Photos: Carol Lew
Since it was founded in 2005, Etsy has become the ultimate one-stop shop for people who want to buy unique handmade goods and curated vintage finds. The Brooklyn-based site now boasts 24 million active shoppers who peruse 1.6 million online shops — raking in $2.39 billion in gross merchandise sales in 2015 alone.
In this new feature, we dive deep into our favorite Etsy shops — beyond the product pics and shipping fees! — to meet the talented people who run them and get an inside look at what it’s like to be a part of a cultural phenomenon that’s brought international recognition to even the most obscure of artisans.
Shop: Old World Pet Portraits
Designer: Carol Lew
Location: Washington, Mass.
Opened: July 3, 2012
What she sells: Historically inspired prints and custom paintings of dogs, cats, and other fuzzy critters in classic poses and dignified dress. The John Singer Sargent fan’s pet portrait.
Yahoo Style loves: Cat With a Pearl Earring canvas print ($40 and up), Lord Basil Guinea Pig canvas print ($40 and up), Mister Springer refrigerator magnet ($6).
Carol Lew. (Photo: Carol Lew)
What was your inspiration moment to start the shop?
My primary art business, which I started in 2001, had always been about painting commissioned pet portraits. After I had created a sizable number of animal portraits, I made prints of them and sold them at juried craft shows, mostly as a way to promote commission work. Craft shows just weren’t for me, so I stopped doing them in 2011, but I had a lot of prints that I didn’t know what to do with. I started my Etsy shop as a way to sell those prints. At the time, I figured I’d be lucky to recoup some of the cost I had put into the inventory.
Did you have a moment you thought you might give up?
Actually, no, but maybe that’s because I had such low expectations to begin with. Over the four years I’ve had my shop, I’ve learned so much. It’s not an afterthought anymore, but something I put attention and creativity into. That’s paid off in increased business and happy customers. I’m sure I’ll have days that I’m ready to tear my hair out, but in this stage of my shop’s growth, I’m really excited about the potential. I’m in the process of adding larger print and canvas print options. So far they have been very well received.
Photo: Carol Lew
What’s the weirdest or most memorable customization you’ve ever been asked to do?
I’m in the business of painting animals in historical attire, so one might say that all of my work is a little off the wall! I suppose the most quirky portrait might have been my painting of Frenchie (a male French Bulldog) as Marie Antoinette. In this portrait, Frenchie replaced the subject of a well-known portrait of Antoinette, wearing a powdered wig and corset, and delicately holding a rose. His person opened a California winery in Frenchie’s name, and the image was used in the winery décor and for wine bottle labels.
When have you felt most competitive on Etsy?
Early last year, I put energy into my shop, and I knew it would make a difference in sales. I was right; by the end of the year, my gross revenue had tripled over the previous year. But I feel that right now, I am poised to be more successful than ever. This year I have studied search engine optimization and have a better understanding of how to get more people to my shop. More importantly, I am creating intentional, fabulous product lines that I think people are going to love.
The Old World Pet Portraits studio. (Photo: Carol Lew)
How many products did you sell on your biggest day?
Last year on November 30, I sold 31 items. That was my top day, but I was quite busy the month and a half before Christmas.
Which Etsy shops are you obsessed with?
I love the knitted and crocheted patterns in The Velvet Acorn. The finished pieces all look gorgeous, especially on the adorable girl who models them. And an artist local to me has an Etsy shop — JD Logan Fine Art. There are some lovely, serene tree paintings that I really like there.
Photos: Carol Lew