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Now Enrolling Members! Join an Authentic Handmade Marketplace

Title Image that says "Join an Authentic Handmade Marketplace! Now Enrolling Members"" with an illustration of Brook the cooperative mascot chicken pointing to her fellow birds and friends and raising their hands to join the membership

Artisans Cooperative is now accepting its first members! In this post, we’ll share all the details about membership.

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What It Is

We are a multi-stakeholder cooperative launching an online handmade marketplace in October 2023. In other words: a co-op alternative to Etsy, but better. 

Unlike Big Tech marketplaces, ours will be owned and managed by our community as a cooperatively-owned business. Members are eligible for dividends and the marketplace will be run democratically as “one-member, one-vote.” 

Our cooperative model solves the problems of big tech marketplaces: 

  • Our unique Handmade Policy and engaged community will ensure only authentic and trustworthy handmade goods are sold on our marketplace 
  • Our democratic management will ensure fair treatment for artisans: no more surprise price hikes that only benefit shareholders or cruel policies that impact artisan lives and livelihoods. (Instead, we intend to lower our sales commissions once we’ve gotten off the ground.) 

Our innovative Points & Tiers Policy ensures that both member buy-ins and financial rewards will be distributed equitably based on all kinds of co-op contributions (not just cash). This policy incentivizes member engagement, facilitates our Handmade Policy, and lowers the barriers to cooperative business ownership for all.

The Points & Tiers Policy also ensures that even though a member can only select one member class (Artisan or Supporter, for example), all members will accrue benefits and financial dividends of all classes. For example Artisans will earn points on all purchases made on the site, just like consumer co-ops. 

Once the marketplace is built, we’ll begin earning revenue immediately. Our main source of revenue will come from a sales commission, which we’ve structured to be competitive with Big Tech but higher than the other small upstart marketplaces. Having higher fees in the beginning will allow us to properly market the site and attract a critical mass of artisans and shoppers for good product selection and sufficient sales.

Our sales commission will be offered at:  

  • 6.5% for Founding Circle member artisans who joined before July 31, 2023
  • 8% for member artisans
  • 9.5% for non-member artisans
Bar chart comparing Total Fees across several platforms, including 3 different artisans cooperative membership levels, Amazon and Etsy both at 15%, and Etsy totaling up to 25% with lots of "other fees" added on

Who It’s For

We welcome all authentic artisans and their supporters who want to see this marketplace happen. Craft has always been the refuge of the disadvantaged: a way to earn income outside of a system that makes participation difficult for so many. It’s paramount that the space we create reduces barriers to entry and is democratically led by many voices, to benefit the full spectrum of artisans who are struggling to make a living in the digital platform economy. 

Our unique Ownership Model brings everyone to the table as stakeholders in balance. Our member-owners include three classes: 

  • Artisans (producers/workers) – our primary beneficiaries
  • Supporters (consumers) – customers, shoppers, fans, and anyone who wants to support
  • Staff (workers) – someday soon

To be eligible, Artisans must agree to list products for sale on the marketplace and abide by our Handmade Policy. The policy defines artisanship like this: 

The definition of an artisan for the purposes of our marketplace is a person, micro-business, or collective that produces handmade goods for sale

Handmade goods are authentic original works produced with the care, dexterity / skill, and judgment of the artisan, under the workmanship of risk.

The workmanship of risk is an original idea proposed by artisan David Pye. In essence, it means that at some point in the process, the artisan could ruin the work. 

Although artisans may in their judgment sometimes require production assistance (outsourcing) to the extent allowed by this policy, we will actively encourage, promote, and support artisans who produce their products using in-house production. Print-on-demand is a type of outsourcing only allowed under certain circumstances. 

-Artisans Cooperative Handmade Policy

Please read our Handmade Policy for additional clarification on what our marketplace specifically includes and excludes. 

Regardless of your background or challenges: if you are committed to the principles of this cooperative, you are welcome in this circle.

Where It’s Happening

We are a virtual community based online. We are international in scope but incorporated in the USA. 

When

With your membership today, we plan to launch the Artisans Cooperative marketplace in October 2023. For more details, read our 2023 Work Plan and Marketplace Development Plan.

We need early memberships now to pay for website development and leverage additional financing. Read more in our Funding Plan

New members who paid up-front in-full by July 31, 2023 are recognized as a Founding Member for life. Founding Members get special benefits, including lower fees and exclusive access to the Founders Circle.

How Much It Costs

Once it’s built, you won’t have to become a member to buy and sell on the marketplace, but to build it we need members.

