Since opening Muse in Warren, R.I., in 2006, Elizabeth Kiepert has worked hard to differentiate her jewelry store with handcrafted American designs that are eyecatching and on trend. To make good on her mission, seven years ago she began scouring Etsy, the e-commerce website featuring handmade and vintage items, to score one-of-a-kind goods from seasoned jewelry professionals as well as up-and-coming designers.
“Etsy doesn’t have pieces that are everywhere else, so I have something unique to offer my customers,” says Kiepert, who has purchased earrings, necklaces, bracelets, and more from Etsy artists.
While Etsy has provided independent jewelry designers a viable outlet to sell their wares since its 2005 debut, the site has also emerged as a compelling place for jewelry retailers like Kiepert to spot new talent and source fresh, uncommon styles.
Necklace in brass, oxidized sterling silver, and gold fill; $125; Fail, Austin, Texas; 512-215-9088; failjewelry.com
“Etsy not only gives artists starting out an opportunity to reach buyers like me, but also offers my shop a great opportunity to stand out with customers as well,” Kiepert says.
On Etsy’s flagship retail site, which features 1.3 million artists peddling more than 26 million items, jewelry is among the most popular categories. With a mix of classic-looking goods alongside more fashion-forward pieces, Etsy embraces the artisan movement sweeping across the country and touching a diverse range of industries, including apparel, furniture, and food.
“More and more, consumers want something personal and meaningful, not something mass market, and Etsy is the perfect marketplace to tap into this because virtually everything is limited edition,” says Delezhen’s Masha Lezhen, a New York City–based former Web designer who is now one of Etsy’s top-selling jewelry artists.
Until recently, however, tapping into Etsy’s retail marketplace was a cumbersome process filled with hurdles. Kiepert, for instance, would navigate page after page to find potential products for Muse, purchasing pieces herself to assess the quality, size, craftsmanship, and professionalism. If all matched up, she would then contact the artist to see if he or she could even handle a wholesale order.
“With jewelry, the attention to detail and the quality is so critical, so I had to weed through a lot,” Kiepert says.
The B2B Opportunity
Delezhen solar quartz and green moss quartz earrings ($78; etsy.com/shop/delezhen)
Last August, Etsy solved that common retailer dilemma, one that hampered its artists’ reach into brick-and-mortar stores, with the launch of Etsy Wholesale, a juried collection of about 2,500 professional artists able to process wholesale orders. The division’s free and private online platform provides retailers direct information on artists, their goods, and wholesale terms, such as turnaround time, minimums, and production techniques.
“We’re empowering retailers with this information up front and providing the ease of ordering online anytime, anywhere,” Etsy spokesperson Rand Niederhoffer says.
In fact, Niederhoffer calls Etsy Wholesale a “new era” for retailers looking to access handcrafted goods in a safe, seamless environment. Retailers can review the popularity and sales data of designers, read reviews, explore an artist’s social media outreach, and see the consumers gravitating to a specific designer. Those insights, Niederhoffer says, can help jewelry retailers decide if a particular artist’s work fits in their store.
“We understand retailers are curators trying to find something that works for their store and customer base, so we built Etsy Wholesale to be that place for individual buyers looking to create their own, individualized aesthetic,” Niederhoffer says.
For the better part of a year, Dara Russell, co-owner of Destiny Designs in Vestal, N.Y., has been contemplating sourcing jewelry from Etsy. She visits the site often to peruse products and often hears customers mentioning the site in her store. Now that Etsy Wholesale is live, Russell says Destiny’s first foray into the Etsy marketplace might not be far behind. She’s intrigued by the chance to work directly with artists and share their individual stories, especially in light of how sentimental jewelry can be. “So many customers are genuinely interested in how a product is made and by whom,” says Russell, a 20-year jewelry industry veteran. “When you’re able to give those little details, it’s a definite plus. It adds dimension to the product and inspires connections.”
|Customers at Destiny Designs, owned by Dara Russell (left), often mention Etsy when they’re in her store.|
The storytelling aspect is something Kiepert has attempted to leverage with Etsy-sourced goods at Muse, where she displays artists’ personal information on small cards placed next to each item of jewelry. “Ultimately, people relate to people, and being able to share personal stories helps sell items.”
Kiepert has tried to reinforce these connections by inviting local designers to Muse for trunk shows and meet-and-greets. “Anytime you can bring these artists to life and allow customers to put a face to a name, I think it’s valuable to the store.”
The one-on-one contact Etsy Wholesale promotes between jewelry retailers and designers can do more than provide important background details; it can also spark retailer-friendly terms. When Russell worked directly with designers in the past, she found many willing to send samples or trade out lingering products for fresh inventory.
“The big manufacturers have their place and their advantages, but it’s wonderful to have direct contact with the artists, many of whom are quite accommodating,” Russell says.
Indeed, many jewelry artists on Etsy Wholesale trumpet responsiveness as a chief selling point. “When retailers want to reach me, they can get me through the phone or email immediately, and there’s just a different degree of customer service that comes when you’re dealing with another small business owner,” says Boise, Idaho–based jewelry artist Jamison Olson. Her Jamison Rae Jewelry store on Etsy features handmade fashion jewelry and has been on Etsy Wholesale since its beta testing in 2013.
Designer-retailer Jamison Olson at the bench in her Boise, Idaho, store Jamison Rae Jewelry
Olson says the relationship between artists and retailers on the site is generally one of mentorship. Retailers, she notes, often provide her rich and insightful feedback that strengthens her work. Building those genuine personal connections, Olson adds, opens the door to crafting exclusive designs for a particular retail outlet.
“If a store’s interested in placing an order for a specific type of jewelry, I’m going to find a way to accommodate that and get the retailer what he or she wants,” Olson says. “There’s a lot of room for collaboration because fewer people need to say yes.”
The direct contact also presents retailers an opportunity to score geographic exclusivity with designers. In her deals with Etsy artists, for instance, Kiepert ensures Muse has exclusive access to a particular designer’s work in Rhode Island’s East Bay area. “And that’s a competitive advantage that can’t be overlooked when you’ve invested in these products and believe customers will enjoy them.”
Yet perhaps Etsy Wholesale’s biggest draw—particularly for owner-operator types—is the ability to source dynamic products without incurring the time and expense of tracking them down in the real world.
“For a shop like us, it can be hard to take a few days off and go to a show,” says Russell, whose business consists of her, co-owner Jeff Klieger, and one part-time associate. While she enjoys attending trade shows and savors the opportunity to touch and trial product in person, Etsy presents an efficient, cost-effective alternative she will consider as an addition to her future trips to market.
“Ultimately, I’m motivated to get unique products into our store, and having more choice at my fingertips is only a plus,” Russell says.