Students use Etsy to 'craft' online businesses


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Photo by Dimitri Rodriguez |

Without the funds to open a retail store, Roberta Day turned to a resource that is easily accessible to all money-strapped college kids: the online marketplace Etsy.

Day, a Mason Gross School of Arts senior, spent her past four years at Rutgers learning the art of printmaking. She turned to Etsy last May to set up her own store and in less than 24 hours began selling handmade tote bags, shirts and one-of-a-kind Starburst wrapper hand-bound books.

"Etsy is great because it promotes small businesses," she said. "It allows people who can't have their own stores to still be known and for the public to see their work."

Day described the process of creating one of her hand-made tote bags sold for $15.

First, she buys yards of the fabric and cuts the fabric to the correct size. After this, Day draws the bag's design and silk screens the design onto the tote. Finally, she sews the straps and fashions the straps onto the bag. She creates a batch of 25 shirts or totes at a time.

In total, a batch of tote bags takes about 15 to 20 hours to bring to life, not including the time she dedicates to packaging and delivering the product to customers.

And even after the tote bags and shirts are made, Day's job is still not over. In order to reach an audience, she promotes her store on social media and hands out business cards.

In the short-term, Day hopes to expand her Etsy store while keeping all of the items affordable.

"I know a lot of items on Etsy are overpriced, but I wanted mine to be affordable to the average person," she said.

Through her experience selling her crafts, Day learned that running a business takes time and dedication, but she said Etsy is a starting point for many college students.

This was also true for a 19-year-old student at the University of Virginia. LeiLei Secor, a sophomore at UVA, has raked in more than $100,000 selling her jewelry on Etsy for the past three years and uses the money she makes to pay off college loans.

Taking note of the rise of Etsy, Rutgers began offering a workshop this fall semester for people interested in learning the ins and outs of e-commerce. In cities throughout the country, Etsy offers a Craft Entrepreneurship educational program for low-income individuals.

This year, the program partnered with Rutgers Business School in Newark.

"(The Etsy program) partners with local communities to provide workshops to low and moderate income individuals who have a craft and want to think about selling their craft globally by opening up an Etsy shop," said Jasmine Cordero, managing director of the Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development.

The free workshop is open to all students and to the community and is led by the Rutgers Business School's Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development. An instructor teaches a group of about 14 people how to create their own Etsy brand, give their store an identity, reach potential customers and develop a business culture.

"The class is very hands-on," Cordero said.

The workshop emphasizes that Etsy is beneficial to college students who want to sell their crafts to a large audience without incurring a debt. Etsy takes a percentage of the seller's sales, but Cordero said it is less than if the seller had to cover their own overhead costs and expenses.

In a sea of online marketplace platforms such as eBay and Amazon, Etsy sets itself apart from the competition by acting as a marketplace specifically for handmade crafts.

"(Etsy) is different from eBay because you actually have a store," Cordero said. "With Etsy, it's for people who have a real craft. Etsy is its own platform and you can make a unique brand with it."

The workshop interests Day, who said she would sign up if she lived in Newark.

"(The program) would help me a lot," she said. "I could learn from a different perspective (about) how to grow my own Etsy store."


Avalon Zoppo

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