Exposing the 'fake homemade': the myth of maker marketplaces

The founders of a social enterprise dedicated to helping emerging artists profit from their work have spoken out against the increasing volume of mass-manufactured goods that are passing for handmade crafts on marketplaces like Etsy and eBay. 

The last 15 years have seen rapid growth for the emerging 'craftpreneur' sector in the UK, with sales of crafting materials more than trebling since 2006. According to the 2020 Crafts Council Report, the sector is now worth over £3bn.  

In the wake of this shift, Artisanry Co., a creative community and online art and craft sellers' platform, commissioned Sussex Innovation to research and write a white paper on the 'maker marketplace’ industry. The insights gathered by our independent research team revealed some of the hurdles that prevent new artists from making their name in an increasingly commercialised market. While the emergence of maker marketplaces has created a new channel for creators to find an audience, more of the burden of promoting and selling work is being placed on the artist than ever before. 

While these artist-driven models were initially empowering for the individual, the paper points out that mass-manufacturers have stepped in to saturate the market with cheaper, lower quality goods, in many cases gaming the platforms' promotional algorithms with more sophisticated digital marketing than a sole trader is often capable of. 

"This is such an important issue, particularly after an immensely challenging year for the arts sector in the UK," said Bhawna Sarin, co-founder of Artisanry Co. "Not only is it more difficult than ever to make a living as an artist, but so many of us are crying out for a creative outlet for our mental wellbeing. 

"There is a potentially huge economic opportunity here just waiting to be unlocked, but currently it is only benefitting the few. Our vision is to help bring about sustainable local economies through a grassroots revolution in the creative industries – genuinely helping people make the leap from hobby to profession, rather than paying lip service to supporting maker communities and simply pocketing the commission. 

"With the impact of Covid-19 and the ensuing funding cuts to our already weakened creative industries, now is the time to stand up for the future of the art and craft industries, their crucial place within the UK economy, and their even greater social value."

Sarin argues that any commission for work sold on a maker marketplace should be contingent on doing more to protect the artists who supply them. Unlike some of the more well-known names in this space, such as Etsy and the recently launched Amazon Handmade, Artisanry Co. curates its listings to ensure that they are the work of an independent creator. It is also the only art and craft sellers' platform that is run as a social enterprise. 

The company is currently registered as a Community Interest Company (CIC), meaning that it is committed to reinvesting surplus profits into programmes that support its maker community. These include coaching in financial management and business development skills, as well as community networking and training events to help new creators make connections, develop their voice and reach a wider audience.  

With this support, 64% of the Artisanry Co. maker community have been able to turn creative arts into their sole source of income. The founders intend to build on the organisation’s open structure further in 2021, and are working towards restructuring as a Community Benefit Society with a voting board of members, placing the power even more firmly in the hands of the creators. 

"We're pleased to have had the opportunity to write this white paper for Artisanry Co," said Nigel Lambe, chief executive of Sussex Innovation. "The UK has a great global reputation for its arts sector, and it's important that we continue to innovate and develop sustainable models that enable our creators to make a living from their work. That's why we have identified arts and culture as one of our areas of focus – Artisanry Co. is a great example of an ambitious, purpose-led enterprise that we want to support on their mission to deliver true social and economic impact."

Read the white paper, Maker Marketplaces: Exposing the 'Fake Homemade' here.