There’s an intangible satisfaction in appreciating handmade arts and crafts that mass-produced items simply cannot replicate. The incredible turnout of over 8000 visitors to the Etsy: Made in Canada pop-up marketplace at the Toronto MaRS Discovery District on September 27 testifies to the draw and appeal of handmade products. Organized by the Toronto Etsy Street Team and hosted by Etsy, the Etsy: Made in Canada event in Toronto showcased the best of Toronto’s strong community of Etsy vendors and makers. The show also provided a unique shopping experience for customers with a passion for Canadian handmade crafts. We spoke with multi-talented geophysicist-printmaker Ele Willoughby of the Toronto Etsy Street Team about her involvement with the event, as well as her thoughts on the future of Canadian made arts and crafts products.
A marine geophysicist by profession, Willoughby possesses an ardent love for both the arts and sciences. She light-heartedly describes her unconventional path to becoming both a geophysicist and printmaker. “When I was thinking about university, I realized that I couldn’t pursue science as an amateur, but I could still make art on my own. All my education was in physics but I always made art as a creative outlet. I don’t feel balanced in life unless I’m continuously creating.” Willoughby goes on to describe the makings of the Etsy: Made in Canada event, highlighting the pivotal role of the Toronto Etsy Street Team. “I’m a part of the Toronto Etsy Street Team, an Etsy-recognized organization comprised of over 800 local independent Toronto-based Etsy sellers and vendors. Although we’re not officially affiliated with Etsy, we help each other symbiotically.” Willoughby goes on to explain, “Etsy approached us with the idea of a large scale Canadian coast-to-coast pop-up Etsy marketplace. Since Etsy’s flagship offices were based in the MaRS building here in Toronto, they suggested that the Toronto Etsy Street Team lead and organize the showpiece event in Toronto. It’s been months of hard work and preparation, but so worth it.”
Ensuring a cohesive and high quality showcase of the best that Etsy’s Canadian makers had to offer was one of the Toronto Etsy Street Team’s key targets. “We juried and went through an exhaustive voting process to ensure that all vendors present at the event would highlight the best of Toronto’s amazing maker and Etsy business scene.” Regarding the different types of items on display and for sale at the pop-up marketplace, Willoughby stated that “We wanted to have a nice mix of different stuff—clothing, vintage, art, jewellery… It was important to ensure that all vendors operated at a certain level of professionalism.”
Willoughby also has a bit of advice for aspiring Etsy sellers or people who wish to venture into creative endeavours while balancing careers. “I’m a scientist, but one of the main reasons I started an Etsy shop was to show my friends that anybody could share and sell their art. You don’t need to open a brick and mortar store any more. To be honest, the time and economic investment into opening a store on Etsy is actually very low, and the rewards are far greater.” As a person who loves printmaking but also loves her work as a geophysicist, Willoughby reassures us that “you don’t necessarily have to quit your day job to start an additional income stream through Etsy. It makes a good sideline for a lot of people. As long as you treat it as a legitimate business, your Etsy store allows a very liberating degree of flexibility and autonomy in doing your own thing and exploring your creative interests.”
Regarding the future, Willoughby is optimistic that the success of the Etsy: Made in Canada event indicates a strong growing market for Canadian handmade goods and the Etsy community in general. “Here in Canada, we have a lot of sellers but not a lot of buyers. But as we’ve seen from our amazing turnout, there’s definitely hope there will be more future Etsy events like this one. All in all, the future for makers and small Etsy businesses in Toronto and Canada definitely seems bright!”
JJ Wong is a contributor to Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter.