This is part II of a two-part series. If you haven’t yet read part I you can read it HERE.
[The back garden in 2009]
We walked into The Kirk Estate not knowing what it would become for us. All we knew is that we wanted to grow, we wanted to be in nature, we wanted to help reclaim this family farmstead + farmhouse, and we wanted to do our best to reduce our footprint on the earth. But we were so overwhelmed with the size of the place and the luxury of having bathrooms and showers and a stove and a sink (with water you could drink) and a bed and couches, that for almost a month we slept in the field in our tent. We weren’t used to such space.
From 2006-2009 we worked to reinstate the gardens, and then we expanded them. Like all frugal farmers I saved my seed until I had jars and bags and closets filled with more seed than I could ever use. At first I wrapped them into fabric bundles and gave them away to friends and neighbors. Then I began making my own envelopes out of magazines and maps and encyclopedias. Friends encouraged me to start selling them on a new site called Etsy.
[evolution of our soap packaging from 2013, 2015 and 2018]
When I had too many herbs I dried them and sold them in bags I made from more of my grandmother’s fabric. I started infusing them into oils and soaps. Things grew naturally. All the while I continued to hone my packaging, my designs, my aesthetic. I balanced a fine line between environmental and practical. It was more eco-friendly to make my own bags and envelopes, but I came upon the wonderful problem of demand. I couldn’t keep up. So I began sourcing eco-friendly packaging, recognizing that I could make a bigger and more meaningful impact by reaching more people with our products, our story, our philosophy. I had to give up making my own bags and eventually seed envelopes too, but in the process I was supporting other Etsy sellers by purchasing these supplies from them so I could focus on farming and soap making.
The work and the strategic decisions were paying off. Sales went up and the income was helping to continue to grow my business. I invested in upfront costs of materials so I could introduce new products. The shop was helping to pay for the costs of running the farm -hoses, farm equipment, and mulch. Then it started paying the bills.
Etsy took notice. I felt like I was part of a team. I was recognized for my efforts, recognized for being a part of this community of sellers and makers. I was invited down to Etsy HQ where I marveled at the crochet-covered duct work, the community lunches, the passionate vibe. I was proud to help make this place tick. This was how I wanted my fees spent -supporting a young, passionate, diverse workforce that was allowed to follow their interests and support sellers like myself. People who were allowed to bring their dogs to work, who were allowed sit at their computers on vintage couches in spaces lit with funky lamps, dotted with tapestries and screen prints. It was the ultimate creative hub. Everyone seemed excited and alive and buzzing like a hive. I felt like what I was doing was important and appreciated.
But then things started changing. Etsy went public. They fired their beloved CEO and eventually nearly 25% of their staff. A lot of the people I’d worked with directly -people who supported my business and championed it as an Etsy success story- they were gone. My sales plummeted. I wasn’t alone. While some sellers reported an increase in sales with the new changes, many Etsy veterans were witnessing a widespread drop. All this time I thought I was an independent business owner, but I hadn’t realized how much I relied on the health of Etsy. I felt like I had gotten laid off too. Many sellers began searching for other outlets and I no longer recognized Etsy as the creative, supportive community it once was.
I’ve stuck by Etsy through a lot of changes. Many of them were hard. I was constantly re-learning how to use their tools, how to best be seen on their site. But in the end it was always worth it. Sales always went up, my shop improved, my business was streamlined, and it saved me time. But sadly, I no longer feel that way.
A couple of weeks ago, Etsy announced that they “listened to sellers” to learn more about what we need from them. They decided that what we needed was a fee increase. Effective July 16, Etsy’s seller transaction fee increased from 3.5% to 5% and now it will also apply to the cost of shipping. Etsy argues that the reason they’re now charging sellers a fee for shipping is because they want to encourage us to offer free shipping so that we can keep up with mass marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay. Unfortunately, most Etsy sellers can’t afford to eat the cost of shipping which is getting increasingly expensive. Etsy’s proposed solution to the high price of shipping is for sellers to increase the prices of our products to include the cost of shipping, falling in line with many other online marketplaces.
The difference is that folding the cost of shipping into an inexpensive, mass produced item, manufactured overseas may not have a big impact on an already low cost item, but take for example my seed packets. Our seeds are already expensive, especially when you compare them to $0.99 seed packets you can find in most garden stores. (You can read more about why that is HERE). Our seeds cost more because it takes a lot of work to produce organic heirloom seed and package it in an environmentally friendly way. Following Etsy’s advice means taking our $4 seed packets and increasing their price to $7-$8. In my opinion, this isn’t a realistic solution. But Etsy has no other suggestions. Their only advice is for me to offer free shipping to compete with Amazon, but I’m not Amazon. Etsy sellers used to be recognized as individuals striving to make high quality, unique products, but it seems now Etsy is rearranging its structure to force us to turn to methods employed by cookie cutter online retailers selling mass produced, inexpensive stuff. This is my experience.
What does all this mean for The Kirk Estate? What does it all mean for me? To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. When I found out all this was happening I had hoped that by now I’d know what to do. I would detail the plan here, lay it out confidently and professionally and give everyone a heads up that we were going to do something differently. But life isn’t always so easy to navigate and I’m not so certain about what I need to do in regards to these changes. All I know is it’s so easy to get caught up in this rat race. I joined Etsy as a way to supplement our income. As a way to help support our farm. A farm we started so we could reclaim this land’s history. A farm we started because we simply wanted to get our hands dirty and appreciate the abundance of nature that surrounded us. To sell what we had that was extra, and to share a piece of this environmentally-minded historical farmhouse with others. Sometimes we lose sight of our original intentions. Even unintended success can cause our own motivations to be sidetracked.
My passion for this place continues to grow and evolve, just as this business has, in ways that are organic and natural. But there are certainly shifts that are happening that are undeniable. As some items sell out in my Etsy shop I am not restocking them, and there are other items that I am not renewing as their listings expire. There are entire product lines that I have created that are not available in my Etsy shop and are only available HERE.
Due to Etsy’s new fee implementation, the prices of some items may increase, as may some shipping costs. BUT COSTS REMAIN THE SAME IN MY INDEPENDENT ONLINE SHOP, run on a secure squarespace site. You can find it by going to: thekirkestate.com/shop and I recommend that you shop from me there.
These changes don’t come without sadness, they don’t come without longing for what once was a thriving community. But as with almost everything in life you don’t have a choice. You just roll with it and try to make the most out of it. While it’s hard at times not to feel frustrated at the seemingly abrupt and undesired shift The Kirk Estate is taking, it has forced me to review its history. And honestly, it’s amazing I even made it to this place. A place I never imagined. So the fact that I can’t imagine the future is not only ok, it’s life.
Thank you (seriously) if you’ve read this far. And thank you (seriously) if you’ve ever purchased anything from us. You are literally the ones who are keeping this business alive and I absolutely could not do it without you. As much as we like to imagine that farms run on faeries and rainbows, it takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears and money.
Who knows what the forks in the road hold for any of us. All we can do is to take them in stride.
PS I’m running a summer sale in my independent shop. Enter the code SUMMERDAZE during checkout to get 10% off all orders.