WE PRIDE OURSELVES on our shopping prowess, but Etsy, an artisanal alternative to mainstream marketplaces, has been somewhere we feared to tread. Last week, a MyLittleBird reader expressed our sentiments exactly: “Etsy is a foreign language to me. How do you sort through it without spending hours searching? How can you distinguish quality? Any shortcuts?” To answer her, we decided we had to tap our very own secret shopper, a woman whose talent for discovering the most stylish shoe, spring dress or cunning piece of jewelry from the least expected place is legendary.
Here are some of her hints for unlocking the Etsy enigma.
I’ve been buying through the site since 2009. It requires a lot of browsing. Occasionally I’ll see an item in an article I like and then look at the shop. Once you find a shop that appeals, it’s a good bet the owner’s taste is similar to yours. Some of the shop owners have a list of their own favorites, and you can find other shops through those lists. Also, once you buy a few things, Etsy algorithms start suggesting shops you might like. They are generally pretty accurate. I also check Manhattan User’s Guide, which sends out an email every day with useful information to city dwellers. The site sometimes goes “Etsy hunting” and has good suggestions.
If you’re looking for something interesting and particular, you can just search for it and after much browsing find a few good options. I bought a kimono robe in 2009 from Plum Pretty Sugar, a shop that has since really taken off. One of my girls is into whales, so I just searched for “whale” and found a few cool prints and an awesome stuffed whale. There’s a shop that makes just 1920s reproduction beaded flapper dresses! Or flower-girl dresses that look like clouds and sell for more than $500. Hair turbans. Cashmere underwear. Sandals handmade in Greece. It really is fabulous, and I love buying direct from the artist as opposed to made-in-China fast fashion.
My all-time favorite shops include:
MuguetMilan – a former model turned seamstress who has access to gorgeous italian fabrics (including vintage Valentino lace!)
Catherinereece makes pretty ceramic gifts
Theaterclouds for whimsical prints for little girls
Sycamorehill for vintage custom-stamped coffee and espresso spoons
Among my purchases have been a ceramic berry bowl, custom-themed cupcake toppers and party favors for kids, handmade vintage-style nightgowns, all sorts of hair accessories, pure linen from shops in Lithuania, loads of Harry Potter stuff (including hand-carved wands), handmade underwear, laminated table cloths and fouta towels from Turkey. Clothes occasionally don’t work out, you have to be really careful with measurements. But I’ve loved almost everything I’ve bought.
Once I’m interested in an item, I read the reviews. If there is a fair number of five-star reviews, and people like quality and responsiveness of the seller, I buy!