Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=186712
Story Retrieval Date: 5/24/2013 1:45:19 AM CST
“I dropped my ball of yarn while we were descending and it rolled down the entire plane all the way from the back row to the front,” laughed Borden. “I pretty much stopped knitting after that. I think I was traumatized.”
Borden, 23, picked up the craft again during college. She was a quick study, and friends and family were soon the recipients of loads of original knit accessories with a vintage flair. After graduation, faced with a growing collection of hand-made goods with no home, a friend clued Borden into Etsy.com, an online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods.
Working from her apartment in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood; Borden’s Esty.com store HalPal28 was launched June 23, 2009. Since its launch, Borden has sold 102 items at prices ranging from $14 to $32.
Etsy.com is the brainchild of Rob Kalin. Unable to find an online marketplace to sell his photography and other creations, Kalin and partners Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik started one. The New York-based site launched in 2005. Sales grew quickly, from $166,000 in the first year to $146.3 million as of April 2011. Currently, the site has more than 800,000 active sellers selling to 9 million registered users in more than 150 countries around the globe.
The barriers to entry are low; sellers can set up an online store-front in as little as 15 minutes. Creating an Esty.com virtual store-front is free. Listing items for sale is not. Sellers pay 20 cents per item to list them on the marketplace for four months. When an item sells, Etsy takes a 3.5 percent transaction fee. These fees do not include the cost of shipping or payment processing fees charged by third-party vendors such as PayPal.
“The fees do add up, but it is still the best option,” said Borden. “With the low overhead I couldn’t really lose.”
Traditional retail opportunities were not a good fit for Borden, who works full-time at a Chicago marketing firm. Larger items such as hats and scarves can take up to three hours for her to complete.
“If I knitted 24 hours a day and sold every piece I made, I would still make less than $30,000 a year,” said Borden. Her Etsy shop provides about $2,000 a year in revenue.
Selling on Etsy allows Borden to share her love of knitting with an audience that wants something handmade.
“Our main goal is to connect sellers and buyers,” said Etsy spokesman Adam Brown. “We are trying to make it really easy for people to start their own businesses.”
Everything began for HalPal28 with the Scarflette, a neck warmer made from acrylic yarn, decorated with vintage buttons from Borden’s personal collection; retail price: $28. The summer months are slower for Borden. She recently introduced embellished knit headbands, which retail for $14.
“Headbands were really an economic move,” said Borden “I realized that things weren’t selling in the summer so I made something you could wear in warmer temperatures.”
Everything about Borden’s Etsy shop is personal. She models all of the women’s fashions herself and recruits family and friends for children’s and men’s products.
Borden usually uses acrylic yarn because it is extremely durable and rarely causes allergic reactions when worn close to the skin. For next winter Borden plans on testing a higher-cost luxury line make from cashmere.
Her most popular offerings include the Baby Oakdale hat, an earflap hat available in custom-color combination retailing for $24. “I think one of the reasons the hats sell so well is because my niece and nephew are such cute models,” said Borden.
The busy winter season makes up for slower summer sales. To keep up with the demand for winter gear and holiday gifts Borden knits “every available minute.” From September to January her shop sees a surge in traffic.
To come up with her designs, Borden does not follow trends, “it usually starts with me making something for myself. Then if I get enough compliments, deciding to sell it.” She acknowledges some her favorite creations are the least commercial. Borden is often inspired by color; at the moment on of her favorites is chartreuse.
Etsy seems to defy the issue online shopping faces in replicating the personal exchange of shopping in stores. Etsy users point to the fact that items are handmade and customizable.
“What’s special about Etsy is the human touch,” said Brown. “You don’t get that with most online interfaces.” Etsy encourages users to connect with sellers through a built-in messaging service called conversations.
Borden’s customers say they feel a connection even though they have never met face to face.
“It’s cool to know who made what you’re wearing,” said frequent HalPal28 purchaser Zayne Savall, who lives in Philadelphia. “She makes it, she models it, it’s a Hallie Borden product.”
Savall received his first hat as a gift, but came back to Borden to purchase more, four items in the past year, not only because of the quality of Borden’s items, but Borden herself. Borden includes a personal note with every purchase. When Savall experienced payment issues he received a note from Borden apologizing for the delays.
HalPal28 will celebrate its second anniversary next month. Many customers find HalPal28 as Savall did after receiving a gift from a frequent Etsy shopper. Kathryn Witt found Borden’s shop after the website did some matchmaking. Witt joined Etsy just six months ago and quickly became a frequent purchaser.
Witt browses Etsy nearly every day. Once users sign-in to their accounts, Etsy uses purchase history and customer-entered preferences to recommend shops. One day Borden’s shop was recommended. Their bond was forged quickly; Witt made a purchase on her first visit.
“Nobody else will have what you have because it’s hand-created by someone and customized to you,” said Witt.
Borden is thrilled that her customers are happy about something that brings her so much joy.
“When I take my knitting on the bus I can’t put on headphones--people want to ask questions about it. It’s just unusual enough to be a conversation starter.”