Becoming a member offers you additional benefits and responsibilities, including profit-sharing. Additionally, early memberships will make the marketplace possible by pooling critical early funds and helping us leverage additional funding from lenders.  

To join the co-op as a member, there is a brief application and a membership fee called a “buy-in.” 

The buy-in is a one-time investment in the co-op that purchases one share of ownership. It is not a donation, and it is eligible for return (more on that below). 

The buy-in does not have to be paid in full at one time. We offer multiple payment plans for different budgets, which are equivalent to other marketplace alternatives you may be considering, such as Shopify. 

To reduce barriers to entry, we also offer non-cash options through patronage activities such as handmade verifications, referrals, member activities, and more, as explained in our Points & Tiers Policy

(What’s the difference between a Points Pledge and a Payment Plan? Read more!)

NOTES: 

  • Buy-ins are an “at-risk” investment. They are not held in escrow and do not earn interest. It is needed start-up capital that will be spent on website development, marketing, and staff.
  • Cash buy-ins are eligible to be returned once the cooperative has stabilized and has the funds available. 
  • Each member’s contributions will be tracked with the value of the cash and non-cash points contributed. 
  • Non-cash points cannot be converted to cash and cannot be returned when a member exits. 
  • As a co-op, each member can only own one share and only has one vote. 
  • Each member is defined by tax ID: whether an actual person, business, or a representative of an unincorporated collective / mutual aid society. (More about this in our Bylaws.)
  • Early volunteers and donors were able to claim the points they’d already earned through July 31, 2023. If you missed it, email us for a form to claim already-earned points separately.   

The co-op is not a bank nor an investment strategy. It is a community-owned business. It earns other kinds of returns, like a values- and ethics-driven market choice that doesn’t currently exist; skills, education, and networking with the community; and dividends (profit-sharing) when there is a surplus. 

The cost of a member buy-in is listed in our Points & Tiers Policy and is currently: 

  • Artisans: 1,000 points ($1,000 USD)
  • Supporters: 100 points ($100 USD)

What’s Included

As outlined in our Ownership Model, all memberships include: 

  • Governance rights (democratic control)
  • Financial rights (profit-sharing) 

All members have the following rights and responsibilities: 

  • Submit proposals for new products, features, or improvements to the co-op or marketplace for Board consideration
  • Run for and elect representatives on the Board of Directors
  • Vote on company-wide issues and planning. For example, members would have a vote on whether to increase any fees in the future, ensuring that there will be no surprise fee hikes and no fees without good reason.
  • Vote on bylaw approval and changes, and major decisions like dissolution
  • Attend annual meeting (virtual)
  • Profit-sharing, as explained in our Points & Tiers Policy

Artisan membership includes more benefits as our primary membership class: 

  • Lower sales commission than for non-members
  • Special marketing visibility on the marketplace that will help member shops get more easily discovered by shoppers

For Supporters, we intend to offer additional member-only perks that are also beneficial for Artisans, such as special events or access to Artisans, and exclusive content and communications. (We welcome feedback and input to help us design additional benefits for Supporters that work for all.) 

A comparison of benefits is in the table below: 

Founding Circle ArtisansAll Artisan MembersNon-Member ArtisansFounding Circle SupportersAll Supporter MembersNon-Member Supporters
Sales commission (+ payment processing fees)6.5%
(1st two years)
8.0%9.5%
Access to handmade verification: be “Verified” on Day 1 ✅✅✅
1st Priority
Special marketing (additional labels, filters, collections, editorial features) during the holiday launch season with enhanced visibility and discoverability ✅✅✅
1st Priority
Behind-the-scenes access and a direct communications channel to the leadership✅ ✅ 
Community forum area and communications channel
Opportunity to be involved in the design, testing, and beta launch of the marketplace

What It’s For

Member buy-ins are an important way for co-ops to raise early capital during start-up. When businesses are starting up, they have to spend more than they make. For us, that means spending money on building the website and marketing, before we can even begin earning revenue through sales commissions. Then later, we’ll need to hire staff. 

We believe the success or failure of this marketplace lies primarily with Marketing. We must attract a critical mass of artisans and shoppers to generate the sales that artisans need and the product selection that shoppers want. We’ll do that with our strategic marketing plan, currently in development by a terrific and skilled group of volunteers. 

We have an incredible team, a solid plan, and a track record of getting things done. And most importantly, as a cooperative, we operate with transparency. This is our year-one estimated budget: 

Pie chart showing Artisans Cooperative Year One operating budget: Marketing $114k, Staff $225k, Operations $38k, Technology $37k
Pie chart showing Artisans Cooperative Year One operating budget

It’s hard for co-ops to get started for this reason, but once they do, they are statistically more likely to succeed and stay in business for the long haul. This is because democratic ownership creates more diverse and informed decision-making. 

