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What Makes Our Handmade Marketplace Different

Infographic Showing Worker Co-op Impact by the Numbers: People of Color Make Up 56.8% of Worker-owners, Worker-Owned Coops are Two-Thirds More Likely to Succeed, Enjoy 5% Higher Productivity Levels, Have a Higher Job Satisfaction Rate, Maintain a 2:1 Pay Ratio Compared to the Average CEO-to-Worker Pay of 303:1, and Have a Lower Employee Turnover Rate

A Cooperative and Inclusive Community

“Creating a worker co-op is not just creating a business; it is creating a community.” 

In Good Company: The Guide To Cooperative Employee Ownership

The Artisans Cooperative is building an online handmade marketplace for an inclusive network of creatives: in other words, a co-op alternative to Etsy.

Until recently, artisans (artists, makers, crafters, illustrators, designers, and more) had only one natural place to sell their handmade goods online: Etsy. But Etsy has taken some major mis-steps lately, resulting in a lot of frustrated and disgruntled artisans and customers. Customers complain there are too many non-handmade sellers on the platform, with one user calling the handmade filter “utterly broken.” Artisans have protested punitive rating systems, poor service, and increased fees. And it has come to the point where artisans and their frustrated customers are actively searching for alternatives. 

Google Trends Snapshot Interest Over Time in the Search Term 'Etsy Alternatives' 2012-2022
Graph from Google Trends

Our co-op marketplace is trying to create a solution to this problem. It will not only provide a better shopping experience for artisans and customers alike. It will also be more supportive of its community by using cooperative business models and values. Unlike private- and investor-owned marketplaces, the artisans themselves will own it and manage it to their own benefit. And unlike other co-op marketplaces, ours will be inclusive and accessible to all genuine artisans, their supporters and partners. 

A Better Marketplace

By building the marketplace cooperatively, artisans and customers together can create the marketplace they both want: filled with unique, creative, and authentically-handmade goods. 

We envision something more interesting than an Amazon-style webstore. We intend to build features into our marketplace that artisans and customers want beyond the simple product listing. We want a better custom commissions system with milestones and flexible deadlines and support for a variety of project types, including crowdfunding projects and subscriptions.

As a project led by creatives, we have fresh ideas to explore. We would like a social aspect for following certain themes or communities with discovery boards. We have ideas for a free-form, even infinite canvas, artboard of widgets that meet all artists’ selling needs. 

Our marketplace will be a big tent, welcoming and accessible for genuine artists of all kinds. Unlike other start-up marketplaces, ours will not specialize in any one niche. Instead, we will have search capabilities and filters to shop by important criteria: such as BIPOC-owned, woman-owned, survivors, collectives, LGBTQ+ owned, “family friendly”, or location-specific.

The key to our marketplace will be its cooperative people power. Members will be motivated to make the marketplace better because they own it. 

The Cooperative Model Sets Us Apart

The cooperative business model – accessible to all –  is what makes our marketplace different. The people who use it will design it to meet their needs: reliability, sustainability, longevity, fair fees, and more.

Democratic Ownership and Control

A cooperative is a democratically-managed marketplace owned by its members with a principle of “one member, one vote.” 

Because its members own it and manage it themselves, they set the rules and they approve the changes. The members have democratic control over what fees are charged, how membership is approved, how the marketplace functions, and what “handmade” means. 

Economic Participation

Member-owners equitably share in the value created by the cooperative as a whole. That means that a profitable year for the cooperative is a profitable year for all. This is done through a system of “patronage refunds,” which are like dividends. Patronage refunds have the potential to become a second source of income for artisans if the cooperative is successful. 

As the United Nations characterizes is in their International Day of Cooperatives

Co-operatives’ open membership model affords access to wealth creation and poverty elimination. … Because co-operatives are people-centred, not capital-centred, they do not perpetuate, nor accelerate capital concentration and they distribute wealth in a more fair way.

A Caring Community

Members manage cooperatives by an agreed-upon set of seven values that put people over profits. Because of this, history and research has shown cooperatives to be more resilient and adaptable than traditional businesses over time. This is precisely because they are managed for their members’ needs as a group of people. Education and support for its members are one of the core values. The cooperative supports its members and its members support the cooperative.  

Infographic Showing Worker Co-op Impact by the Numbers: People of Color Make Up 56.8% of Worker-owners, Worker-Owned Coops are Two-Thirds More Likely to Succeed, Enjoy 5% Higher Productivity Levels, Have a Higher Job Satisfaction Rate, Maintain a 2:1 Pay Ratio Compared to the Average CEO-to-Worker Pay of 303:1, and Have a Lower Employee Turnover Rate
Infographic from National Cooperative Business Association / CLUSA International

Strength in Cooperation

By combining our collective strengths, we can create a self-reliant source of income for ourselves. Our cooperative marketplace has a unique advantage. Many of us, its artisan members, already have savvy, successful artisan businesses. 

We have already been selling online, on Etsy, Instagram, our own websites and more, for years. We already have social media followers and customer lists of people who care about buying genuinely handmade. By sharing our news at the same time, together, we can have an outsized marketing footprint, right away. We all get a slice of the pie, and together, there will be a bigger pie to slice from. 

Tried and Tested Business Model

There is nothing radically new in a cooperative online marketplace concept, and that should give us comfort. Artisans have always been the first founders of cooperatives, since the very beginnings in the 1700’s. The cooperative business model has been challenged, tried and tested for over 150 years. 

One of the seven principles is cooperatives helping cooperatives. Accordingly, there are ample organizations and resources to help cooperatives get started. There are local, regional, rural-specific, national, and even international cooperative associations. There is even a special name for online cooperatives, and a dedicated organization for it: “platform co-ops.” 

We already know there is shopper demand for a handmade artisan marketplace, thanks to Etsy’s success. Etsy’s monopoly in this space proves the need for competition. And the 80,000 Etsy Strike petition signers (including 30,000 Etsy shops) prove the interest in a better alternative. 

We are artisans: we are creative and ambitious, self-reliant and independent. And it is time we had a marketplace of our own, a friendly space for ourselves and our community: our supportive customers, fans, and partners. 

Join our movement on our website, artisans.coop/join.

MORE RESOURCES / FURTHER READING: 

1 thought on “What Makes Our Handmade Marketplace Different”

  1. Pingback: Artisans Cooperative: Building a Handmade Alternative to Etsy | the official blog of Walnut Studiolo

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