Artisans Cooperative is now accepting its first members! In this post, we’ll share all the details about membership.
Skip ahead to:
- What It Is
- Who It’s For
- Where It’s Happening
- How Much It Costs
- What Is Included
- What Is It For
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
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.
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.
- 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)
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 Artisans||All Artisan Members||Non-Member Artisans||Founding Circle Supporters||All Supporter Members||Non-Member Supporters|
|Sales commission (+ payment processing fees)||6.5% |
(1st two years)
|Access to handmade verification: be “Verified” on Day 1||✅✅✅|
|Special marketing (additional labels, filters, collections, editorial features) during the holiday launch season with enhanced visibility and discoverability||✅✅✅|
|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:
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.
“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.
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:
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.
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.
(1) Poverty by America, Matthew Desmond. Accessed in New York Times Book Review, March 13, 2023.
About Artisans Cooperative
We are crafting an online handmade marketplace for an inclusive network of creatives: a co-op alternative to Etsy.
Join the movement!