Etsy India's MD, Himanshu Wardhan on Covid-19, collaborations and more


Etsy India’s MD, Himanshu Wardhan on combating Covid-19 crisis, supporting small sellers, and more

The venture supports artisans at the grassroot level

By ELLE Team  July 26th, 2020

Meet Himanshu Wardhan, the man who helms Etsy India and blends creativity with commerce seamlessly. An American e-commerce website with its headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, Etsy brings handmade or vintage items and craft supplies from micro-entrepreneurs to the consumers. From jewellery, bags, clothing, home décor, furniture to art, the platform has it all.

Himanshu launched the company’s operations in India back in 2018. We quizzed him on how his team is combating the current global crisis, upcoming projects, collaborations and much more. Here’s what he had to say:

ELLE: Etsy champions real people, local artisans and creative entrepreneurs, the #StandWithSmall campaign was launched during the pandemic to help sellers through uncertain times. Can you elaborate on the same?

HIMANSHU WARDHAN: You are right, Etsy has long functioned as an on-ramp to entrepreneurship by creating opportunities for people who might not have started a business otherwise. Our mission is to keep commerce human, and we’re committed to using the power of business to strengthen communities and empower people.

Our marketplace provides a platform that enables a global community of over 2.8 million active sellers to share their creative wares with buyers around the world, who come to Etsy to be inspired and delighted by items that are crafted and curated by creative entrepreneurs. 83% of sellers on Etsy are women. 64% of sellers started their Etsy shop to supplement income.

Etsy sellers are tech-enabled microbusinesses pursuing their entrepreneurial venture on their own terms, and with their own style. Most Etsy sellers (90% ) are businesses of one, and 95% operate their creative business from their homes.

Etsy’s DNA is to stand with small sellers and right now the smallest businesses are taking a serious hit. #StandWithSmall is a global campaign that supports sellers and is a reminder that Etsy is on their side. We’ve leveraged our social channels to spread the message. We have provided a one-month grace period for payments and have invested in advertising fees to drive sustained business for sellers. We’re in this together.

ELLE: How do you see the online marketplace change post-Covid-19?

HW: Our hearts go out to everyone affected. Speaking about Etsy, the marketplace has really had a moment to step in and be helpful. Etsy can help sellers provide meaningful income and can help buyers find things they need and care about. You can connect with the person on the other side of the sale and make human connections. During this time of isolation, facilitating human connection through commerce is proving to be a strong differentiator for Etsy.

Our sellers are so agile in responding to the demands of consumers, and this current environment highlights that now more than ever. We’re seeing so many great examples of sellers innovating to meet needs that didn’t exist even a month ago. For example, when guidelines in certain countries recommended wearing face masks,  we put out a call to our sellers and were able to get thousands of sellers to begin making masks within a matter of days and within a month over 60,000 sellers were making masks and selling masks on Etsy.

Another great example is a pocket hug. This is a little trinket that you send to a loved one to give them a virtual hug and let them know that you’re thinking about them.

Many people prefer to order products online or through contactless deliveries. The shift towards digital services was already helping societies financially even before the pandemic had started. However, consumers now prefer shopping more in a manner that is convenient, safe, hygienic and the e-commerce space meets these requirements. It is the best time to go online.

ELLE: With live events cancelled, the maker community is surviving online, did you see a surge in the newer community of sellers at the online marketplace?

HW: The pandemic has brought life to a standstill and the world is facing unprecedented, challenging times. But while on the one hand, there has been a pall of gloom and uncertainty, on the other hand, the current situation has also presented us with an opportunity to leverage our strengths to cope with the crisis. In fact, 49% of sellers on Etsy have found the motivation to start their creative business because of a financial challenge, like needing additional income. In Q1, we had 2.8 million sellers overall – up 26% year over year. Our low barrier to entry provides economic opportunity for many people all over the world.

The Etsy marketplace is a true reflection of what is happening in the world around us. Over the past several months, the COVID-19 situation has significantly shifted the types of items that people are shopping for on Etsy.

