computer screen with etsy homepage up on it

In April 2022, thousands of Etsy shop owners put their stores in “vacation mode” in protest of Etsy’s fee hike and other policies. How has the marketplace landscape changed for indie sellers since then?

A brief history of the Etsy Strike

Two years ago, Susan Watkins watched the Etsy Strike unfold on social media and in mainstream news channels. “I thought, maybe the Etsy Strike will make a difference,” she said. Her online yarn shop, Izzy Knits, had been on the platform for four years. She was frustrated with having to offer free shipping and with constantly failing to obtain Star Seller status, despite prompt shipping and great customer service. “I had all really positive reviews,” Watkins says. “You couldn’t find me.”

Thousands of sellers similarly frustrated with the site participated in the Etsy Strike by putting their shops on “vacation mode” from April 11-18, 2022. The movement, which began as a Reddit post by a still-anonymous Etsy seller, focused on unwelcome changes in Etsy’s policies: specifically, a 30% increase in transaction fees, mandatory participation in the new offsite ads program (which took an additional fee of 12-15%), and the requirements of the Star Seller program. More than 80,000 people signed a petition outlining these and other demands.

The Etsy Strike was covered by media outlets from NPR to The Verge to the Wall Street Journal. Kristi Cassidy, one of the organizers of the strike, was interviewed dozens of times (including on the Craft Industry Alliance podcast). “It was remarkably successful,” remembers Valerie Schafer Franklin, another organizer. The media attention made consumers aware of what many sellers considered to be Etsy’s exploitative practices toward sellers.

It also allowed Etsy sellers to connect with each other. Participants in the strike organized primarily on Reddit before moving to Discord, a social media platform. Away from the heavily-monitored Etsy forums, sellers found a community and support system for indie, craft-based businesses.

time to unite indie sellers guild
The ISG is an advocacy group that researches, promotes, and enforces the rights of indie sellers.

New Groups Form

Two organizations emerged from the strike’s Discord channel. Cassidy, the face of the strike, created the Indie Sellers Guild (ISG) with Chiarra Lohr. The ISG incorporated as a 501(c)6  in June of 2022 as a trade organization; the Indie Sellers Guild Foundation incorporated as a 501(c)3 nonprofit in February of 2023 to fundraise and support the ISG. Meanwhile, Franklin and others, including Thera Langham Knapp, went on to build an alternative marketplace, the Artisans Cooperative. They incorporated as a C-Corp in Oregon on May Day in 2023. 

Both organizations operate on a shoestring budget with hundreds of volunteer hours put in by members. Lohr and Cassidy estimate the total budget of the ISG to be $2,500. The Artisans Cooperative won $10,000 through an incubator program at Start.coop. They used this money to pay for legal fees when they incorporated. Their capital campaign also raised $50,000 (which was double their initial goal) and included both dollars and sweat equity through their points and tiers system.

Shared Goals, Differing Methods

Both groups seek to improve working conditions for indie sellers. The ISG includes makers, vintage sellers, and craft supply sellers in their ranks, while the Coop focuses on handmade sellers.

The ISG is an advocacy group that researches, promotes, and enforces the rights of indie sellers. With a board of five people led by an Executive Director (Lohr) and a Head of Research (Dr. Samantha Close), and a membership of roughly 3,000, it has worked with the office of Senator Tammy Baldwin on the COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) Online Act and offered support for a rule proposed by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) designed to crack down on unfair platform fees. In both cases, government officials reached out to the ISG because, as Lohr says, “There’s nobody else to talk to.”

The group is also running the ISG Virtual Convention April 13-14, which will include webinars on running a successful indie craft business; interviews with alternative marketplaces, including the Artisans Coop; and research from a survey of over 1000 sellers on what sellers want from marketplaces.

 On the other hand, the goal of the Artisans Cooperative is to offer an alternative marketplace to makers. The Coop has launched its marketplace in beta in October of 2023. It currently has approximately 300 member-owners, including 176 sellers, according to Knapp, with plans to open to nonmembers down the road.

This marketplace is special in that its members own the business themselves; leadership and work are distributed among a recently elected board of seven directors and “a small army of 80-plus people who are running the Coop together,” Franklin says.

artisans cooperative homepage
The goal of the Artisans Cooperative is to offer an alternative marketplace to makers.

Hopes for the Future

Neither group expects or even wants Etsy to go away; in fact, many members of both still sell on Etsy, including Cassidy. Cassidy says that in her ideal world, there would be a legitimate government organization where sellers like her could go to report “getting screwed over by a tech platform.” 

Lohr agrees, adding,

“I would rather see Etsy pressured to fulfill their values promise,” which is, of course, “Keep Commerce Human.”

The ISG hopes to create this pressure by developing a Marketplace Accreditation Project, which Lohr describes as an “ideal contract” between platforms and sellers. Several alternative marketplaces, including the Artisans Cooperative, goImagine, Indie Untangled, and others, have already applied for accreditation.

Franklin, of the Coop, also hopes for marketplace diversity, rather than the Coop becoming the next Etsy. She has run a leatherwork business with her partner for fifteen years and knows the vulnerability of putting all of your eggs in one platform’s basket. “If any one of these [alternative platforms] did well, I would want to be on at least two.”

analysis of the cool online act
The ISG has worked with the office of Senator Tammy Baldwin on the COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) Online Act and offered support for a rule proposed by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) designed to crack down on unfair platform fees.

Etsy Today

After the strike, Etsy modified the Star Seller program to require five sales (instead of the original ten) in a 3-month period. The transaction fee remains 6.5%, and offsite ads are still required for shops making over $10,000 in a 365-day period. 

Susan Watkins, who hoped for change after the strike, decided to close her Etsy shop in 2023. “I wanted to own my effort,” she says. Her shop is now exclusively on her own website, and she also sells locally at fairs. She lost about half of her sales when she got off Etsy, but she says, “I’m happier.”

Etsy’s fees and policies remain well worth it for many sellers. As Susan Sanford, an Etsy shop owner since 2006 (with a two-year break), says of the platform,

“There’s a lot to bash, but there’s a lot of good.” Etsy provides her with an online presence she otherwise would have to pay for on her own, collects taxes for her, and comes with a built-in audience.

That audience is enormous. Etsy brought in $2.7 billion in revenue last quarter, and 92 million people made a purchase on Etsy in the last year.

The Future for Indie Sellers

At the same time, new handmade marketplaces are popping up, including some from big box stores. Michaels MakerPlace launched in March with a cheeky ad full of handmade objects singing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Its motto: “Respect the Maker.” A recent Google search for “sell on Etsy” brought in a sponsored ad to sell on Walmart Marketplace.

It’s hard to imagine a return to the early days of Etsy, which once was a B-corporation that organized meet-ups in different cities (remember Street Teams?). But both the ISG and the Coop, which are small but well-organized, with strong online presences, and thoughtfully considered internal organization, promote a future in which commerce is more human.

Alicia de los Reyes

Alicia de los Reyes


Alicia de los Reyes is a freelance writer who loves to make things. She has her MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of New Hampshire and her work has appeared in the Billfold, the Archipelago, Sojourners Magazine, and others. See more of her work at aliciadelosreyes.com.

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