However, until the co-op breaks even, those investments will be at risk, just like any investment. Once we’ve achieved stability, those investments will be eligible for members to exit the co-op if they want to, with their money back.

Why

“Poverty isn’t simply the condition of not having enough money,” writes Matthew Desmond. “It’s the condition of not having enough choice and being taken advantage of because of that.” (1) We want to create a world without “starving artists”: a world where empowered artisans own thriving businesses practicing their passions. 

Artisans make up a sizable portion of the gig economy on Big Tech marketplaces like Etsy. These marketplaces threaten their livelihoods with unfair and opaque fee structures, theft of their art and intellectual property, and competition with mass-produced goods. No viable alternative exists for artisans: a gap that Artisans Cooperative is filling.

Table comparing Etsy alternatives by priority features: Lots of Customers, Handmade Focus, Inclusive to All Artisans, and Profit-Sharing. Amazon and eBay are the only ones with lots of customers (although Artisans will have them with your support!). However, Amazon and eBay don't have a focus on handmade and the others do (GoImagine, Spouse-ly, Ko-fi, Artisans Co-op). However, GoImagine and Spouse-ly are not inclusive to all artisans, there are restrictions by geography, craft, background, etc. Only Artisans Co-op will share profits.

When Etsy announced in February 2022 that it had record profits the previous year ($494,000,000) and it was raising seller fees by 30%, it was a wake-up call. 

We asked ourselves the question: what would happen if that half-billion dollars went back into the pockets of artisans worldwide? How would that affect average families? What would their communities look like? 

The cooperative model offers an empowering alternative for artisans. As co-op business owners, the handmade community will create a fair and equitable marketplace on which to run their businesses through democratic development, ownership, and management. 

Cooperative businesses offer shared ownership and shared profit, but they’re also about something much more: the freedom, as a group, to choose people over profit. 

In five years, we envision an online marketplace that actually lowers fees as time goes on. Stable and secure with a rainy-day fund and a growing community and sales, we’ll be able to put even more money into the pockets of artisans and rebates to the shoppers who support them.

We want to break the downward spiral of corporate greed and turn it into a virtuous cooperative circle of life:

Chart showing a drooping timeline of the Corporate Greed Life Cycle, from Great Idea, Investor Funding, Good Product, Investor Greed/Demand with a worried face, Weakened Product, Peak Profits for Investors, Failing Product with an orange angry face, Investors Leave with Money, Corporation Fails, and Users Looking for Alternatives with a red very angry face

Cooperative Life Cycle graphic showing a self-feeding circle or loop. The steps in the circle are: Great Idea, Member Funding, Quality Product, Profit Share, More Members and Interval Reinvestment, Better Product, Stability and Longevity

Together, this is our best shot. By banding together and pooling our contributions today, we can create a better handmade marketplace, better consumer choice, and a better livelihood for artisans. 

We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We need you to step up and join us today. 

Early members who sign-up in full before July 31, 2023 will get to be part of a special, lifetime-appreciation club with a lower sales commission: Join the Founders Circle today!

Have more questions? Read on.

FAQ

Where are the details, policies, and plans? 

Access all our policies, plans, and documents on the Policies and Plans page on our website: https://artisans.coop/policies-plans/ 

What do you need the money for? What other sources of funding have you tried? 

Read all about it in our Funding Plan

Can I be more than one member?

There can only be one member per tax ID, which can be a business or an individual. For example, a business with an LLC can be one member and an individual person/sole proprietor can be another. For more information, read our Bylaws

Why shouldn’t I just wait to see if you get it off the ground without me? 

It takes courage to build freedom and independence. If we don’t seize this opportunity today, we will forever be working for Wall Street fatcats, earning only as much as they let us. We’re on the cusp of making this a reality after over a year of hard work, and we don’t think this will happen again for a long time. 

What if I don’t have enough money today to become a member? 

That’s okay! Your membership pledge is valuable regardless of how you fund it. 

We are building a cooperative that is accessible to all. We have payment plans and non-monetary options through our Points and Tiers system. Activities such as referrals, handmade verification, and service hours are all ways you can earn membership through points. 

No matter how you earn your membership, your sign-up brings value to the co-op because it shows banks and lenders that there is genuine commitment to our business. The more members we have, the easier it will be for us to get loans that cover the rest. 

