How to Make a Million Dollars on Etsy

Online marketplace Etsy is known as a place to buy home-made items, clothing, artworks, and jewelry created by individuals or produced in limited runs by small businesses. But not everyone using the site ascribes to this folksy philosophy. Others, such as Alicia Shaffer, are using Etsy like eBay, buying items wholesale from huge retailers such as Alibaba, and reselling them through the site.

Shaffer claims her store, ThreeBirdNest, earns her just shy of a million dollars a year. The second-most successful store on the entire site, Shaffer’s store sells clothing and accessories — socks, headbands, boot cuffs, and T-shirts with slogans such as “Feed me and tell me I’m pretty.” ThreeBirdNest advertises its products as “handmade boutique” fashion, but Shaffer hasn’t got to the top alone. She employs a team of 15 women who help sew some of the items in her store, and controversially, a number of the other products are bought wholesale from retailers in India.

The resale of wholesale items is common for sellers on eBay, Amazon, and other e-commerce sites, but Shaffer’s business model has attracted criticism from other Etsy sellers and shoppers who argue that the site, with its focus on homemade crafts, is not the place for such tactics. The site’s struggle is one of handcrafted idealism versus cut-throat capitalism — despite its charm, Etsy is a marketplace that pitches cute knitted animals against each other in a fierce fight to draw more eyeballs and money.

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