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Handmade items selling well for the holidays

Monday, December 14, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Rhiannon Clemons sits for a portrait alongside her hand-crafted jewelry Tuesday at her house. Clemons makes necklaces, bracelets and earrings to sell on Etsy, a Web site that allows the people to buy and sell hand-made items including spice kits, jewelry and clothing.

COLUMBIA — Rhiannon Clemons, 30, began selling handmade jewelry on the popular online marketplace Etsy in October.

Etsy is the creative version of eBay. The site sells handcrafted items made and sold by artists worldwide.

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Clemons — RhiannonCollection on Etsy — has been fashioning her own designs for five years, but she only began selling the pieces six months ago.

“It’s something I design with that person’s interest in mind," she said. “It means so much more when you’re giving a handcrafted gift.”

Handmade items are becoming hotter sells this holiday season. With the economy still stumbling, more consumers seem to be choosing to make or buy handcrafted gifts over manufactured items. There's also a growing commitment to sustainable practices, though there also might be a perception that handmade products are expensive.

Still, Etsy is expected to double its sales from last year as gross sales reached $130 million by the end of October. This is up from $88 million overall in 2008 and $26 million from 2007.

“I think a lot has to do with the economy and people are putting meaning behind gifts,” Clemons said.  

Etsy sells thousands of items, including soap, jewelry, candles, needlecraft, furniture, pottery, pillows, toys, glassware and even art supplies. There's a necklace made out of recycled skateboard ($28 from Sevenply), for example, a set of earrings made of mice jawbones ($13 from Abysmal) and another necklace featuring over 500 hand-selected, rare Namibian stones ($787 from CoryellDesign).

Laura Mackey, 40, of Columbia has been a devoted buyer on Etsy for the last two years and said she did half her Christmas shopping on the site.

"I've never had a problem with a seller. Not one," she said. "I'm thrilled with them."

Mackey negotiated with an artist in Britain to make two custom oil paintings for her family and have them ready by Christmas.

"The work is not something you find at the mall," she said. "It's not something that can be found on every counter and shelf."

In the same way, people have decided to make handcrafted gifts for friends and family this year.

Charlotte Hurd of Columbia has been making her own Christmas gifts for more than 40 years and said she finds the creativity that goes into it calming.

This year Hurd is making Christmas tree and wreath pins from kits found at Michael's for her family and friends. While she believes it is the economical choice for gift-giving, she does it for the fun as it "taps into her creativeness."

"It makes it one of a kind," she said. "It is something no one else would do. It's from your heart to theirs."

Artists like Clemons, however, can't count on their crafts to provide full-time income.

Born and raised in Columbia, she works as the language arts assistant for Columbia Public Schools at the Vandiver location. She devotes her evenings and weekends to art.

Although she's always had an interest in design, she said she never figured she would be making jewelry.

It clicked in her mind when a friend of Clemons fixed a piece of broken jewelry for her. She then taught herself to make her own pieces.

She finds her ideas for new pieces from jewelry she sees on others. She then jots the design down and gets to it when time permits.

Clemons once stopped a stranger wearing an attractive necklace and found it had cost the woman $40 at a well-known retailer. She went home and found the materials to make an identical piece for less than $15.

In this same way, she will often wear her own jewelry to provoke interest in her pieces.

Friends who have purchased her items carry Clemons’ business cards to share if they get compliments about the jewelry.

“With handcrafted items that’s the big thing,” she said. “You’re doing it from your home or a shop, so you need to get the word out there.”

She participated in her first craft show Friday at the Relay for Life Craft Fair, sponsored by Missouri Cancer Associates

Earrings take up a bulk of her collection right now, as they are easily completed.

On her dining table, a small black display holds an array of dangling earrings, ranging from a delicate turquoise stone pair with a paisley design to a shimmery rectangle-shaped set with a black-and-white zebra print.

She does have personal favorites. Right now she likes long dangling necklaces, though she likes to “stay with what’s popular.”

The local art gallery Blue Stem on Ninth Street specializes in locally produced pieces made from clay, glass, metal and fiber. The shop sells pottery, jewelry, metal pieces, hangings, mosaics and stained glass, among other items.

Sales have not markedly increased, but Blue Stem is seeing good response for the holiday season thus far, said Laura Bullion, one of the store's five partners.

Blue Stem showcases items from approximately 300 artists, from both Missouri and eight neighboring states. Original works from regional artists are big reasons for its success, Bullion said.

People are searching for something that is different, something that is well-made and is going to last,” she said.

“Most of those things cannot be duplicated completely. You will never get a replicate.”


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