Don’t Tell Esty That Authenticity Is Getting “Old” — The Social Dynamic Between Crafters and Buyers is Timeless

by cv harquail on October 27, 2011

“A deluge of vintage and artisanal products is now available online and through mass-market retailers. Has authenticity become just another fad?”


Here’s a quick response to today’s New York Times article by Emily Weinstein, All That Authenticity May Be Getting Old, about the flood of ‘authentic’, handmade and one-of-a-kind-ish items on the home decor marketplace. The article dances on the line between criticizing mass marketers for faking authenticity, and reminding readers that our desire for ‘authentic’ will never go away.


The article is interesting, for sure, and worth a read. But it is also worth some reflection.

What’s missing from this article, and from so many critiques of the explosion in the marketplace for handmade home decor, jewelry, cards, clothing, and more, is a deep understanding of what is actually going on between the artisans who make and sell these products, and the customers who covet, buy, and use them.

This dynamic is the genius that propels businesses like Etsy and the larger crafting movement.

When we make and buy handmade, hand-selected, and artisanal items, we are exchanging:

Recognition, Affirmation, and Connection


Recognition comes from both the buyer and the seller having their aesthetic– their taste, their values — expressed in a visible place. For some of us, the first time we saw someone else design their own decal for their laptop was on Etsy. The first time we saw someone else make a bike basket out of a lunchbox was on Etsy. The first time we saw someone else make an apron out of their great aunts’ embroidered handkerchiefs was on Etsy.

All of a sudden, it seemed, one could actually see other people who shared your unique tastes. And, instead of that being disappointing (e.g., I’m no longer unique)  it was heartening — Somebody else gets it! Somebody else recognizes this! Your taste can be discovered, and enjoyed.


201110270900.jpgAffirmation comes from being told “I see you“. “I see you.”

Affirmation comes when you see a cool tech-dude with a wool iPad sleeve, and you say “Etsy?” and he grins. Somebody else has seen your aesthetic– whether a buyer or a seller– and said “I like that. I agree with that. I think that’s beautiful. I’ll pay money for that.”

Because what that all says is — “Your aesthetic is valuable to me, mine is valuable to you”.

You know that feeling when you find a blog written about exactly that topic that bugs you, with great and useful perspective? That’s what Etsy is like… Blogging is for people to share words, Etsy is for people to share beauty.


Connection. With these aesthetic exchanges, we create communities of shared beauty, shared vision, and shared self-expression.

Hey, I know I’m not the only Etsy buyer who sends little notes to the sellers I buy from saying “I just put that wreath up in my office. I totally love it. I might not ever give it to my sister as planned. Will you make some bigger ones in the future?” I also know I’m not the only person who feels connected looking at other people’s Pinterest pages.

Not only do we connect through the purchase, and through feedback , but we connect through vendor/artist communities. Group after group after group of people with shared aesthetic interests support each other — Yes, there is indeed a Steampunk Catlovers Quilting Group. You can join it. You can be part of that community.

Recognition, Affirmation, and Connection


In a consumerist culture, we are well-trained to seek out opportunities for recognition, affirmation and connection through purchases. Much of the time, though, we have a hard time imagining that there is another person on the other end of the purchase — a creator who is making something not (only) because it is commercial, but (also) because it expresses who they are.

On Etsy, at the Bust Holiday Craftacular, at any Maker Faire, and at the farmer’s market, we get to experience something closer to a social exchange, something closer to a human exchange, something more than a commercial exchange.

Our sense of beauty, our style, and our sense of self can be seen and celebrated, and we can gather with our own kind.

That’s not a fad. That’s a timeless social exchange that we value.  And that’s what’s going on in this commerce of Authenticity.

Images: Fall Wreath from ItzFitz
iPad sleeve, wool herringbone tweed
Steampunk Hat for Cats

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