Coverage this spring has unearthed an uneasy underbelly to handcrafted and vintage e-commerce monster Etsy, where a team of “young detectives” play cat-and-mouse with peddlers who blatantly disregard the site’s authenticity requirements, or who test the limits with sort-of handmade offerings.

Image: Jon ChristianThe conflict has created an interesting group: Sellers who migrate away from the superstore, either because they’ve been busted by the site or because they plan to increase production in a way that will violate the site’s guidelines. Jon Crawford is the CEO of Storenvy, which says about a third of the users who have helped it swell 500 percent in the past year are coming from Etsy.

“We don’t see ourselves as direct competitors with Etsy but instead a logical next step for indie creators who are big enough to start thinking about building their own brand,” Crawford said.

If that exodus threatens the authenticity that appeals to the Etsy faithful, it’s not a point Crawford is willing to cede.

“Bringing on additional help or outsourcing production doesn’t negatively impact authenticity in the slightest,” Crawford said. “In fact, it often means that the merchant is getting more serious about his/her business and that’s usually a win for their customers.”

If that sounds strained, remember that the nature of authenticity is a dense philosophical question, and Etsy’s vague rules for sellers can only go so far in defining – or, oddly, in enforcing – the concept. The problem is made thornier by the fact that different buyers might have different standards.

Still, would you like to know whether that quirky furniture made of lumber reclaimed from Balinese boats is made by the seller or by a team of craftspeople? Regretsy and Protesty have both drawn attention to low-quality and inauthentic goods being hawked by sellers on the site, showing that even with in the thick gray area of handcraft, some buyers and craftspeople still get outraged.

Crawford, for his part, is staying pragmatic.

“When you make the transition from hobbyist to a real business, the first thing you need to do is build a brand,” he said. “And in order to do that, you need your own space to create a unique experience for your customers.”

Image: Jon Christian, Barcoding.com

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