The feathers were killers. Ellen Okolita is a former florist and a stay-at-home mom who sells handmade children’s costumes, and cuts “miles and miles” of felt feathers for her popular, whimsical outfits. There was no way around the process, and it limited the growth of her business. During last year’s Halloween season, Okolita had to shut down her online Etsy shop, Tree + Vine, after booking as many orders as she could handle -- about $14,000 worth, at roughly $60 a pop. “I have long envisioned some sort of machine to help me cut feathers,” says Okolita, who is based in Gray, Maine. “But I realized that might not be superfeasible because I work from my living room and don’t have space for a machine.”
And then came hope.
During that Halloween rush, Etsy announced a new program to connect sellers with manufacturers. Okolita looked and, surprise of all surprises, found a facility right up the street from her house that could create a die to cut feathers on site. They could even produce entire costumes for her. “I didn’t know companies like that existed for businesses my size,” she says.
That’s the revelation Etsy was hoping for. “Over the past few years, we’ve heard that a segment of sellers are looking for help scaling production,” says Emily Smith, Etsy’s senior program manager for manufacturing. A company survey found that 20 percent of its U.S. sellers are open to using outside manufacturing -- as are 50 percent of high-volume sellers. And in the program’s first two weeks, more than 600 manufacturers applied to be listed on the site.
Etsy is beginning with a focus on apparel, jewelry, printing, textiles, machine fabrication and metalwork. The service is free for now, but Etsy will likely begin charging a fee when it expands the program later this year. And happy, early adopters like Okolita will no doubt become part of Etsy’s marketing strategy. The experience made her rethink her whole company. “It totally opened my eyes to all these possibilities,” she says.