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The handmade’s tale: Etsy comes to India

As the online marketplace for crafts and creative goods launches in India, managing director Himanshu Wardhan tells Lounge what sets Etsy apart

Himanshu Wardhan, MD, Etsy, India. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Himanshu Wardhan, MD, Etsy, India. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

In 2005, an American company named iospace founded an e-commerce platform called Etsy in Brooklyn, New York. In a little over a decade, this marketplace for handcrafted goods by artists and creative entrepreneurs has transformed into a global force. With two million sellers and 34.7 million buyers across the world, Etsy generated $3.25 billion (around 22,300 crore) in 2017. This year, the platform has launched its operations in India to tap into the country’s vast potential for creative entrepreneurs and sellers. Himanshu Wardhan, managing director for Etsy India, spoke to Lounge on the brand’s plans for the country and what sets the Indian operations apart. Edited excerpts:

What makes this a good time for Etsy to launch operations in India?

We have always had a large number of sellers and buyers from India. Many sellers from here have been pretty active recently, which came to the global team’s notice. The e-commerce market in India is also pretty strong and we decided to set up a small team in the country and start focusing on building and mobilizing local creative communities. Most of it is based in Delhi, and a lot of team members operating in different parts of India.

India has a diverse community of creative entrepreneurs and artisans. How are you reaching these groups?

We are focusing on three categories of sellers. The first group is made up of creative professionals, boutique owners and small entrepreneurs, who are active and selling on social media and digital platforms. The second category comprises people who are passionate about their craft and want to supplement their income, like homemakers and art students. Indian craftspersons comprise the third category. Some of them are digitally enabled—the newer generation, for instance—but some are not.

How do you assist craftspersons who aren’t digitally enabled?

India is the only market where we engage in offline acquisitions and seller enablement. When we reach out to sellers, a lot of them don’t know about the platform. So we help them come on board and optimize their e-shop with quality listings. Our content specialists help them put together great stories for their profiles and products. We have also been receiving a lot of queries on sellers on these issues, and we offer it at no cost to them.

Since we have not done this anywhere else, the global team is also watching these operations. What we do here can potentially be applicable to other markets.

Do you also have any plans to support the existing sellers from India?

The goal is not just to get a large number of sellers or build up a certain number of listings, but it’s also about how we get high quality and diversified products, how we expose the sellers and what is the platform that we give them. In May, we exhibited a few Indian sellers in New York during an international seller showcase. There are a lot of such opportunities we would create for Indian sellers now that we are here.

What are some of the categories in which Indian sellers perform well?

The beauty of the platform is that there’s no one product that can represent it. While there are sellers making customized beer glasses, and tablets that connect to typewriters in the US, there are also sellers like Vijay Joshi, a Phad painter from the Bhilwara district of Rajasthan, and Comfymommy, a maternity wear brand from Lucknow. It’s difficult to make comparisons, but one category that could be important for India is craft supplies. A lot of our sellers and buyers from across the world are looking for raw material for their craft. And Indian sellers have a lot of fabrics, gems and jewellery to offer, which can have a significant influence on different buyer segments.

Are there any areas that require more awareness creation in India?

The e-commerce segment in India is about mass merchandise, discounts and a few resellers selling a large number of products. We have a strict handmade policy, that is one has to either make the products with their own hands or tools, or you have designed it and are involved in the conceptual process. One of the biggest awareness that we are engaged in is differentiating Etsy and telling resellers that this may not be the right space for them. This is a platform for creative individuals who are passionate about something and looking for a platform to sell or display their work.

Will customers in India also benefit from this launch?

Right now, our focus is on sellers. But the opportunity here is impossible to ignore. People are getting online and the online market is building up. As we go build our sellers base from India, we would be looking at various ways in which we can also have localization cues for Indian buyers. But we will do that over a period of time, as we start to see a certain scale building from here.

What are your goals and vision for the Indian market?

For us, one of the important things is to make sure that we maintain the quality of sellers and listings. We are striving to reach out to every potential seller in India. My vision is that if my mom knits sweaters at home, she should be able to sell it on Etsy. There are so many people making things, over years and generations, who don’t know there’s a platform to sell what they make. It’s not just about money, it’s about engaging with your product, and having the pleasure of somebody else using and appreciating it. We have about 650,000 listings from India and the number is growing.

And what do you like shopping for from Etsy?

My searches are often about home decor. I wanted a yellow typewriter, and found one from an Italian seller. I bought something from a seller named Beast Craft recently, and then discovered it was a brand from Hauz Khas, Delhi. One of my favourite things though is an item I didn’t buy. When my daughter was born in 2017, someone gifted her a toy from a seller in France with her name stitched on to it. It came in a crumbled paper package with a French stamp on it. There was a card with a personalized note from the seller. It wasn’t just about the toy but the entire experience of receiving and unwrapping the product.

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