What I thought would be a simple search, led by simple search terms (gray cotton tote bag) resulted in many listings to sort through, some suspiciously "handmade". When I use the term "handmade" in front of my significant other, he always reminds me that things in sweatshops are technically "handmade" since they're made by people, too - just not people benefiting from decent labor standards. But "handmade" doesn't say that the people making the item by hand are guaranteed decent labor standards - although it's often implied.
Given the vendors that popped up on Etsy for my bag search at the time, I had to wonder if smaller sweatshop-using businesses had realized the very same thing - that their items were, indeed, "handmade" and they could get away with selling on Etsy, which now has huge selling power. (And the overwhelming job of trying to monitor all of the vendors.) Some of these vendors were based in Thailand or Malaysia, and sold many of the same exact bags, emphasizing their professional construction. I was interested in one of the bags - but doubtful about their labor standards - so I messaged the seller, never to hear back.
Having seen all of these sellers pop up on Etsy, hailing from areas that are usually associated with sweatshop manufacturing, I tried to do some digging around and apparently I'm not the first person to notice and question this. I found this thread over on Etsy itself, asking how to get around non-"handmade" sellers populating every single search you do for clothing or handbags. It's a really fascinating read with the majority of the commenters stating that they've noticed mass market "re-sellers" on Etsy but unless you can prove they are re-selling, Etsy won't do anything about it. It also brings up the question of whether people feel comfortable buying "handmade" items from countries that are known to have poor labor conditions and have no labor standards information in their shop profiles. (Or *cough* won't answer any questions about it.)
I do wonder if your average, every-day Etsy shopper even thinks to question whether the items tagged "handmade" on Etsy actually *are* handmade -- I mean, why WOULD you? Etsy's whole platform is that they sell handmade and vintage ONLY.
Have you noticed mass-producers on Etsy? Do you check out the stores' profiles before you buy? Or do you mainly stick to vintage on Etsy?
At this point I buy both vintage and handmade from Etsy - but I always double-check the shop's profile and message the shop if I'm not sure fair labor standards are in play.
What happened to my bag search? I ended up with a really awesome bag, after all of that, but it took me a long time to find it and dragged me down a manufacturing rabbit-hole I did not expect to fall into. I'm glad I know what I know now and can share it, but it sucks that this is what Etsy has become.