Artisanal capitalism: The art and craft of business

Useful or beautiful?

WILLIAM MORRIS, the father of the Arts and Crafts movement that briefly flowered in the late 19th century, would have approved of Etsy. The Brooklyn company is home to a thriving online marketplace for around 1m jewellers, candlemakers, bag designers, woodcutters and other artists and craftspeople from around the world. Among current bestsellers are combat boots from Italy ($367), a snow-goose necklace from Raleigh, North Carolina ($29), and a minimalist stainless-steel toilet-roll holder from Portland, Oregon ($36). For $4 you can buy a fridge magnet bearing Morris’s dictum: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”Morris championed artisanship as an alternative to the mass production of his day, which he believed promoted shoddy design and dehumanised labour. Etsy too is on a mission to “humanise” work and commerce, says Chad Dickerson, its chief executive. As a business, it has just completed its best year since it was founded in 2005. In 2012 sales on Etsy totalled $895m; by October, before the busy holiday shopping season, they had already passed $1 billion…

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