References

(1) Poverty by America, Matthew Desmond. Accessed in New York Times Book Review, March 13, 2023.


About Artisans Cooperative

We are growing an online handmade marketplace for an inclusive network of creatives: a co-op alternative to Etsy.
Shop the marketplace!

23 thoughts on “Now Enrolling Members! Join an Authentic Handmade Marketplace”

  1. Pingback: Join Our Founders Circle Before July 31st | Artisans Cooperative

    1. Our Handmade Policy includes all handmade items, whether they are craft supplies or not. However, it does not include non-handmade items of any kind, including non-handmade craft supplies. In other words, we don’t make a distinction based on the craft supplies category, only on whether it’s handmade or not. Great question, thanks for asking!

    1. Yes! Changing from a Supporter to an Artisan membership can be done at any time by paying the difference in member buy-in (with either cash or points). -Valerie

      1. Hi Valerie, I also please need some clarification on this, as I can risk $100 now, but not $1000. Can I become a supporter member now, list products at some point as a non-member (which I had planned to launch later this year on another platform but would much rather sell in a cooperative!) and then work on accruing either own capital or points to buy-in as an Artisan down the road?
        (Btw Old co-op enthusiast here going back to the 80s, when I worked my way through college in a cooperatively-owned organic food shop, with full consensus-based management to boot. Best workplace ever.)

        1. Welcome, Ute! I got my start with food co-ops as well, I am grateful to their stalwart trailblazing and education on the cooperative model. Depending on your particular situation, you could handle this a couple ways:
          – You can join as an artisan now with a minimum payment of $10 and earn the remainder in points over the next 12 months (or do a payment plan, monthly or annually, over 1-4 years). Then you can open a member store in Phase 2 and enjoy the lower artisan sales commission right away.
          – You can become a supporter member now and transfer to an artisan member later. Supporter members can open non-member artisan shops but don’t get the lower sales commission. Our marketplace will become open for non-member stores in October.
          In cooperation, Valerie

    2. Do you have any preperations/plans/etc for what would occur if highly wealthy investors corrupted incentives? Particularly due to buying in early-on..
      This tends to be what results in the failure and/or heavy reduction in strength of many nonprofits (ie, 501c3) , and to my eyes this seems fairly vulnerable at face even with 1-member-1-vote. Big corporations can grab people en masse with ease,
      And all that aside, the early buy-in means it is objectively the wealthy ir at least middle-income who will likely have the most influence as ‘founders’. Even with alternatives, to many middle income throwing a thousand dollars on this is sorts like buying a new video game. I worry youll be swamped.
      If this can be adressed, tho, id consider joining

      1. Great questions, thanks for asking. Because we are a cooperative business that is 100% owned by our members, we cannot take on investors. Our bylaws do not allow for investors/preferred class shares at all. If we were to ever consider such a thing, it would have to be put before a vote before the members first to amend the bylaws.
        –> Learn more about what a cooperative is on our blog post: https://artisans.coop/blog/what-is-a-cooperative/
        –> Read our bylaws here: https://artisans.coop/blog/our-bylaws-board/
        -Valerie, Team Governance

    3. Personally, I’d recommend something along the lines of ” if a person can reasonably prove in good will they are significantly poor/low income, they be granted privlidges/influence that either equal or are unique from those who buy in” .
      With social media, let alone other possible options, it shoupd be fairly easy to prove whether or not someone is.

      1. Our Points & Tiers system allows everyone who wants to become a member the opportunity to join by valuing all contributions to the co-op in one consistent currency called “points.” That includes: hours of activities, purchases and sales, cash, referrals, handmade verifications, and other activities that help the co-op. We do not want there to be an income barrier to becoming a co-op member-owner.
        –> Learn more about our unique Points & Tiers System: https://artisans.coop/blog/our-points-tiers-policy/
        –> Learn more about the three intertwined policies and how they build a foundation for inclusivity and accessibility: https://artisans.coop/blog/the-policy-trinity-supporting-our-co-op/
        -Valerie, Team Governance

      1. Our Handmade Policy allows artisans to use any tool or machine they need to create their works – including a Glowforge, a CNC router, 3D printer, or other computer-assisted machinery – but the works must be “authentic original works produced with the care, dexterity / skill, and judgment of the artisan, under the workmanship of risk.” Learn more about our Handmade Policy, which includes definitions, verifications, and enforcement here: https://artisans.coop/blog/presenting-our-handmade-policy/
        -Valerie, Team Governance

        1. I’d like to clarify the “authentic original works” that can be created with the assistance of tools or machines. Is the design of the works only allowed to come from the artisan themself? For example : handbags/totes made from another person’s pattern; embroidered clothes or toys etc made with someone else’s embroidery design; Glowforge/laser printed goods made from a purchased design file.
          Thank you.