The growing demand for face masks encouraged Etsy sellers to augment their product offerings to include fabric face masks. In April alone, Etsy sold 12 million face masks, generating $133 million in gross merchandise sales. We mobilized our seller base by providing support to shift excess capacity to producing masks. Within days, 20k sellers were making masks and by the end of April, there were 60,000 sellers (up 400% month over month). In times like this, it’s the most important to connect with our community, to band together and rise to this challenge.

We’ve always stayed connected with the creative community and sellers – through digital media, seller-focussed events and our standalone offline property. The Etsy Collective is a weekend meetup that brings together creative makers from a different city, every week. Besides interacting with a local seller in a more 1:1 format, the Etsy Collective also celebrates the spirit of creativity with a fun DIY activity that also gives everyone a chance to interact.

While that is no longer possible, we’ve still kept the conversation going by moving to a virtual format. We’ve broadened the scope of offline events to include more external speakers, tastemakers and experts who provide our creative community with insights and inspiration. Rebranded as Small Talk with the Etsy Collective, this series of curated webinars take place every week, to offer multiple sessions on exploring digital opportunities. I feel that sellers are ready to explore global opportunities. Currently, we have 1.7 million items listed from India and the numbers are growing every day.

 

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ELLE: Would you like to cite any examples on how small businesses are getting creative at times like these?

HW: Buyers come to Etsy to discover items that are relevant in their lives at any given point in time, whether it’s celebrating a special occasion or taking comfort in the simple joys of the everyday. Our sellers–unencumbered by supply chains and manufacturing contracts–have a unique ability to quickly shift their product offerings to meet emerging trends and new buyer demand. This agility keeps our marketplace vibrant and enables them to grow their businesses.

As I mentioned earlier, over the past several months, the COVID-19 situation has definitely shifted the types of items that people are shopping for on Etsy. Beyond fabric non-medical grade face masks, we are also seeing increased interest in different types of items as buyers seek to bring comfort, and maybe even some joy, into their everyday experience. This includes self-care (spa kits, candles, moisturizers), wall art, gardening supplies, crafts, DIY kits and comfortable clothing.

ELLE: LinkedIn events are creating a more streamlined integrated virtual space for company events and Facebook has introduced the shop feature on both Facebook and Instagram with the attempt to shift the e-commerce culture towards shopping as opposed to purchasing. Will these new features impact Etsy?

HW: It is great to see others start to pay additional attention to small business. Etsy has, and always will, Stand with Small, so that even in this time of social distancing, human-to-human connection and commerce are thriving.

We are proud to stand for something special. Our technology platform has been purpose-built over 15 years for the unique needs of artists and creators selling made-to-order products and curated vintage finds. We make it easy for creative entrepreneurs to reach high-intention buyers looking for exactly the type of items they sell.

We have an established ecosystem to bring buyers to our sellers, backed by a trusted brand. 85% of Etsy’s GMS comes from organic traffic. We’ve created a truly differentiated shopping experience by offering an incredible depth and breadth of inventory (+65 million unique, handcrafted, and curated items) and connecting buyers with a real person. There are a lot of places to buy online, there is one place to buy items that arrive with a handwritten note or are made exclusively for you: Etsy.

ELLE: Can you guide new sellers as to how to sell successfully on Etsy?

HW: Setting up an Etsy shop is a simple process, and some sellers have compared it to setting up a detailed social media account. There are enough resources on Etsy (like the Etsy seller handbook) that provide step-by-step guidance to open a shop.

India is the only market where Etsy has set up an acquisition team which connects with sellers offline. Our team here is focussed on supporting our seller community, enabling them to share even more of their unique and handcrafted goods with the world.

We’ve had a very hyper-local, grassroots approach in India in order to introduce new sellers to our platform.  Of course, now these conversations have become virtual or over the phone, but we still connect with creators in a 1:1 format.

Many artisans in rural areas are not very digitally savvy, so setting up an online business seems like a daunting, complicated task. Our Seller Success team offers step-by-step guidance on how to start their shop, add product listings and write descriptions. This team has helped over hundreds of sellers optimize their shops. Any creative maker looking for some assistance can simply fill this form on our Instagram page and the team will get in touch.

