In many ways, Etsy stretched out of its longstanding comfort zone in 2012.
The artsy marketplace now boasts more than 875,000 active stores all over the world, thanks in part to CEO Chad Dickerson’s fundraising push toward global expansion. With the recent addition of Etsy gift cards and internationally available direct checkout, buying handmade is more seamless than ever.
But the transition wasn’t without serious growing pains.
A scandal centered on an Etsy store accused of outsourcing manufactured goods rocked the handmade world, bringing its core values into question. A protest blacked out portions of the site. And Etsy drug deals were shut down for good.
These 10 power users helped shape Etsy’s biggest, most lucrative, and controversial year yet.
1) Chad Dickerson The Boss
Etsy has changed more under Dickerson since he took over as CEO in August 2011 than the company did in the six years prior.
For starters, Etsy went global, raising $40 million for international expansion, and enabled direct checkout, which lets buyers make purchases without leaving the site. Dickerson also headed the purchase of wholesale marketplace Trunkt and encouraged wholesale selling on Etsy. In turn, Etsy broke its own records for traffic and sales, and while the tech world’s eyes were caught on the likes of Facebook and Pinterest, Etsy had its biggest Black Friday sale ever.
2) Mariana Schecter Outsourcing Outsider
Once the domain of individual artisans working out of their homes, this one shop changed the definition of what it means to craft on Etsy.
After Etsy featured Ecologica Malibu seller Mariana Schecter on its homepage, users cried foul. There was proof Schecter outsourced most of her crafts to a factory overseas, a practice that was against Etsy’s seller rules. After an investigation, Etsy confirmed Schecter’s outsourcing but insisted it was within seller guidelines, so long as Schecter agreed to define her shop as a “collective.” The ruling infuriated the community, which was used to an altogether different definition of “handmade.”
Ecologica Malibu vanished in June. The store’s absence, however, didn’t change its status as a symbol of the changing face of Etsy.
3) Etsy Handmade Team The Protesters
Convinced that Etsy’s definition of “collective” was a cop-out, this group helped lead the site’s largest ever protest.
More than 3,500 shops closed in commemoration of the protest, a number that unfortunately doesn’t even make up 1 percent of the 875,000-strong marketplace. However, protesters deemed the strike a successful one after Etsy responded to it, stating that all community members’ concerns are important. It was the right thing on Etsy’s part; the protest site has gone dark, but participants continue to "raise awareness about the value and importance of handmade in today's increasingly mass-produced economy," wrote Kathi Proctor of Etsy Handmade Team in a comment.
4) April Winchell Satirical Watchdog
It’s tempting not to take Etsy’s most popular parodist seriously when she makes jokes at the community’s expense. However, Winchell (who goes by Helen Killer on Regretsy was the first to notice and cover the Ecologica Malibu scandal, which forced Etsy to make a rapid response. Disguised as satire, Winchell exposes sellers who break Etsy rules and chides Dickerson in open letters for not doing more to police them. Don’t let the jokes fool you—Winchell is Etsy’s most powerful watchdog.
5) Vincent Forest Power Seller
For the second year in a row, Vincent “Bean” Forest is once again the site’s most prolific seller, according to Etsy statistics site Craftcount, he’s. In 2012 alone, he’s gone from 53,000 sales to more than 71,000. What makes Forest’s handmade buttons and pins so irresistible? Perhaps because their witticisms—meant to appeal to math geeks and grammar nerds—mesh perfectly within Etsy’s homespun vibe.
6) Emily Martin The Black Apple
Martin’s shop was one of Etsy’s first and continues to be one of the top 10 sellers (according to Craftcount). From paintings to picture books, Martin’s dark-fairytale brand stands out from the Etsy milieu. Martin was invited to speak alongside Dickerson at this year’s XOXO conference. Her takeaway? It “was a nice reminder that I've been doing something with my time, lo, these past seven years!”
7) Pamela Fleming Santa’s Little Helper
If Pamela Fleming’s success is any indication, Etsians treasure their pets. At the Magic Sleigh, Fleming sells nothing but custom ornaments of family dogs and cats, and in doing so, she became this year’s top winter holiday seller, according to Craftcount.
Fleming carefully sculpts each custom order with a photo reference. If the pooch has passed on, she adds a halo or a pair of angel wings. The best part? Ten percent of each ornament goes toward animal rescue and rehabilitation.
8) Inkpainter Vintage Curator
Sellers—like the Etsy Handmade Team—who defend a very narrow definition of what it means to be “handmade” on Etsy sometimes forget that a large chunk of sellers have never sold things they made themselves but instead curate vintage goods. This year, Inkpainter held the honor of being Etsy’s most successful vintage shop.
Inkpainter’s seller doesn’t disclose any personal information, but the shop is characterized by glitzy costume jewelry and period gemstones. With all that shiny sparkle, it’s no wonder that it’s caught the eye of more than 13,000 buyers.
9) Lauren Engelhardt Policy Manager
Did you know that as recently as 2012, it was OK to buy human bones and drug paraphernalia on Etsy? You can’t anymore, and it’s due to enforcement by Engelhardt, Etsy’s policy manager. An Etsy employee for more than five years, she’s helped shepherd the site from obscurity to globalization.
For years, Etsy hasn’t policed sellers’ claims of fertility- enhancing crystals or sales of pot-leaf necklaces. Why is it changing its policies now? Probably to coincide with Dickerson’s drive to grow and expand Etsy. What once went under the radar on a tiny marketplace won’t fly anymore.
10) Brad Troemel Junk-food Maven
If this Brooklyn artist’s Etsy shop isn’t the weirdest shop on the marketplace, it’s certainly the one most famous for being weird. Troemel’s useless handmade products have gone viral not only for their insanity but for their equally outrageous high prices.
In October, Troemel gave us an interview, the likes we’d never seen, complete with unfounded statements and even visuals. It’s apparent that the man behind “taco locks” and decorations made from expired junk food has barely scratched the surface of his inventive mind with his current offerings. We’ll keep an eye on what he comes up with next in 2013.
Correction: The original version of this story referred to the Etsy Handmade Team as an anonymous group. However, member shops can be found online. While not all members of the group took part in, or even agreed with, the protest, Etsy Handmade Team provided much-needed structure and support for the event.