Seller Handbook

Advice and inspiration for successfully running your Etsy shop

Expand Your Product Line With a Collaboration

Introduce new items to your shop by collaborating with other Etsy shop owners on products that highlight each maker's unique talents.

By Taylor Combs Feb 5, 2015
Photo by Amelie Legault

Your mind might be bursting with new product ideas, but finding the resources and time to make them a reality can be a hurdle for many business owners. If you’re ready to introduce new products to your line, consider collaborating with another creative business owner on a new product that highlights each of your unique talents. By doing so, you'll be able to expand your shop offerings and form meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships with other creative entrepreneurs.

Angie Johnson, the fashion designer behind Norwegian Wood, added lush bags to her seasonal collections by teaming up with Kimberly Fletcher, a designer and leather worker, after meeting at a local craft show in Montreal, Quebec. They saw their first collaboration, for Norwegian Wood’s Fall 2012 collection, as a way to gauge consumer interest in their new product. At a price of almost $300, would it appeal to customers? The bag, which was trimmed with leather and antique brass hardware and featured a paint-by-number-inspired print, was a hit. “The first hour we put the bag on Etsy it was selling and selling,” Kimberly says. “We are still selling that first bag because people are buying it for spring, summer and winter.” That single collaboration has spawned a series of projects; Kimberly has created a bag to complement each of Angie’s collections since then.

Kimberly Fletcher's leatherwork combined with Angie Johnson's clothing and fabric designs result in lushly textured, high-quality handbags.

For Kimberly and Angie, a great working relationship has been key to the longevity of their joint effort. “It’s fun. Kimberly is super positive and really nice to be around,” Angie says. “Every time we have a meeting, I get really pumped up about the collection.” Before their first collaboration, they met to decide what percentage of the profits they would each receive and who would be responsible for what part of the design, production and fulfillment process.

Now, when they start working on a new bag, Kimberly visits Angie’s studio to check out the fabrics and inspiration for Norwegian Wood's latest collection. “I start drawing beside her and Angie explains to me what she likes and doesn’t,” Kimberly explains.  Kimberly produces each bag in her studio and Angie designs the fabric, photographs the finished bag and ships orders to customers. They both list the bags alongside their own creations in their respective Etsy shops. Collaborating has benefited both of their businesses. Handbags add a finishing touch to Angie’s fashion line and both brands gain exposure to new audiences.

The popular Bambi bag, featuring Kimberly's leatherwork and craftsmanship and '70s inspired fabric designed by Angie, continues to be a top seller for both shops.

Finding a collaborator within driving distance makes in-person brainstorming sessions and delivery of finished goods easier, but a global collaboration can still be successful. Laurel and Ash Hilton of Ash Hilton Jewelry in Nelson, New Zealand connected with their Austin, Texas-based collaborator Leah Duncan through an Etsy Convo. Laurel, who handles the business side of the shop, was an admirer of Leah’s pattern work. Leah’s nature-inspired illustrations also complemented the themes in Ash’s hand-engraved jewelry and her bold line style was suited to the technique.

Still, Laurel was hesitant to approach her. “She’s kind of a rock star,” Laurel says. But, when she did, Leah seized the opportunity to expand her line into jewelry, a first for her brand. “Collaborations are a good way to try something new,” Leah says. “It gets you out of your comfort zone as a designer.” Adds Ash:  “Put yourself out there if there’s someone whose work you admire. Send them an email. Who knows what will come of it?”

The clean lines of Leah Duncan's illustrations complement the nature motifs in Ash Hilton's jewelry — making for a seamless collaboration.

Leah and Laurel worked out a licensing agreement that would allow Ash to sell jewelry featuring Leah’s designs for two years. In exchange, Leah received samples of the two pendant designs and three cuff designs, which she could then sell in her shop. Laurel recommends having your accountant, lawyer or an unbiased third-party, look over any agreement you enter into to make sure the arrangement is fair.

Once the details were worked out, collaborating across continents was easy. Leah first sketched the designs by hand, then mocked them up in Photoshop on photos of Ash's jewelry. Ash then took Leah’s designs and engraved them onto pieces of brass. “Working with brass was kind of a new thing — the way the metal feels when you carve it,” Ash says. "But the designs Leah came up with really suited our process.”

Laurel and Leah also worked together on a promotional plan for the collection and each reached out to bloggers and press about the new collaboration. They played to their strengths by sharing photography responsibilities: Laurel and Ash shot the jewelry on white backgrounds while Leah styled and photographed the pieces on models.

Leah Duncan has licensed her illustrations to large companies, but working with a small maker like Ash Hilton on a jewelry line allowed for more creative freedom.

For both sets of collaborators, making sure that buyers know who has done what is of utmost importance. Because Leah doesn’t engrave the jewelry herself, she lists Ash as a manufacturer on her shop’s About page. Both Leah and Ash use similar language in their listing descriptions that clearly states that Leah designed the art for the pieces, but they're produced by Ash.

Angie includes both Kimberly and the Montreal-based company that digitally prints her fabrics  as manufacturers on her bag listings and About page. After all, being transparent doesn't only build trust with buyers, it’s also a marketing opportunity that allows loyal fans of one brand to discover another.

Check out Etsy’s Handmade Policy and Seller Guidelines for more information on working with outside manufacturing help. Learn more about applying for Outside Manufacturing assistance in this Help Article. If you're already using outside production help, go here to share some information about your partnership with us.

What kind of new product would you add to your shop through collaboration? Let us know in the comments below.


Taylor Combs

Taylor Combs is a writer and editor for Etsy's Seller Handbook.


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