns 18.
“My parents are very supportive, and my mom loves looking at any new items I put in my shop.”
Colburn actually has two shops—Muse Bath and Body for soaps and Signature Sparkles for jewelry. Between the two, she has an impressive and highly creative portfolio: feminine brass knuckles and hand-decorated Swarovski Heels to handmade pendants and silver lip gloss.
“The thing that I really liked about Etsy was that it was only for arts and crafts,” said Colburn, who uses her earning to buy more supplies for her business. “And the listing fees were low enough so that I could get started out.”
Seventeen-year-old Tyler Cowan also discovered Etsy younger than most. A junior in high school, the New Yorker wanted to sell the glass, metal, and clay sculptures he’d been creating since elementary school. Even during the school year, he devotes nine hours a week to crafting.
“I balance [artwork] with schoolwork by staying up later into the night if needed,” he told the Daily Dot. “If you have a passion you can make time for it no matter what, I feel.”
Like Colburn, Cowan’s parents technically own his shop, Tyler Cowan Art, in order to comply with Etsy rules. But he keeps the money—and puts the majority of it back into art supplies. While his repertoire may not be as robust as Colburn’s, his blue green ceramics and other crafts are no less inspired. Just look at this silver brass-bound patchwork cuff, which Cowan claims was made by “soldering together various shapes and sizes of 20 gauge sterling silver, and then weaving a brass wire throughout the piece.”
“My parents feel [my shop] is very professional looking and is a good way to gain insight into owning a business,” he said.
When teens reach 18, their parents no longer have to be involved. Such was the case for Charlotte Nicolls and her shop Grape Candy. But while her parents aren't involved, Nicolls said they support the way she’s using it to fund a solo trip to Japan. The English teen, who is studying Modern Languages at university, has already raised more than £220 ($342 U.S.) toward her goal.
“Now that it’s the summer I spend the majority of the day logged into Etsy!” she exclaimed.
Fittingly, Nicolls sells decoden items—a Japanese word for heavily embellished goods. Once she returns from Japan though, she’s not sure she’ll keep the shop open.
“I don’t want my small business to be my sole source of income when I grow up,” she said.
Nicolls, Cowan, and Colburn see crafting as a hobby and have their own career aspirations. But 18-year-old Emily Cromwell sees her future on Etsy.
After discovering the site two years ago, Cromwell has since become the certified small business owner of Creations by Emily.
“I have my own website, I have an Etsy account, I have a Facebook page for my business, and I attend craft shows as a certified small business owner,” Cromwell said of her indie operation, Creations by Emily. “I would love to continue that as I get older.
“My advice for other young Etsy sellers would be that if I was able to step out from the typical teen stereotype, and branch out and create my own business, then you can do it too. You just have to have the mindset that you can do anything if you just believe in yourself. All you need to succeed in owning and starting a business is faith in yourself.”
Photos via Ellie Colburn