From the smallest studio to the largest hall at the Vancouver Convention Centre, there’s no shortage of craft fairs across this city. The weeks leading up to the holidays see so many established craft fairs and artists’ sales it can be difficult for a new event to draw customers.
The old trade-show model can be a tough sell in a saturated market. Even big-money backing and a huge advertising push couldn’t make a go of the defunct One of a Kind show. Hugely successful in its native Toronto, it tried in vain to gain momentum in Vancouver.
Not so, it would seem, for Etsy—a sort of virtual craft market. Launched in 2005, the e-commerce website allows individual artisans to set up their own virtual shop for a nominal fee on the front end and a commission of all sales. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, handcrafted and vintage items can be purchased by upwards of 30 million users—no tickets or travel required for either buyer or seller.
This year, Etsy has renewed its focus on the Canadian market, specifically Vancouver. “Vancouver is a great market for us and a perfect city to ramp up our West Coast operations,” says Erin Green, Canada country manager for Etsy, on the phone from Ottawa. “It was already one of the most active seller communities thanks to teams like the one from Emily Carr [University], but we see an opportunity for continued growth.”
To capitalize on that momentum, Etsy unveiled its first real-time holiday pop-up shop in this city, #UnwrapEtsy, which runs for six days until Wednesday (November 19) at thisopenspace (434 Columbia Street) and features 35 handpicked local vendors. It appears they’ve had no trouble attracting crowds. And even if they didn’t, it wouldn’t be that big a deal.
Unlike other craft fairs that depend on getting bodies through the doors during a limited run, for Etsy the show is an advertisement for the next month of shopping.
“It’s phenomenal from the artists’ perspective,” says Leah McIntyre by phone from her home studio in Dunbar. “I mean, it’s going on right now and I’m at home with my kids. They have people there running my booth for me, so I can continue to focus on creating.”
The woodworker behind Love My Local, McIntyre creates cheese boards in the shape of the 10 Canadian provinces, the whole country, and Italy and France.
McIntyre also lauds Etsy for its support of local artists with online groups and teams that allow her to make connections with other artisans and expand her craft. “I’m growing as an artist every day, not just selling over a single weekend,” she says.
Back in Ottawa, Green says Etsy has more pop-ups and local vendor partnerships waiting in the wings for 2015. The retail trend for the past 15 or so years has been for artisans to establish an online presence as quickly as possible, but the website is looking to raise its grassroots credibility with more “offline”, in-real-life events stamped with the Etsy imprimatur. It’s a strategy that local artists appreciate.
“I think my cheese boards are great, but nobody knows me, really,” McIntyre says. “But they do know Etsy. They trust Etsy. It’s great to have a business like that behind you.”