ELLE: How do you think Etsy will grow a list of customers, given e-commerce in India is driven by discounting and deals? 

HW: At the moment, Etsy in India is focused on encouraging cross border trade and looking at global audiences for Indian products. We know that buyers from around the world are interested in unique items from Indian artisans. We’ve always spoken about the huge opportunity for homegrown businesses to start selling globally.

Etsy’s marketplace attracts more than 48 million buyers who are specifically looking for items for those special moments in life that deserve a human touch. Etsy sellers are also adept at offering special sales and offers that are a great way of reaching out to buyers.

Several sellers from Etsy have already explored this opportunity very well – Ruchi, who is based out of Lucknow, has sold more than 17,000 maternity wear items, and most of her customers are from overseas (ComfyMommy).

AbhikaJewels – managed by a couple – has had a successful Etsy shop for the last few years, selling precious jewellery, a category which is not the easiest category in e-commerce.

These are just a couple of examples from thousands of sellers who have leveraged the Etsy platform already to sell to global markets. There has been a seismic shift in buying behaviours in the current ecosystem. However, it also presents a high opportunity for e-commerce on a global scale that small sellers from India should recognise and leverage. We aim to help them in this endeavour and encourage them to think global.

Our new digital campaign #DesiForPardesi is intended to remind everyone of our rich culture, as we aim to encourage embracing handmade in India with a global buyer market in mind. It is the celebration of our heritage art & crafts and innovations that are ‘Made in India’ for the world.

 

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ELLE: Does Etsy plan to collaborate with existing institutions that promote small businesses like Dastkar and Dilli Haat? India has a vast network of entrepreneurs. How will Etsy tap into this group?

HW: I personally hold both Jaya ji and Laila ji in very high regard and consider them as people who inspire me everyday. With the decades of experience and insights that they have, it’s a learning experience to listen to their thoughts and ideas on Indian crafts and artisans.

We’ve worked with the Dastakari Haat Samiti on a photography enablement workshop in which our team organised a product photography session for a group of artisans from different parts of the country. We’ve also collaborated with Dastkar to organise a panel discussion with eminent designers to discuss the opportunities for artisans.

It’s heartening to realise that both these institutions recognise the need to establish direct linkages between makers and buyers – whether offline or through digital storefronts. We’ve recognised the fact that artisans who might not be very digitally friendly, could get easily discouraged by what would seem like a daunting task, but we are committed to working with such organisations to help such artisans understand the opportunities that come with online selling.

We’ve also worked with Rajeevji (Sethi) and the Asian Heritage Foundation to organise similar enablement workshops in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. We’re currently working with Tata Trusts (Antaran) to organise virtual workshops for artisans from craft clusters in Odisha, Assam, Nagaland and Andhra Pradesh. There is a clear opportunity for us to mobilise the artisan community with the help of such organisations.

ELLE: How do you stay motivated these days? You are known to ensure there is enough work-life balance, how are you keeping the teams motivated?

HW: I often tell my team that while no one could have anticipated this kind of situation, we need to stay motivated to ensure that we deal with the challenges that we and our families are facing. My focus has been to ensure the wellbeing of my team – from ensuring they have the right infrastructure to work from home to also ensuring that they have enough resources to ensure their mental well-being.

The current times are really challenging for the workforce, and we are helping our employees tide over this difficult time, by providing mental health days (time off for some rest and rejuvenation), access to online resources, training material and personal catch-ups.

For my own part, I’ve realised that sticking to a routine really helps – I’m an early riser and love to go for walks whenever possible. I spend time reading everyday, cooking (I’m a lockdown chef), baking and most importantly, spending a lot of time with my daughter. I keep time for catching-up with my friends and family on a regular basis. Spending time at my studio in Gurgaon is also a stress-buster.

Working from home is the new current reality, and we need to ensure that we deal with it in the most effective manner. I encourage my team to spend time doing things that they like – it could be as simple as reading a book or listening to some music, but can go a long way in keeping one centred and motivated.

Photographs: Courtesy of Himanshu Wardhan