Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Native American Artisan

 As my husband and I began our Etsy shop, we weren't really sure if Native American items would do well.  I think we both thought of Etsy as more of an online craft boutique and, therefore, a home for "cute" arts and crafts.  There is actually a substantial Native American community on Etsy and I was quickly befriended by Joni Stinson, a registered/enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, a U.S. Recognized Tribe.  Since she's been on Etsy longer than I have, I wanted to find out what her experience had been.

How did your shop get started?
I joined Etsy in 2007 in order to purchase a beadweaving pattern from a local designer who was selling them on Etsy.    I enjoyed beading and was selling my work at two local galleries, area craft shows, and regional Pow Wows.  At the time, it never crossed my mind to sell on Etsy.


Having located Etsy following the designer’s instructions, I joined and was soon interested in “surfing” other locations and made a few purchases during the following year.   Almost a year to the date, I decided to list a few things on Etsy to “test the waters”.    I have been “testing” every since.
 Since then, my store has slowly but steadily grown .  I have hundreds of items that I have yet to list on Etsy.  My plan for the coming fall is to increase my items by at least 30%.


What are your biggest frustrations?
I guess I would have to say that the thing I find most frustrating is the need to photograph my items.  Jewelry is difficult to photograph even for professional photographers and I am certainly a novice!   Not only does one spend a great deal of time with the photographic set up, then you have to upload, crop and sometimes adjust the photographs.    That is followed by decisions as to which photographs are good enough to use and which to delete.  Then it is time to upload them to the listing site.   I admire those who are able to submit wonderful photographs.   But taking the time to become a better photographer would cut into time I could be beading.    I hope to find a balance that is of acceptable quality some day.

Is your shop doing as well as you'd like?
Of course everyone wants their business to do better!  However, most of the year, Etsy is a secondary market for me.   I love doing “live” events where one can interact with the buyers in a much more personal way.   We begin events in late March and do not stop until October.   I am sure that I could do better on Etsy if I had more items listed for sale and spent more time improving my marketing strategies.   But I am satisfied for the present.

What unique challenges do you face with being a Native American artisan?
I don’t believe my challenges are unique because I am Native American.   However, there is one area that is of concern to me.  There are many artists on Etsy who promote their work as Native American and aren’t Native American.  This is illegal.  One can read the law regarding this here:  www.iacb.doi.gov


In order for one to promote an item as Native American or use the name of a Native American tribe in their title, they must be a registered member of a U.S. recognized tribe.   One year ago, there were 5000+ items on Etsy tagged Native American.  Today there are over  8000  items tagged Native American.   I would estimate that as many as 2/3’s of these are not made by registered members of  a U.S. recognized tribe.    Buyers may think they are purchasing authentic Native American work when they are not.


I have many friends on Etsy who do wonderful Native American Style work that are Native by  blood but are not registered and others who are Native in spirit only.  I have no problem with them as they promote their work as Native Style or Native Inspired.   They make no attempt to promote it as authentic Native American work.  It is those that promote their work as Native American and are not that bother me and Etsy seems not to care.    They continue to allow these sellers to break the law.


How do you market yourself?
 I have yet to put together as serious marketing plan for my on-line businesses.  I do post my items to my Face Book page but need to develop a business page there.  I have a blog but don’t really use it as a piece of  a marketing plan.  I post things to my Flickr account and those seem to get picked up by Google often.  I sell on Artfire as well as Etsy.   I visits the Etsy forums frequently.    I belong to two Etsy teams and one informal “team” on Etsy.  On Artfire, I belong to two guilds.   I can attribute sales to all of these endeavors but probably have not maximized their potential in that I haven’t sought “friends, fans, or followers”.   I do pass out business cards at all of the events we participate in during the year.  I also enclose one in each package that is shipped.

What advice do you have for other Etsy sellers or those interested in starting on Etsy?
My advice is to first think through what you want to call your store.   As I said before, I joined Etsy as a buyer.  When it asked me for a name, I didn’t give it a seconds thought.  I used my first initial and last name.   Since it can’t be changed, I am stuck with it.   Now after having it for three years, I would be somewhat reluctant to change it even when or if I could.


Secondly, don’t be afraid to promote your work once you get it listed.   Take advantage of the forums and teams.  Ask for help if you need it.  The majority of Etsy sellers are kind and supportive.   Overall, Etsy is a good place to showcase and sell one’s work but don’t think Etsy will sell it for you.  Perhaps you will be lucky enough that it will sell itself…but that only works if you have a unique niche item in high demand.  Most likely you will have to sell it yourself.


Be prepared for on-line selling to take far more of your time than you ever dreamed it would.   I am fast approaching my 300th sale on Etsy.  Each time I get an e-mail stating an item has sold, I am just as excited as I was the first time.  It still amazes me when out of the millions of pieces of jewelry on line, someone traveled through cyberspace, found my store and  made a purchase!  You can’t beat that kind of thrill.  Go for it!

Joni is one of the threads who ties the Native American community together on Etsy.  She keeps a thread going in the Promotions Forum where many Natives gather to promote their items, support each other, share stories and culture, etc.  We don't have anywhere near the inventory in our shop that Joni does, but we have experienced the frustration of violations of federal laws regarding the selling of Native American items.  There are countless listings that violate this, making it more difficult for those of us selling genuine Native American made items.  I'm honored to have met Joni and learned so much from her. 

12 mad comments:

jstinson said...

I appreciate your having selected my Etsy store to do this feature blog. Mvto and Wado (Thank you in Creek and Cherokee).
Joni Stinson

ZudaGay said...

Great feature of a wonderful woman and artist!! I enjoyed reading about Joni very much. :)

Julie G. said...

Jonie does the most amazing work and is a wonderful person. She is part of a group I belong to on Etsy and I have enjoyed getting to know her.

Dayna said...

I am always interested in what Joni puts in her shop. Great feature on her.

heronkate said...

Lovely article about a very talented artist. Amazing detail in her beadwork !

Karen Tapahe said...

I'm so happy to see that Joni's work is appreciated by so many. It was a pleasure to feature her!

Theresa Geary said...

Very nice article! Joni is a very worthy artist and an awesome beadworker, my favorite Native American art medium.

Anonymous said...

I like reading your site for the reason that you can constantly get us fresh and cool things, I feel that I should at least say a thank you for your hard work.

- Rob

Anonymous said...

Valuable info. Lucky me I found your site by accident, I bookmarked it.

Anonymous said...

Nice site, nice and easy on the eyes and great content too.

Anonymous said...

Terrific work! This is the type of information that should be shared around the web. Shame on the search engines for not positioning this post higher!

Cassi said...

I'm glad I found your post and store. I wanted to buy Native American art and jewellery and I wanted to make sure that I was buying real things. I want my money to go to an artist not some sweatshop in Bangladesh or an impostor.

My grandmother was an artist, she preferred painting gardens though.

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