Larger retail audience for artists on the fringe

Larger retail audience for artists on the fringe

Online marketplace Etsy helping artists to sell their wares.

A walk into Rio Branner’s home studio is a walk on the wild side.

Brightly coloured buttons, swaths of gorgeous vintage fabric and a carefully curated collection of quirky collectibles abound.

While the heaps of eye-candy throughout the space would distract and delight any self respecting magpie, a sewing machine in the corner, beside which a PeeWee Herman doll stands guard, offers the balance of seriousness.

“This is where I do all my work,” Branner said, busying herself by moving around mounds of fabric, slicing and dicing with intuitive precision.

Branner is a familiar face to those who frequent Kelowna’s farmers’ market, a number of area craft shows and some of the quirkier boutiques in town.

Her work, however, is arguably more familiar. Her signature wallets, purses, earrings and, most recently, bow ties are tucked into the wardrobes of countless Kelownians.

It’s a popularity that demands being prolific, and she is.  And that, combined with quality, may be the measure that elevates her from the designation of crafter to artisan.

These days, being an artisan doesn’t necessarily mean taking a vow of poverty, either.

Branner, like a growing number of other women and men, has made a life out of turning her creativity into a living on the fringe of the retail world.

Dollars come through both the aforementioned channels and the online world of Etsy, where she has two stores.

“I dream of having a brick and mortar store sometimes, but that’s so much work,” she said.

And to some degree, brick and mortar stores would be limiting not only because of the expense, but also the reach.

“With Etsy, my market is the world,” she said, noting that she’s shipped items from her two Etsy shops and to China, Russia and points across Europe and Canada.

Branner can report success that’s a reflection of hard work, an innate understanding of how to draw the consumer’s eye, while creating a quality product that people want.

It’s a recipe that’s found others success through the online marketplace, according to Etsy themselves.

In a self reflective economic report published this time last year, Etsy stated that it was the umbrella organization for more than 20 million products and over one million sellers worldwide.

In 2012 alone, those sellers generated over $895 million in sales.

Of course, when parcelled out, the Etsy economy sounds a bit less mighty. The majority of respondents in the Etsy study— 52 per cent—are college educated, while the average median income for Etsy sellers is just $44,900.

Twenty-six percent of Etsy sellers earn under $25,000 in annual household income.

Regardless of their individualized financial strength, Etsy refers to its flock as, “Internet-enabled entrepreneurs who are building businesses on their own terms.”

Local painter Brazen Edwards found that kind of freedom through the online marketplace, and that’s one of the reasons why she’s proud to be bringing an Etsy event to Kelowna this weekend.

“I opened my shop in 2010 and now I do it full-time,” she said.

“I was with the RCMP in Alberta, and I ended up coming to Kelowna, with time off for medical leave.”

Once here, her husband gave her the push she needed.

“He knew that I drew and I painted, and said I should get back into it. So I just started painting and drawing again.”

She worked hard at her business, moving beyond original pieces into doing prints, on everything from cell phone covers to pillow cases.

Those she distributes through her own shop as well as the Etsy wholesale market.

“If you have the ability to mass produce, then you can distribute through Etsy wholesale and those items are put in boutiques and larger stores in Canada,” she  said.

She’s learned a lot about how to make a living following a passion, and it’s knowledge she’s happy to share with less experienced Etsy vendors.

That’s one of the reasons why she’s involved in bringing Etsy to a larger audience.

Etsy flew Edwards to Toronto for a seller summit of sorts earlier this year. There they revealed their intent to do a Canada-wide blitz, aimed at raising the profile of Etsy Canada to what it is in the US, so Edwards signed on to organizing this weekend’s event.

She’s spent months vetting potential vendors, and ensuring that she had just the right mix gathered at Sandhill.

“It will be like going into a great boutique,” she said.

Made in Canada is the newest addition to the company’s ongoing offline initiatives, like the recent Etsy Road Trip, aiming to connect sellers to their community of fellow makers and local shoppers as well as facilitate creative collaborations

Sandhill Winery in Kelowna (1125 Richter St.) will host 20 Etsy sellers from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Twitter: @KelownaNewsKat

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