Etsy Journal

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We Swap: A Place to Trade What You Make for What You Want

by phlaznatch

Aug 5, 2010

Coveting an artist's body of work, but barely making ends meet? Consider the oldest form of commerce, the almighty trade.

Jillian_bio.jpgJillian Moore, a.k.a. phlaznatch, currently maintains a home studio in Iowa City, IA, where she completed her MFA in Jewelry and Metal Arts at the University of Iowa in 2008. Her work combines mixed media techniques with traditional metalsmithing to create sculptural, wearable objects. Her work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally, and she is a regular contributor to the Art Jewelry Forum.

For makers, collecting can be a dangerous addiction. It’s hard to justify buying another artist’s work if you’re barely making ends meet selling your own, and trading can be a great way to solve this problem when you can work out the logistics. The dance between two makers trying to arrange a trade can be many things — thrilling when someone you really admire contacts you for a trade, awkward when someone wants a piece that you’d really prefer to sell, and frustrating if the value of the pieces on the table feel out of balance. I’ve experienced all of the above scenarios, and I’d like to think I’ve navigated alright so far. I’ve come away with some amazing work from artists I really admire, and I’m proud of my fledgling collection.  

For those suffering from anxiety over "losing" merchandise in a trade, try to remember that a piece that finds a good home can become very good advertising. More importantly, you’ll get a piece in exchange that will connect you to another person forever. Of course, if you aren’t into the piece that’s been offered, don’t feel obligated to trade. Brush up on your etiquette and politely decline — or else the piece you end up with will just be a constant reminder of what a milquetoast you were.

Multiple avenues have been created through which to perform a trade. I’ve been part of two group exchanges organized through Flickr. The first was built around the "Secret Santa" model. (For those of you unfamiliar, names are cross-matched so that no one does a one-to-one trade and the person you will receive your "gift" from is a surprise.) I sent my piece to a jewelry maker in Turkey, and I was very lucky to receive a piece from a jeweler I had admired for some time, and the piece I received — a necklace made from disassembled colored pencils, resin, and wood — was amazing.

Unfinished pieces by Liz Steiner, and the transformed results by Jillian

The second exchange was more akin to an exquisite corpse project, though with only one level of removal. Makers selected an unfinished piece from their studio and mailed it to their assigned artist, so each participant received an incomplete item. We all finished the elements in whatever fashion we saw fit, and mailed them back to the original maker. This swap was more challenging, but also more rewarding. I received several unfinished electroformed and enameled elements from Liz Steiner, along with a lovely note. She was familiar with my work and very excited, so the pressure was on! It took me a while to resolve the pieces I was sent, but was glad when they all came together and returned them to Liz. My unfinished piece was sent to Emily Watson, the Swap organizer, and I was thrilled with the result.



Example lisitng from We Swap; earrings by Arina Antonova

It’s true that instigating such an arrangement can be as uncomfortable as a blind date, but now there’s a new site that makes it a little more like speed dating. We Swap was founded by Etsy members Uloni and JuliAni, who began their friendship with a trade after mutual Etsy admiration. They decided there must be other Etsy users and makers out there who would want the same opportunity, so they created We Swap, a universal swap hub for makers of all kinds. Though both founders are based in Hamburg, Germany, the swaps are open to artists around the world. I decided to try out this new site and see what the results were.


Crocheted necklace by Uloni

I chose a brooch I made (pictured at the top) that I thought would make a good swap piece, and followed their listing procedure on the site. Swappers can stipulate what they’re looking for, so I said that I wanted another piece of art jewelry in return. When a piece is listed for a swap, others watching the site can propose what they have on offer with photos of their items. It’s particularly exciting to watch offers rack up, and I can see how the whole process could become addictive. I decided on swapping for a crocheted necklace by Uloni that I just happened to have had my eye on for a couple of months. We both covered the cost of shipping, which isn't too much to ask when you’re getting a covetable piece of work from a maker who lives halfway across the globe!

 I hope the introduction to these forms of swapping will encourage others to try and see what happens.

**Please note: Etsy does not have any formal rules for trading in our marketplace, but we do have some basic guidelines that will help keep both sellers involved in a trade transaction within Etsy's policies. Read them here.

Have you organized any swaps? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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