Northern Business and the World of Etsy

As we move further into the digital era, curating an online presence is more significant than ever. Etsy is helping creative individuals in the North of England gain exposure and cultivate success by selling their homemade products, writes editorial intern Lauren Beesting.

Etsy was founded in 2005 and has become a thriving business model, chosen by many for its strong community ideals and unrivaled popularity. Etsy gives crafters and DIYers the chance to sell and distribute their products across the UK and overseas, allowing creative success wherever you are located.

Lauren spoke to Sophie and Kristyna; two Etsy shop owners based in Leeds, about their experience creating and selling products online. 

Sophie Howarth: Owner of SillyLoaf

Sophie Howarth and her SillyLoaf Cactus Scarf

Sophie opened her Etsy store in 2011 when she found herself unfulfilled in her office job. The store started as “extra pocket money for a fun hobby” says Sophie, but she soon realised the costs that would come with opening a store. She never expected the shop to become a full-time business, but it has been an enjoyable experience to flex her creative abilities. She is self-taught in all of her skills and has an abundance of support from her family, especially her partner. Sophie is a one-woman band and designs and produces all of her products. 

How has Etsy helped your business?

Etsy has provided me a lot more income than in the early days. It provides me with an incredible platform to get involved in the community and being part of an Etsy Team has allowed me to communicate with Etsy staff and actually influence how the platform itself runs, which is very rare.

They also have a ready-made audience that loves handmade, loves products with a story and really cares about what goes into the items in their home, and gifts they give to their friends. The opportunity to tap into that is unmissable for me as it’s exactly what my business stands for too.

Was it hard to become popular on Etsy?

I think if you do your research and learn and experiment it can work out really well for you.

What advice would you give to people wanting to start up their own store?

My best advice is to start now. Get involved in everything you can, share your knowledge and learn from everyone you meet. Don’t rely on your friends and family too much because they are not your target customer and trust me there is a customer out there for every weird and wonderful thing you could dream up. Finally, rest, learn, evaluate and change. Never give up.

Statement earrings available on Sophie’s Etsy page

What is your opinion on the stigma surrounding creative success up north?

I do think it’s a common misconception that there isn’t much of anything outside London. There are a lot more people just like you than you think, it’s just that sometimes you have to be the catalyst to bring those people together. Here in Leeds we have some incredible independent shops, a huge collective of artists selling in a shop in the centre of Leeds, lots of creative markets and fairs. If you don’t have them in your area – start one! You can probably find fellow local people hanging out online!

Kristyna Baczynski: Owner of Kriski

Wild Woman Risograph Print by Kristyna

Kristyna grew up in the Pennines of Yorkshire, her family weren’t the most creative of people, but her mother always supported her to work hard and do what she loved. Kristyna moved to Leeds for university and shortly afterwards opened her Etsy store as a side job, selling her illustrations as prints and stationary sets. 

She used the platform as a way to become accessible to her existing customers so they could find her online rather than just at events and fairs. In 2017 she became a full-time Etsy business owner, as she shared “hustle for a decade and your dreams can come true.”

Why did you choose Etsy to create your online store?

I think what encouraged me was a mixture of feeling like it was the next step naturally with selling all these products [at fairs], and then there were people who wanted to follow up and keep track of me through the internet, and then there’s the aspirational aspect what people were doing who were slightly ahead of me and I wanted to get to that place too.


Dream Studio – A3 Screen print by Kristyna

How has the experience been moving online?

Nowadays people are taking social media into their own self-promotion. Whereas when I left university no one was talking about building portfolio websites or running an online shop, and running a business, there wasn’t that focus on products and how you sell them and how you use the internet to establish it. People are so hungry for it because it’s so visible and it works. So, trying to figure out the internet at the early stages was weird, but then also being on the early edge of it I did well on Instagram initially and now I’m a steady account. My Etsy kind of grew at that point in the same way that my online presence did.

Making Things – Risograph Print by Kristyna

Have you ever encountered struggles with living outside of London?

People think moving to London is a badge of legitimacy like ‘ah I’ve made it I’m living in the capital this is where everything is happening’.

But to me I always felt like by not being in London I had way more advantages. I know someone in London who rents a room in a shared house, for the same money I pay to have a flat with my partner who is also a freelancer and we both have an extra bedroom for studio space.

In Leeds we are still connected to a city centre. We can get the train to London in two hours and yet people who live in Greater London’s commute are going on two hours as well and you just think it doesn’t really compare. I think for how much of a premium you pay on everything it isn’t worth it. 

I go down to London all the time, I work with publishers and clients in London. If I am down for a meeting with someone, I will also arrange deliveries to my stockists, and I’ll get a wholesale order for some of my products and I’ll meet about a job.

Sites like Etsy are helping to revolutionise the national success of small business owners, and creatives. No longer are we living in an age where you have to move to the capital in order to make it in life, there are growing opportunities across the country that are allowing women the creative success they’ve always dreamed of, from the comfort of their hometowns. 

A strong community is a huge deal breaker in business, without having that stronghold of support you lose out on potential to grow. Etsy is providing people from across the country with a platform that brings together crafters and creatives, providing individuals with the support and guidance of like-minded and inspiring people. 


