African Americans and DIY: Using Etsy and Kickstarter to Boost a Business

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December 19, 2012 ‐ By Kimberly Maul
A selection of items from Etsy.

A selection of items from Etsy.

The internet and social media have made it easier than ever for entrepreneurs and business people to take an idea, product or business to the masses. Sites like Etsy allow individuals to create online retail stores to sell their handmade and vintage items, while crowd-funding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo give entrepreneurs and artists a way to get funding for projects.

While these sites have taken off, the black community was a bit slower to get into the game. For example, according to audience measurement site Quantcast, only six percent of Kickstarter visitors are African American, compared to nine percent of overall internet visitors who are black.

However, some entrepreneurs and business people from the black community are starting to notice a shift.

“People of color, African Americans specifically, are realizing that if we have something we’re passionate about, we have to do it ourselves,” said Vanessa Anderson, publicist for filmmaker Issa Rae, who recently funded her Web series, The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl, via Kickstarter. “When you have popular sites that are trusted like Etsy and Kickstarter, people can use these to bring people into the fold and give them an audience ad a community.”

“When I first started playing around on Etsy, maybe two or three years ago, there were a lot of Caucasian moms making cool stuff and selling it on Etsy. Or people who already had shops were selling on Etsy,” said Krystle Sims, owner of young.black.nappy, an online t-shirt company. “But over the last year or so, I’ve noticed more brown and black faces on Etsy. It’s a really cool stepping-stone to whatever you want to do.”

Etsy, which launched in 2005, is an online marketplace for people to sell handmade and vintage items. Several African-American artists using Etsy have been featured and highlighted, including Tiesha Houston, owner of flyTie clothing, and Tabitha Brown of ThePairabirds, who were chosen in recent years by the Huffington Post as black-owned Etsy stores to check out for Black Friday.

Houston joined Etsy in 2005 and uses it as one place to sell items from her clothing label, though she also has a website and leverages Facebook and social media. While her customers are of all ethnicities, she said her customer base specifically on Etsy is generally white.

However, she added, “I’m seeing new shops run by African-Americans, selling everything from clothing to art to jewelry. Not just on Etsy, but entrepreneurs in general.”

Brown, owner of ThePairabirds, has been using Etsy since 2007 to sell illustrated snapshots of nature, human, and animal life.

“One of the main audiences I try to attract are those who want contemporary artwork featuring people of color,” she told Madame Noire via email. “There have been times when customers will tell me, either through Etsy, Facebook, or Twitter, that they are happy to find artwork of people that look like them. And, that’s what makes Etsy a really great marketplace. It allows art, design, and styles that are pretty much ignored by the mainstream to congregate in one spot.”

Brown highlighted the forums and groups on Etsy, which allow black entrepreneurs to connect and help each other succeed on the site. Stevonne, the owner of Beija-Flor Naturals, also told Madame Noire that she used the forums when getting started on Etsy in 2008. She mentioned the groups Etsy Artists of Color and Creators of Color.

Beija-Flor Naturals sells organic and natural beauty products, including items for the natural hair market. Stevonne told Madame Noire that often times in the natural hair market, bloggers and social media comments will send people directly to her website. Etsy, she said, helped expand interest in her general skin care products.

Using Etsy and connecting with customers via social media has changed the way businesses get off the ground these days, she said. “I don’t know how people would find other like-minded people if it wasn’t for Etsy.” She added that she is also planning to turn to Kickstarter to raise money to start her own store, a bath and body boutique.

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