          1. In brief, if the question is, “Must the design of the works only come from the artisan themself?” the answer is no. An artisan can use another’s design in making something by hand, so long as they have the rights to do so and they express their skill and judgment in some way, such as by picking the fabrics and colors in a quilt pattern. This is why we have artisans from a similar craft background as our handmade reviewers, because this varies a bit by craft/tool. -Valerie

      2. Pingback: How To Earn Points Through Member Activities | Artisans Cooperative

      3. What kind of customer service will you have? Will I be able to contact someone if I have a problem? I am currently with Etsy and their customer service is non-existent at times. Will I end up going through menu after menu after menu and an hour later I the system is still suggesting articles to read and I have not talked with someone?

        1. Welcome, Katy! It looks like your Q fell between the cracks. Sorry, there is so much going on here! I am new myself but to answer as best I can: we are creating teams of specialists to address different sorts of questions. When I say “teams of specialists,” I mean the artisan members who make up the Coop volunteering their time to address customer service needs. We have a lot of dedicated members. And we will create a seller forum where all sellers, members or not, can help each other.

          Both of these systems will take place on an app called Discord where the Coop has been holding most or all of its organizing conversations. When people join the Coop as a members or non-member seller, they are invited to join the Coop’s Discord channel. At this point we are constantly refining plans and systems so customer service may evolve but I think this is a decent summary of where we are now (9/14/23).

      4. I have some questions – can an artisan sell multiple types of products? For instance, could I sell any of the following as a single artisan? Hand crocheted items, prints of photos I’ve taken, printed poetry, and could I embroider manufactured items like jeans or overalls from Dickies or Levi’s etc that I hand-embroider in artistic ways with original designs?
        Thanks in advance,
        -Moe

      5. do you have to become a supporter member in order to buy things from the artisans store fronts? i’m asking because a lot of the costumers I have right now wouldn’t be able to or might not be interested in putting 100 into a member ship just to buy my stuff (although I wish they would:). I am very interested in joining this as I am getting very tired of Esty my business has suffered more than it has grown because of it.
        I definitely don’t have 1000 to buy a membership all up front and the fact that you payments and points for this is awesome, service hours and handmade verification were mentioned could you please elaborate and tell me what they entail?

        1. Everyone is welcome to shop the marketplace, no membership required!
          Points can be earned in a few different ways – everything is laid out in this schedule and blog post. You can earn points from: membership activities (joining teams and doing work together, this can be small like maintaining a spreadsheet or sharing social posts, or more complex like joining leadership), getting your shop handmade verified and verifying other shops, a % of purchase and/or sale value, referrals to other members, and more: https://blog.artisans.coop/blog/how-to-earn-points-through-member-activities/

      6. I stumbled upon you recently while writing my own blog post about artists and creative marketplaces. I myself am not a fan of Etsy and tend to look and go directly to the artists website. So when I saw your recent post on Instagram and looked further I found this membership blog post and couldn’t be more thrilled about the incredible mission you’re on. As someone deeply involved in empowering creatives through Heather Bunker Branding Co, I understand firsthand the challenges artists face in the current market and fully stand behind your mission.

        Your commitment to creating a world without “starving artists” truly resonates with me and is right on point with my business mission. It’s not just about the craft; it’s about providing choices and protection against exploitation, and helping small creative businesses thrive. Your mission statement makes it clear that Artisans Co-op is a beacon of hope for artisans seeking a fair and empowering alternative.

        I am truly dedicated and so passionate about guiding creatives through the intricacies of business and empowering them to thrive not only in business, but at home too—our missions align perfectly. Like me, you’re not only providing a platform but also essential tools, skills, and confidence for artists to flourish.

        I’m genuinely excited to be a part of this community and support a cause that goes beyond commerce—it’s about building a sustainable and worthy lifestyle for creative families. Thank you for taking a stand and providing a platform that truly values the art and the artists behind it.

        Looking forward to supporting you and witnessing the positive impact this collaboration will undoubtedly have on the creative community. Here’s to a future where artists thrive, empowered and supported by platforms like Artisans Co-op.

        Cheers,
        Heather B.

        PS. If you are interested here is a blog post that I wrote about Etsy:
        4 Reasons Why Etsy Sucks For Your Handmade Business >>
        https://www.heatherbunker.com/post/4-reasons-why-etsy-sucks-for-your-handmade-business

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