The necklace I wore at my wedding was designed by a Dori, a jewelry-making artisan friend. When I realized that she'd started using Etsy, the ebay of the indie crafts world, to sell her wares, I asked her if she could share tips for offbeat brides looking to shop for wedding supplies while supporting independent artists.
When Ariel asked me to design her wedding necklace in 2004, it was before the days of Etsy. I was maintaining my own online shop — creating, designing, photographing, tweaking, uploading, coding, promoting… To say it was far more work than I wanted was an understatement. I just wanted to make jewelry — my website was a whole 'nother job.
Two years later, I've dropped the maintenance of my own website in lieu of joining a legion of independent designers on Etsy, a website full of handmade, independent goodness. As one of the many Etsy vendors who's thoroughly addicted to their forums, I went digging and found a few shoppers dressing up their wedding days with Etsy.
Most of the wedding shoppers I spoke to agreed that the creativity and variety on Etsy was endless, the willingness of the sellers to accommodate was amazing, and that no matter what your budget, or how strange your centerpiece or caketopper idea might be, someone out there was either already making it or willing to work with you.
Perhaps my favorite comments came from Ben, a Scottish guy planning his civil ceremony for summer 2008 and trying to accommodate a variety of family members and religious traditions.
"It's important for us that our wedding is individual and reflects our personal values. For me, this is democracy in action — I choose to support artists and small businesses rather than buying from big multinationals. I like to know who made the objects I buy. Purchasing from Etsy, you feel like the makers really care about the products. These aren't just cookie-cutter trinkets rattling off a production line — they have soul."
He then went on to describe just what it is he's (very excitedly) planning:
"We have lots of non-Jewish guests and although my future MIL is gay, for many guests this will be their first same-sex wedding. Our ceremony will be unique so we'll be designing the booklets ourselves, so I'm scouting Etsy for illustrators for cover art. And I figure it will be a more meaningful keepsake for people than a bag of candies or whatever."
My only disappointment with the site is that until recently, Etsy had this handy-dandy feature called Alchemy where you could make requests for custom work. Unfortunately, we're all waiting for this feature to come back but until then, sign up with Etsy and head to the forums — post a request and you'll have responses within seconds. Guaranteed.
Etsy has a Weddings category but chances are, you'll be sifting through the same old pearls for days — you'll have far better responses getting those offbeat items with the forums. If it hasn't already been made, it will be.
Tips for finding what you need (and want!) on Etsy
Sign up, look around. There's a feature called "favorites" — my suggestion is that if you see a shop or an item you like, mark it as a favorite, so you'll be able to easily find it again by accessing your "favorites" in your personal profile. You have the option to do this on the lower right side of every shop and item page.
"These aren't just cookie-cutter trinkets rattling off a production line — they have soul."
The forums are busy, busy, busy, and you may get overwhelmed by responses to your posts. You can, however, easily find any responses to your query posts by a link on the upper right of the main forum page — "View Topics You've Posted In".
More than likely, you'll have garnered several responses within minutes of your post — every post by an Etsy member also provides a link to the seller's profile. If you think the seller might be able to help you, head to their profile and click their "contact" link to send them a "conversation" — this is a private conversation, your own personal Etsy inbox, if you will, so you can stay in contact with the seller easily. You will be notified by email when they respond.
A few recommended merchants
Unfortunately, I am nowhere NEAR being a bride, offbeat or otherwise — but I poked through literally hundreds of designers and picked out a few gems. Obviously they reflect my personal tastes, but it's good to start somewhere.
Boygirlparty — Offbeat and quirky designs from this professional illustrator (New York Times and Nickelodeon, among others) have been used as wedding favors and custom-designed recipe cards for a cupcake party bridal shower and a Jamaican-themed wedding, among many others.
Maggie J's Jewelry — extremely affordable, beautiful, and totally handmade sterling silver jewelry by a North Carolina metalsmith.
Vintage Body Spa — Okay, quite frankly it was all I could do to refrain from buying up half this shop — totally luscious and beautifully packaged beauty products for everyone at the wedding from Grandma to the guys (yep, really). You can customize by color, scent, and monograms.
Pink Kitty Designs — custom wedding cards for the "Groom and Groom" weddings, the "Bride and Bride" weddings, the goths and the punks. Ridiculously cute!
SoCal Windy — sexy short vintage-style veils and feathery hair accessories
Cleo Wolfus — mostly not for vegans, many of this Seattle-based designer's beautiful hair combs feature couture ribbon and findings and flowers made of kidskin leather. Perfect stuff for a tribal wedding in the woods.
Piper Ewan — Piper's garters are enough to make you rethink ditching the garter tradition. I've seen her design some of the most incredible and unique wedding dresses around, of a quality that can only be called couture. She is selective in who she works with, but her services products are beyond compare. And you'll know without a doubt NO ONE will be wearing the same dress as you. EVER.
Faerwear (ahem: Ariel's wedding jewelry designer) — Hey, I wrote this thing, so of course I'm going to pimp myself. I am all about one-of-a-kind custom designs, especially if you're looking for something urban, earthy, unique and affordable. That doesn't mean I won't do pearly white, though. I can do that too, and I'll even do matching sets for your bridesmaids.