When you list something on Etsy there’s a little space that asks if you have a production partner, and this seems to create some confusion for people.
Since Etsy is a handmade, vintage and supplies selling platform, the question of what a production partner even is is also confusing.
A few years ago, Etsy expanded their definition of “handmade” to include items that are designed by one person but made by someone else, which really stretches the meaning of “handmade,” but that’s an issue for another time.
So then it becomes a question of when you need to add a production partner, and whether what you’re selling is actually something that’s “Etsy-legal” in the first place.
You need to list production partners if you’re designing an item, but it’s then physically made by someone else, whether that’s a company or a contracted person who makes items in-house. This includes any print-on-demand (POD) company that you use to print your designs onto merchandise, but also includes contractors that you might hire who aren’t direct employees of your shop.
Basically, if your two hands didn’t make what you’re selling, but you’re claiming that it’s handmade, you need to have designed it yourself, and you need to list a production partner.
For vintage sellers, this won’t apply to you at all, because that’s a totally different category and doesn’t involve any designing or making of anything on your part!
Table of Contents
- What’s the difference between an Etsy production partner and a shop employee?
- What does “designing something” actually mean?
- Do you need to add your materials suppliers to production partners on Etsy?
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What’s the difference between an Etsy production partner and a shop employee?
If you list employees in your Etsy shop, that’s going to be someone who works for you to make things on a regular basis. If they’re listed as your employees in your shop’s About section then it’s someone who you directly hire to help you to produce the things that you sell in your shop. That wouldn’t be someone who you need to put in as a production partner, because that’s a different thing.
One thing to be clear on is that Etsy doesn’t allow artists’ collectives to set up shop on Etsy, or at least they say they don’t.
If you get your merchandise from a third-party source, like a fair-trade company or group of people who you buy handicrafts from if you didn’t design the items, you’re not allowed to sell those on Etsy even if they’re handmade.
The full policy is here if you want to check that out: Etsy legal policy on reselling
So if you travel somewhere and buy a bunch of handmade items from people, but you don’t design them, you can’t sell them on Etsy.
If you hire a bunch of people to make your designs, you can sell that because you’re the designer, but you would have to disclose everyone who makes the items in your shop About section.
Those people would be considered to be shop employees because you’re hiring them directly to manufacture things that you designed, and they’re using their own facilities and equipment, not farming it out to yet another person.
But if you didn’t design the stuff to begin with? Nope, it’s not allowed.
What does “designing something” actually mean?
Etsy allows sellers to use production partners to manufacture things that the seller doesn’t have the equipment to make themselves, like mugs, shirts, shower curtains, or whatever else the production partner offers. These companies take the designs from the seller and add them to existing merchandise, and this makes them a production partner that needs to be added to the listing information.
Etsy specifically says that if you’re not handmaking something yourself, you still need to create “unique designs” that wouldn’t exist without you, the designer. (See the full handmade policy here)
They also say that adding simple things like choosing a color, etc, is not considered true customization, so that’s not allowed on Etsy either.
That means that if you buy 500 cheap sweaters from China and try to sell them as “custom handmade” because you’re offering a choice of cuff color, you’re violating the handmade policy.
Reselling things that other people make isn’t allowed if you didn’t design those things, so you can go do that on eBay, but Etsy can shut your shop down for that.
Another thing to keep in mind is the rule about creating a “unique” design.
Buying artwork on websites that sell clipart, then slapping it on a t-shirt without changing it enough to make it unique, is not considered designing.
You need to do more than just change the color or font, too, because really? That’s just lazy, and it doesn’t fall within the guidelines. In addition, you could be violating copyright without realizing it.
The easiest way to make sure that you’re actually designing something yourself is to really do that, using your own artwork and ideas. For an article about avoiding copyright infringement cases, click here.
Do you need to add your materials suppliers to production partners on Etsy?
You don’t have to add the companies that you buy your supplies from in the production partner field on Etsy. They don’t help you make things, they only sell you the materials to make the products. You’re not required to disclose where you get your materials as long as you’re taking those materials and using them to create your own products.
The one thing to remember here, though is that you need to make something with those materials, you can’t just plop things in a box and call it a handmade item.
You can create a design and pattern for something and add the materials to that to make a kit, but it has to be something that you designed.
Etsy doesn’t allow the sale of gift boxes that include manufactured items that aren’t supplies to be used to create something else.
So if you make handmade soap, and you put a gift box together that contains a bunch of the soap that you made that’s fine.
But if you take a bunch of soap that you bought at the store, or that was handmade by someone else, and put it in a gift box, that’s not allowed in the handmade category.
And don’t think that labeling that kind of thing as a supply will work to get around that rule, either.
Supplies on Etsy are considered to be things that you use to create something substantially different, like a kit that contains the materials to make something else.
You can’t put “supply” on a gift box full of other people’s finished products because unless it really is a kit to make something, it doesn’t fit in either category.
I know that Etsy is full of things that violate these policies, but really, do you want to build an Etsy shop that could be closed “for no reason” at any time? (There’s usually a reason.)
If you want to sell things that don’t fit into Etsy’s rules, you can start your own website and sell those things there. Keep the Etsy-legal items on Etsy and sell the non-Etsy-legal items on your website, it will prevent a lot of problems in the long run.
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