I’m very excited to publish our first Melon Made Interview with a dear friend and inspiring creative force, Vanessa Bertozzi. Editor of the Etsy.com blog, filmmaker and world traveler, she gives us a little peak into the world that is Etsy and what it means to live handmade.
Tell us a little about yourself, and what you do.
Hi there! I’m Vanessa Bertozzi. I grew up in the countryside outside of Providence, RI, and when I was little I not only loved horses, I wanted to BE a horse. Now that I’m in Brooklyn, I miss the green but I don’t know miss having to drive a car around. I walk to work and that has become an essential part of my daily routine. I have the hugest, warmest 12 lb coat meant for the arctic and that has become an essential part of my winter work walk.
I’ve been working for Etsy.com for almost 2 and a half years and I love it very much. Etsy is an online marketplace where you can buy handmade items from the people who make them and vintage items from indie purveyors. It’s also a community of creative people who help each other out, have interesting discussions, and who are ‘livin la vida etsy.’ I run the Etsy blog (http://blog.etsy.com) with a fantastically talented group of people… I can’t say enough nice things about my team. Our editor/blogger/curator Alison Feldmann aka TeenAngster has amazing taste and a wonderful voice. Tara Young aka weirdwolf and Eric Beug aka objecked do our in-house video podcast, which you should definitely check out (subscribe to the Etsy podcast in iTunes or Youtube.com/etsy). The videos are so inspiring! My day-to-day flow is all about keeping everyone informed about Etsy news, talking to community members about interesting stories bubbling up, highlighting great items and sellers, and a lot a lot of proofreading and photoshopping and planning which articles we should post.
What was the last thing you stumbled upon that gave you an inspiring jolt?
The first time I saw my husband-to-be…Oh wait, you mean something on Etsy? I first found Etsy in 2005 when I was doing research on unschooling for my Master’s in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. I found this seller named Lizette Greco Lizettegreco.etsy.com through her husband’s del.ici.ous links. She’s an artist who sews objects based on her children’s drawings. I bought a pouch from her with her son’s drawing of a robot embroidered on it. Her shop and her objects expressed to me a lot of what I was really inspired by: everyday living where family, learning and creative expression are all integrated. (*Note: Lizette Greco was featured as one of the very first posts on Melon Made!)
How do you see today’s economic climate affect the creative community?
So far the economic downturn has not been bad for us. We’re seeing Etsy’s traffic and sales continue to climb. I think we may see more sellers signing up as more people get laid off and figure “Hey, this is actually my chance to do what I want to do as an artist anyways” and try to make a go of it. We have this series called Quit Your Day Job where sellers explain how they’re doing it.
At Etsy, we haven’t done a ton of super expensive advertising or marketing campaigns. What we’ve done has mostly happened organically in partnership with our grassroots community and word of mouth. Something like 50% of Etsians blog. And you know what that means? A lot of the buyers that come to Etsy are family, friends, neighbors, people who have a stake in the handmade movement or already have roots in the lifestyle. These people aren’t going anywhere because they want to support their community even more in tough economic times. That said, I think the groundswell of support for Etsy has been catching the attention of mainstream media. Here’s a clip Mo Rocca did about Etsy and he’s hanging out with Martha Stewart.
All the Etsy admin were really excited about this not only because Mo is hilarious and we have a soft spot for goofballs but also because he really communicated what Etsy is all about to a massive tv audience. So I’m actually hoping that Etsy can be a source of inspiration to the mainstream public at this moment when they’re reevaluating consumerism.
For me, because my focus is the Etsy blog, the handmade life means that every object has a story behind it and a person behind it. That makes life a lot more interesting. In general, our way of life — especially in the US — is very wasteful and removed from how thingsare actually produced. It’s important that we reconnect with the material world in a more honest way. When you buy from a person on Etsy, pretty much all the money is going to that person (Etsy takes 3.5% of the sale price as commission), not to a big corporation that uses sweatshops or child labor or pollutes the environment with a big factory (to oversimplify things just a tad). Long story short, you’re supporting independent artists and makers of all kinds. And it’s friendly — you get to have a meaningful interaction with someone and maybe even get something customized just for you. It’ll make your day and it might make the seller’s day too. That is way better than going into some cavernous big box store with fluorescent lighting and employees who have no information about the stock there and who are, frankly, often bored and annoyed (and they probably get paid badly).
On Etsy you can shop local or international — I’ve bought things from Brooklyn sellers who pop by and drop it off in person and then I’ve also bought from sellers in Singapore, Finland, Turkey…I hope our culture is experiencing a paradigm shift right now, where what we do and make, what we spend our time and money on can have a positive impact on the world. And Etsy is just one part of that larger movement.
That is a good question. When I was really little and we still lived in Providence, I had a babysitter who was a RISD student and I remember her best friend did a little portrait of me. You know, my mom is an artist and was always making things. I remember being little and being really impressed by this harpsichord she made from a kit in the 60s. She’s crazy. She can make anything! Her dad was a sailor in the Merchant Marines and I remember being really excited when he made us macrame bracelets and other things with cool, intricate knots with this special really silky rope. One summer he rigged up a rope swing with a wooden seat and carved my name into it.
My friend Hanna and I made a documentary called Secondhand (Pepe) before I worked at Etsy. It’s a short film about the history of used clothing and diaspora culture. We got started on it when we were thrift store shopping together and noticed some Haitian ladies buying clothes at Dollar-a-Pound in Cambridge. Hanna is a historian and dug up all this cool archival material about turn of the century Jewish ragpickers. We decided to interweave that old story with the contemporary story of donated American clothes that end up in the markets in Haiti. (”Pepe” is the Creole word for secondhand.) At this point, I sell personal copies of our DVDs in my Etsy shop Vanessa.etsy.com and we also have a distributor for museums, colleges, organizations that want to screen the movie — Thirdworldnewsreel (TWN.org). Hanna will be returning to Haiti for a film festival there which is so full circle and great. We might have another screening at MoMA soon.
I’m not a crafty person myself (my creations tend to look kinda nuts — I made the boutonniers for the guys in our wedding party). But I love photography and flickr tends to be my creative outlet. These days, honestly, what I daydream about a lot is having an old Victorian house that we fix up and totally customize and fill with our weird collections and art and grow a big garden in the back.