Interview: Helen Souness talks the Etsy Design Awards
Cecile Blackmore | On 02, Jul 2015
Entries are open right now for the 2015 Etsy Design Awards – we talk to judge Helen Souness, Managing Director of Etsy Australia and Asia about how to stand out in a crowd of over a million Etsy sellers.
Since its inception in 2005, the Etsy platform has revolutionised buying and seller for designers and buyers alike. The Etsy Design Awards for Australia and New Zealand, now in its second year, is a celebration of everything that makes Etsy a success – creativity, innovation, sustainability and community spirit.
Etsy creatives can submit their work to the following categories from now until July 13 – Art, Illustration & Papergoods; Home & Lifestyle; Fashion & Accessories; New Talent; and Business As Unusual – click here to enter. The public can also have their say on a favourite with the “Community Choice” award, with voting open to everyone.
Prizes include a trip to Etsy’s New York headquarters and extensive social media coverage and a feature on the October issue of Inside Out. Carl Holder, of Etsy furniture shop Foreply, said ;
â€œWinning the New Talent Award and the resulting media exposure generated masses
of interest in my Etsy shop; I went from a few dozen visits a day to literally thousands with interest and encouragement coming from all over the globe.â€
We talked to judge Helen Souness about Etsy’s expansion as a community and how the design awards encapsulate its core values, as well as essential tips and tricks for new sellers wanting to break into the scene.
TCI: What do judges look for in a winning applicant? Are you allowed to be subjective, taking your own preferences as a consumer into account or do you have to be mindful of the community as a whole?
Helen Souness: Design and the quality of the making and craftsmanship are essential to be considered in the
Etsy Design Awards, and there is a lot of competition on this front.Â Then my fellow judges and I will of course be looking for fresh ideas and new directions.Â Great innovative design is a key to success. Etsy sellers have a habit of leading trends rather than following and we will be excited to see the new materials, colours and making techniques that the entrants demonstrate in their products.
Of course in the Business as Unusual Award, we will also be excited to see the innovations in how Etsy sellers are running their businesses to build a more lasting and fulfilling world. This Award is close to my heart, as it is aligned with Etsy’s mission to re-imagine commerce to build a more lasting and fulfilling world.Â Anything from recycling or upcycling to working to revive lost cultures and craft will be welcomed in that very special category of the Awards.
Finally, to be successful sellers should also focus on presenting their designs well. Great product photography is essential to show their work to best effect. It is also important that a maker tells the story of their making and creative processes. The judges will look at the ‘About’ page on the Etsy Shop of the entrant, which is a wonderful opportunity to tell their story, from their inspirations and sketches to their making processes.
TCI: How has Etsy grown as a community since its arrival?
Helen Souness: Community is the heart and soul of Etsy. Community members are in almost every country in the world: the creative entrepreneurs who use Etsy to sell what they make or curate, the shoppers looking for things they canâ€™t find anywhere else, and the Etsy employees who maintain and nurture our marketplace.Â All are important members of the Etsy community. This month is our 10 year Anniversary and in that time we have really grown and now have more than 20 million active buyers and more than 1.4 million makers and curators running their creative businesses on the Etsy platform.
Many Etsy sellers find the community nature of Etsy is really important to them as they start and grow their businesses.Â Many use the forums to ask questions and get answers from fellow sellers, especially when they are learning to sell online.Â Around a quarter also join â€œEtsy Teamsâ€ which are self organising groups of Etsy community members who form around particular interests, such as ceramics or particular making skills; or around locations, such as our Perth Street Team or Sydney Team, both of which have 100s of members.Â These teams will meet for coffee to support each other in their businesses, they will hold pop up markets or shops and use Etsyâ€™s educational resources such as â€œEtsy Schoolâ€ to get together to learn more about important topics like product photography or SEO, thereby helpingÂ each other grow their businesses.Â There is a wonderful supportive spirit of collaboration rather than competition between Etsy Sellers, which for me, is a the magical thing about the Etsy community.
TCI: How has Etsy changed the face of small creative business?
Helen Souness: More than 40% of Etsy Sellers around the world have never had a business before they join the Etsy platform.Â In Australia close to 50% of our sellers have not run a business before. So the Etsy platform is their first experience of earning an income from their creativity.Â This is such an exciting aspect of what we sometimes call the â€œEtsy Economyâ€, where people all over the world are able to turn their making or creative curating skills into a business and supplement their incomes. Our 2014 Seller Surveys revealed a community of Internet-enabled creative entrepreneurs who are building businesses on their own termsâ€”prioritising flexibility, independence and creativity. More than three quarters of Australian sellers consider their Etsy shop to be a business and for around a quarter, their creative business has become so well established that they are able to focus on it as their sole occupation. Around a third of sales in Australia are made in regional areas.Â So the Etsy economy can bring supplementary and full time income to new creative people and places.
TCI: What’s the best way for an artist new to the scene to find success with Etsy?
Helen Souness: The three most important things for a new Seller to get right are product photography, tagging and telling their creative story. Photography is really a Sellerâ€™s shop window, where they attract customers and promote their work. Tagging and descriptions are key to being found in searches by buyers.Â An artist should use descriptive tags and think about what a customer might search for if they were looking for their product. Finally Etsy buyers love handmade and vintage, and are interested to hear the story of the people behind the products they buy.Â So filling in the maker or curatorâ€™s story on the â€˜About Shopâ€™ page, with images of the makerâ€™s workspace, inspiration and other interesting background on the products they sell, are really helpful when creating a â€˜brandâ€™. Etsy works to provide a lot of support for new Sellers and the best place for a new artist in the community to go for help is the Seller Handbook. It has amazing information about all aspects of selling online and on Etsy, from product photography and branding to more technical aspects like pricing and shipping.Â The other thing we really recommend is to join an Etsy team which can become a go to place for support and inspiration from other Etsy sellers.
TCI: Why is recognition such as these Design Awards important for artists?
Helen Souness: Our success is the Etsy communityâ€™s success, so most importantly the Etsy Design Awards are a platform to grow the creative businesses of the entrants.Â For everyone who enters, the
Awards are a chance to focus on their creative work and to get their Etsy Shop looking fantastic.Â They are also putting their work in front of the Etsy Admins in Australia and New Zealand who will know their work for subsequent opportunities as well, even if they donâ€™t become a finalist.Â We are always looking for exciting new work. Then of course being featured as a finalist or winner is a chance to reach new buyers.Â The Awards showcased the finalistsâ€™ work and we saw increases in traffic and sales to their shops and many had new media opportunities to tell their stories to a wider audience.Â It is also exciting to speak to the winners from last year who all say how the exposure they received from the Awards really helped them to grow their businesses.
Image credit: Ben Markey, Etsy Australia