So you want to start an Etsy store, eh?

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Open an Etsy shop. Watch the money roll in.


I’m approaching my fourth anniversary on Etsy with my shop, CatNip Collectibles ( I sell vintage accessories – hats, gloves, scarves, jewelry, and men’s accessories like tie clips and cuff links, mostly. And it’s a lot of fun.

But it’s also a lot of work.

Every year, thousands of people start shops on Etsy, and every year, thousands of shops shut their doors – some without ever selling a single thing. Most of them come to the Etsy forums asking the Same Exact Questions Time After Time. So I thought I’d put a few things together as a bit of a FAQ for Etsy.

1.) How does Etsy differ from eBay? I’ve sold on both venues. Etsy is often described as a large mall of individual shops, owned by individuals across the world. Items are offered at a fixed price, no auctions. Currently, there are over 1 million shops on Etsy. eBay, on the other hand, is an online auction site where you can sell almost everything except live animals and your excess liver tissue.

2.) What can I sell? You can sell anything handmade and anything vintage. Vintage is over 20 years old. That means you cannot clean out your closet and sell off last year’s stuff. Put that on eBay instead. Here’s a link to the Etsy Seller Handbook:  (There are restrictions on certain things, and Etsy will remove items deemed to go against their rules.)

3.) When can I expect my first sale? Depends. I sold my first item within the first 30 days of operation. I sold two more in April, 3 in May, 1 in June, 4 in July . . . get it? It takes a lot of time to become a trusted seller. It was October before I had 10 sales in a month. It takes a lot of time to get the right feedback, to create your brand and ‘look’, and to get your inventory listed. There are some people on Etsy who’ve been open for a year without a single sale. There’s a rule of thumb, though:  the more items you have in your shop, the more likely it is you’ll be found. Many claim 100 items is the ‘magic threshold.’ (And OMG, please, please, read up on SEO before you start posting!)

4.) I want to make things of fabric. Can I use anything? NO. NO, NO, NO, NO. I know what you want to do. You want to make cute little things out of all that Disney-themed fabric you see at Walmart, don’t you? You think it’ll sell like hotcakes. YOU CAN’T. Disney has all their stuff trademarked. You can’t make a profit off their images and designs. The same thing if you try to hand-paint anything with a Disney image – they’ll nail you for infringement. They’ll send a cease and desist order to Etsy, who will shut you down. They might even sue you. Just don’t do it.

5.) Wait. What’s infringement? Infringement is when you take someone else’s stuff and try to make a profit on it. That’s not the technical, legal definition, but that’s basically it. You can’t use ANY trademarked logos, images, or names. That goes for all professional sports teams, Disney, Marvel, Warner Brothers, anything movie-related, etc. The only exception is if you’re selling a legitimate item and it’s vintage (for example, a vintage movie poster). So you can’t embroider Micky Mouse on a shirt and sell it. You’d have to get a license from Disney first.

5.1) So how do I know what’s trademarked? Good question! Here’s a link to the US Patent Office’s website, with a search engine just for trademarks – And here’s the link to the US Copyright Office: Keep in mind that even certain terms, like ‘fairy dust,’ are trademarked now . . . so is ‘onesie’ and a host of others.

6.) But everyone else is doing it! So what? Are you a lemming? Just. Don’t. Unless you’re ready for a massive lawsuit from the parent company.

7.) So . . . then what CAN I do? You can produce  your own artwork and designs, your own photography, your own purses, handbags – the sky’s the limit! Just be sure it’s YOURS.

hat-88.) Hmm. Well, that vintage thing sounds good. How easy is it to sell vintage? If you’re asking that, just go away. Seriously. Selling vintage is bloody hard work. You have to love vintage. Adore it. Live with it every single day of your life. You need to be able to tell, within a few seconds, if something is vintage or a knock-off. You need to be able to accurately describe not only the item, the maker, the colors and materials, but all flaws in the items you’re selling. Can you tell I sell vintage? It’s also difficult to store properly – right now, my bedroom is stuffed full of plastic storage tubs full of vintage hats. Ideal? No. But you can’t store vintage outside. It needs to be in climate-controlled areas. You also have to be willing to do the research –  A LOT OF RESEARCH. For instance, do you know what style hat this is – and what era it’s from? I do.

9.) How much money can I make? Depends. How much work do you want to put into your shop? There certainly are people who make a good living from their Etsy shops. There are many more of us who have it as a ‘side gig’ – we make a few hundred a month. There are many, many more who maybe have one sale every six months. It also depends on your overhead and how much your items sell for.

10.) How do I get started? Easy. The best thing to do before you ever start a shop is visit the Etsy forums ( and read the Seller Handbook. Decide if this is really right for you. It takes time to photograph and list items. It takes time to promote on social media. You need to develop a shop name and a brand. This is just like starting any other business – it is a business. Look at other shops doing what you want to do and see 1.) how many there are, 2.) how many sales they have, and 3.) how well their items are made. Had I looked at how many vintage shops there were before I started, I might not have! But there are shops that specialize in just one thing, too – glassware, handmade jewelry, vintage movie posters. Find your niche. Then, you’ll just sign up to become an Etsy member, click on the little “open shop” icon, and get started.

I don’t want to sound crabby and bitchy, but the fact is, this isn’t something to undertake lightly. So many people come on the Etsy forums with the same questions, usually about “I opened my shop last week and no sales! Why?!” I hope some of this might answer a few of your questions, and that the links prove useful.

If you do decide to go for it, good luck! 🙂


6 thoughts on “So you want to start an Etsy store, eh?

  1. “But everyone else is doing it! So what? Are you a lemming? Just. Don’t.” – LOL, I’ll have to say this to my thirteen year old the next time he asks what the big deal is and insists that everyone else is doing it.

  2. Thank you for this. I have been making bags and other things as gifts for a while, but keep getting people asking if they can buy them from me. I can’t possibly do it full time, but want to do a commissions-only basis (so not keep stock in general and do things as and when). I think Etsy may be the way to go initially, so I don’t have the cost of running my own website with sales features etc. It is all such a minefield, but you have given me a good starting point for my research. The other area I am going to have to look into is registering for tax purposes as I currently just do PAYE, and whether I need to register as a Company (I am in the UK). At least I have a name already and some logos and bits. Thanks again!

    • Thanks! Etsy has gone through a lot of changes since I wrote this (I don’t even think the Forum link is correct anymore!), but the basics are still the same. In the UK, you have a host of issues that we don’t in the US, such as EU return policies (Etsy is pretty good about keeping up with those things, but you’ll want to read up on them, too – also, with Brexit, not sure how those things will affect you). You might also want to see if there are any local shops to you that would be interested in selling your bags on a consignment basis – small boutiques that specialize in those sorts of things. Good luck! 🙂

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