Custom Errything: The Crazy Joy of Being an Etsy Shopper

based on the true story of how I got our Vow + Guest Books + a bunch of other really cool stuff too

I'm actually pretty snobby // mildly classless.  When you come over to my house I will hella name drop the shit out of everything I own.

"That's a custom Mule Mother book"

"That's a custom Rain People jacket"

"That's a handmade Janakai Larson salad bowl"

"That's a blanket my dad brought me from Mexico."

Yeah.  Snobby AF.  

One of the biggest unexpected side effects // joys of recently getting married is my discovering how insanely cool the Etsy community is.  I kind of knew before but now I'm seriously such a massive fan.

Here's the two big things about it-

you get to support local and/or small businesses.

And as a bonus usually due to their size + methods (often handmade) tend to be more sustainable 

You can get anything you ever dreamed of.  

I mean, I'm crafty, but I have my limitations.  I took a book binding class so yeah, I have bound my own book, but you know what?  It's not easy, it's not fast, and it didn't turn out exactly how I wanted it.  You know what though?  There's a whole world of people who hand bind books for a living and you can find them on Etsy.    They can make you that dream book that would take you countless hours, tears and dollars to make yourself.  

Here's the big secret

If you find a maker + ask them nicely to create something with you // give them creative freedom // trust their process // come up with a cool idea 

they. will. just. make. it. for. you.

Or, because, like I said it's a community, if they can't make it, or don't want to make it, they will often recommend someone else who can do it instead.  It's like a feminist // community developing // shopaholic // oddly snobby // very picky person's wild dreams.  

I got so many custom things made for our wedding + I keep ordering more things.  I love the feeling of working with someone to come up with something cool + I love that I get to feel like an artistic collaborator without having to do the hard work.  Most of my feedback from working with people in this way has been really positive and here's what I think the keys to a successful collaboration are.

introduce yourself

I can be pretty business-like and I used to send emails without much personality, but discovered that I often ended up making friends with the makers so adding some personality is good.  Don't write a full essay, but a little intro like-

"Hey, I'm from Vancouver and saw the book you made for Jillian's of Make Merry's wedding + I've been dreaming of having one since then!  I love your work + am getting married in a few months + am hoping that I could place a custom order with you." [as a side note if you're getting married in the Maritimes you should contact the ladies at Make Merry they are the purveyors of dream weddings] 

Describe what you're looking for in DETAIL but trust in the maker's creative expertise

I only ask people who's work I enjoy to make things for me.  This means that I already massively trust their vision + creativity + want to work with them, I don't want them to feel like they are just working for me.  I might send a Pinterest Board that has about 5 pins to it- I don't want to show too many images as I want to give space for their creativity + I often include at least one image of something they already made that I like.  

That being said, make sure you give them what they need to succeed.  If you're really fussy about the font you want used, tell them.  If you want suede + not shiny leather, tell them.  Send photos that show the size + shape of things you're talking about.  It's your custom order + you should be really happy with it, so don't trust it to fate if you there's something super specific you want.  

My experience is that if you explain what you're looking for, explain what pieces are important to you, they will come back to you with a better idea than you could have made up.  And often they are really excited to have thought of it for you.

I ordered a basic Vow Book from Ellen of Mule Mother books, and as a standard she does some basic customization with materials + writing.   I sent her the colour palette we were working with + she sent me lots of photos of different leathers that we could use based on the colours she had that would match what I was looking for.  I asked her tons of questions, and she even downloaded + used our specific font that we used throughout our wedding and it all tied in perfectly.  

I had planned on making my own Guest Book and dyed + embroidered fabric to do just that before I had an I just can't do any more crafting for this wedding epiphany and so I took a leap and asked if I could send her the fabric + she could make it into a book for me.  She didn't even blink before agreeing to do it + it turned out so beautifully.  It's featured on our bookshelf and I'm so wonderfully happy with it.  

"I was wondering if I sent you some fabric if you could turn it into a lovely guest book for me? I hand dyed it and embroidered it, it's a really heavy cotton.  It's not the end of the world if this just isn't feasible, but it might be just so wonderful if it is!"

Pay the artists 

A custom order might cost more than a basic order, but you're getting a unique, one-of-a-kind, no one else in the world will ever have one just like yours item.  You are also getting a dream item that is beyond your skill level.  So with that in mind, make sure you pay people what their time + creativity is worth + allow them to keep in business creating things you love.  Also be aware it might take longer than a standard order too.  My experience is the cost is often not much different, but it's OK to ask in your first email, 

"If you could let me know if that's something you might be interested in making, and what kind of timeline + cost might be involved, that would be so wonderful, thanks!"

And decide from there.  It might be too expensive!  Don't forget there are real people on the other end so it's OK to say something like,

"Thank you so much for getting back to me.  Your work is so valuable and I love watching what you create.  Unfortunately my dreamy custom order is a little too expensive for right now, but I'll get back in touch at a later date for something else I'm sure of it!"

Don't worry if they don't want to make it

Not everyone has time or the resources or desire to make custom orders.  I was always worried about this + it didn't occur to me until recently you could just ask people for what you wanted.  But sometimes I got a no and that's totally ok.  Just try someone else.  

Thank them + get excited

I love learning about people's creative processes // seeing how + what they do.  Likewise makers love to see people loving their things.  I make sure to send a note saying when things have arrived + might send a photo.  I feel crazy guilty about this, but I haven't written a review on Etsy,  but my actual excuse is I didn't realize you only have about a month after the order is closed to write the review.  I will next time! (And you should too!)  Promoting your favourite maker's work is usually really helpful to small businesses or at the very least is appreciated.

Maybe don't actually customize everything

Suddenly the whole world feels available.  But just because you can, doesn't mean you should.  Don't forget to buy some of their ready-made items too, it's what keeps them going on a daily basis.  Keep your custom orders in mind for special occasions (like your dad's retirement), or if you're looking for something crazy specific (like if your nephew wants a mask to look exactly like HIS dog), or you have something wonderful that you want transformed (like a piece of your grandma's wedding dress you want made into glass covered coasters.) For a standard birthday maybe order the already made tote bag instead. But for those special cases, custom orders might be a super wonderful fun project for you + your maker.

Happy Collaborating!