Like a socially conscious eBay without the fake Prada bags, Etsy (www.etsy.com) has become the leading online marketplace for handmade goods. Riding the DIY wave that's led more and more people to pick up knitting needles and glue guns, Etsy was founded in the summer of 2005 by Rob Kalin, Haim Schoppik and Chris Maguire simply "to fix world commerce," says 27-year-old Kalin (pictured above center with his crew). Etsy is modeled on the bustling marketplaces of yore. "Way back when you were buying things from the people who made them, which placed a whole other layer of meaning on the object, because you knew there was a story behind the fabrication of it," Kalin says. "When something broke, you could either take it back to the person who made it for you, or you had the basic set of skills to repair it." Since its inception, Etsy has grown to 40,000 makers and 200,000 registered users, and about a dozen crafters have been able to quit their jobs and fully support themselves through the site.
All do-gooding aside, Etsy's wares are highly cute and hugely innovativeâa recent search turned up a table lamp made out of a blender, a purse in the shape of a storage shed and a collection of handmade fortune-cookie soaps. Buyers can search by category (art, candles, furniture, geekery, toys, etc.), color and location of seller. There's no bidding on Etsy, and the prices are on the very low side. As for the off line world, Kalin and company -- who pay the bills mostly through a small percentage from Etsy artists -- opened up Etsy Labs in downtown Brooklyn this past February. In addition to housing the Etsy offices, it's a place to host parties, trunk shows and workshops, and where crafters can stop by any day between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. to use Etsy's silk-screen press, letterpress, metalworking stations, sewing machines and the half-pipe, which "is very steep," according to Kalin.
"The idea of the space was completely spontaneous," says Kalin. "We thought we were just going to get office space there, but I was driving cross-country... somewhere in Georgia or Tennessee, and I was like, 'You know what, get the whole floor.'"