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Controversial Etsy Seller Departs the Marketplace

How can a single knitter make a million dollars on Etsy? That’s the question many other sellers asked themselves after Fast Companywrote about the Etsy shop Three Bird Nest in February. While the piece was a PR coup for the seller, Alicia Shaffer, it also attracted some unwelcome attention – and now, Shaffer is no longer operating her Three Bird Nest store on Etsy.

An article from last week on Yahoo Makersattempts to explain what happened, calling it a cruel summer for Etsy and Shaffer’s business relationship. “Squabbles with Etsy, criticism from craft purists who resented Shaffer’s dabbles in mainstream manufacturing, and the success of her independent Three Bird Nest website (where Shaffer now sells the bulk of her product line) have taken their toll.”

Fast Company had originally titled its February profile, “How One Knitter Makes Almost $1 Million A Year On Etsy.” But it wrote in the body of the article, “Not all the items are entirely handmade by Shaffer’s team – many, like the knitted legwarmers, socks, and gloves, are sourced wholesale from India. “We finish them here, adding lace trimmings and buttons,” Shaffer says. The publication also noted the profitability of that approach: “The profit margin from such imported items is 65%.”

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In its piece last week, Yahoo Maker addressed the issue of whether Three Bird Nest was selling handmade items. “Critics accused Shaffer of being everything from an artisan sellout to an outright fraud. The criticism intensified when items resembling Shaffer’s were spotted on a Chinese website, leading to conspiracy theories that Shaffer was importing stuff from China and passing them off on Etsy as her own handmade goods. (Shaffer says the Chinese website was selling cheap knockoffs of her products and advertising them with photos lifted from her own site.)”

Blogger Abby Glassenberg of While She Naps wrote about Three Bird Nest a week after its profile appeared in Fast Company in February. She noted Zulily was selling a set of boot cuffs, and said they were “seemingly identical” to ones sold by Three Bird Nest on Etsy; “On Zulily there’s is no implication that the cuffs are handmade,” she wrote.

The furor continued, with some sellers reporting that Etsy banned them from its forums (“permamuted” them) when they spoke out about the issue.

While Shaffer is gone from Etsy, the issue over policies and practices remains.

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Ina Steiner

Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. Send news tips to ina@ecommercebytes.com.


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