Words: Lauren Beesting

You can find both Sophie and Kristyna’s work and creations here: SillyLoaf and Kriski

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Thought Bubble’s Lisa Wood on the comic art industry

Thought Bubble is the largest comic art festival in the UK, taking place across Yorkshire and based for the first time this year in Harrogate convention centre from 4th – 10th November 2019.

This year Thought Bubble will host artists whose work is known and loved all over the world, with guests and exhibitors attending representing Marvel, DC, Black Horse, Image, The Walking Dead, Rick & Morty, Star Wars, Nickelodeon, Netflix, The Guardian, New York Times, and countless more.

Leeds-born and based Lisa Wood founded Thought Bubble to bring artists together, with the festival now moving into its 13th year, celebrating all of Yorkshire with their move to the new North Yorkshire based site. As well as founding Thought Bubble, Lisa is an internationally acclaimed comic book artist, currently working on Scarlet Witch for Marvel and All Star Batman for DC. She also recently received the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award from San Diego Comic Con for her community work with Thought Bubble – all achieved from her rural Yorkshire home. 

Here Lisa tells us of her start in the industry, her motivation for a far-reaching festival, and the future of Thought Bubble.

How did you get your start in the comic art industry?

I’ve always loved art. As a child I used to go to Batley market with my Dad to pick up my weekly comics which I loved getting! That’s definitely where my love of comics came from.

After that I went to Bradford university and studied Art & Design there. I dabbled in some freelance illustration after that, but because it’s so difficult to start a career in freelance illustration, and art generally, I was working other jobs around that time.

I trained as a 35mm projectionist at an art house cinema, alongside that I was working part time in several comic shops. One of those comic shops was Travelling Man, it was there that I decided I wanted to set up Thought Bubble – that was back in 2007. 

The festival is in its 13th year now and it’s just huge! It’s amazing to see it grow and grow each year. Alongside all of that, I started drawing comic books about eight years ago which has become my main profession.

Photo credit: Howie Hill

What was the first comic art project you worked on and what has shaped your style since?

I kind of did a few different ones all at the same time… the first one I ever did was during Thought Bubble: through the festival we set up an anthology and collected stories from our guests, selling the anthologies and donating the profits to the children’s charity, Barnardo’s. I did a short comic book in that with film director Stuart Gordon who is probably most well-known for the film, The Animator. That was published by Image Comics and the first comics work I did.

Very quickly after that I did the cover for Elephant Men as well as about five pages of interiors for Elephant Men #54. That was around the time I set up social media pages and started sharing my work on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter etc. I was posting illustrations up on there and ended up getting work from people like DC from that. That was my first big bit of comics work, working on DC’s Vertigo.

Getting started in Leeds, did you ever find that you had difficulty reaching out to the comic art community?

Not really, while I was working at Travelling Man I was surrounded by a lot of people in the comics industry, a lot of writers and artists. I think we’re quite lucky in the North of England to have a lot of people working for the big American publishers, that’s made it quite easy to speak to people, to find friends, and get them involved.

I think the only drawback we’ve had regionally has been getting publicity for the shows. We’ve found a lot of the press is very London-centric and so they don’t tend to cover things in the North so much. In terms of getting the actual comics industry involved though, that’s been no problem, from the beginning we’ve had so much support!

What was your main motivation for the creation of Thought Bubble and how has that motivation been realised over the years?

When I set up Thought Bubble 13 years ago, the main thing I wanted to do was to use the medium of comic books as a learning tool, to help young people and adults with literacy issues. I wanted to put on free workshops and create a stronger support network for them. 

I struggled with dyslexia growing up and left school unable to read or write properly. My experience of education was quite bad in that regard. The way I really learnt to read and write was through comic books and it showed me what a powerful medium it is and the impact it can have on young people with these problems.

I love to read now but I don’t feel like I’d be able to do that if I didn’t have those comics at the beginning. I really feel comics are a medium in their own right, an incredible medium for adults or anyone to read now. That’s why I set up Thought Bubble, it was that community aspect. That’s also something we’ve been able to grow with support from The Arts Council, The Charlie Adlard Foundation and comiXology.

How will the move from Leeds to Harrogate make the convention more accessible for a wider Yorkshire audience?

It opens up opportunities to more people in rural areas around North Yorkshire, it’s much easier to get to for those people while remaining very easy to get to for people in say Leeds (where we’re still based).

Photo credit: Kendall Whitehouse

The projects you have developed through Thought Bubble have been far-reaching and so inclusive of diverse groups and backgrounds. How would you like to continue supporting people through the festival?

We just want to continue doing what we’ve always done! We’ve put together some more ambitious funding applications to various organisations to help further our outreach work and constantly getting in touch with new organisations and working alongside existing partners. Those existing partners include some really valuable organisations like Leeds Autism services, asylum seekers & refugees organisation and Leeds LGBT organisations.

We work very hard each year to bring as diverse a group of guests as we can, that’s something we’re going to be working very hard on in the next few years.

Which comic character would you say you share the most traits with?

Uhhhhh! That’s a really hard question… Not a comic book character, but one I feel could be adapted very easily is Napoleon Dynamite. I feel more similar to him than any other fictional character I know…

For more information, including a full line-up and to buy tickets, see the Thought Bubble website.