by Bianca M. Strzalkowski
After decades of struggling to maintain a career around the unique nature of military life, spouses are discovering a new solution: employing themselves.
Entrepreneurship continues to be a growing trend on the homefront as unemployment rates for traditional work remain idle in the double digit range. Despite the increasing number of programs and services committed to the military spouse joblessness issue, many are choosing to become business owners rather than fight to sustain a career around the frequent relocations, family responsibilities, and solo parenting. For those inventive types, Etsy – a global creative commerce platform that connects buyers and sellers, has become an outlet for crafting careers on-the-go. From the US to Okinawa, Japan, Etsy sellers have access to 28.6 million buyers around the world, according to Sarah Marx of Etsy’s Corporate Communications.
Continuous Access to Clientele
Navy wife Tomoko Wilson, owner of The Craft Giraffe, is part of the demographic who launched a business that adapts to her transient lifestyle. Her family has lived in Okinawa, Florida, Greece, and now in mainland Japan. She says it is an ideal outlet for someone who doesn’t want to have to reestablish a clientele with each move. “I started crafting 5 years ago as way of staying busy during my husband’s long absences,” Wilson said. “Etsy has Spouses’ Corner allowed me to expand my customer base, world-wide, while at the same time providing a stable platform for the home business when we move from one duty station to the next. It has been very rewarding to interact with customers from around the world, from as far away as England and Australia.”
She creates products geared toward mothers of young children, military families, and parents looking for teachers’ gifts. She sells the items through a multi-prong strategy online, social media, and locally. Etsy has a search function that allows customers to search by keywords that sellers attach to their products. Wilson explains that much of her inventory is a trial and error process, and other spouses considering a crafting business should consider the following:
- Start-up costs, including the price of any specialized equipment;
- The time commitment for large scale production; and
- Shipping costs.
A Reliable Income Stream
When Taylor Melton was first pregnant, she knew she wanted to stay at home to raise her daughter, but she knew the couple couldn’t rely solely on her husband’s military income. At that same time, they were a two-income family living at Fort Stewart, Georgia and her soldier was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. She always had a knack for creating products and a familiarity of the Etsy marketplace. Then, five years ago she made the leap opening Clover and Birch, which sells artisan toys that she makes by hand.
“I started making stuff for our daughter when I was pregnant with her and people would say ‘oh that’s cute’, so I would make extra products here and there. Children’s products just came really naturally,” Melton said. “I was so passionate about being a new mom and finding organic products and things … I really found that the organic market was not at a price point that was attainable for us, especially as a military family and I really didn’t feel that we should have to sacrifice quality just due to our income. So, I started out making some of those natural products and people were interested in them.”
By the time her husband returned from that deployment, Melton’s shop was flourishing. Now, years later, she’s outgrown her basement operation and transformed a one-woman shop into a warehouse with employees. That business has since provided a constant line of financial support as the couple transitioned to civilian life, a stage often filled with economic uncertainty.
“It was very nerve-wracking, no matter what, but it was nice to know that there was still some sort of income during that transition process,” she said. “And, we didn’t know where we were going to be … and it was nice to just have a business I could pick up and move, and it didn’t really matter where we ended up. Things were still going on in my Etsy shop and we had that little bit of income we could stretch and fall back on.”
Melton has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Management that she says helped her to know a little bit of everything for getting started, but there was still a learning curve in areas like setting prices. She explained that Etsy has forums to help business owners with those unknowns.
She also adds that in her experience choosing something that ignites your interest can breed success.
“I would say, find something that you love and can do passionately, and it’s okay to let that evolve,” Melton said. “I knew I wanted to be in children’s products … but I started off making clothes and hair bows. I just had to find my niche in that market, and so I let it evolve naturally. But, I would also encourage people to stick with it. There’s a lot of growing pains.”
Flexibility for Growing Families
For many military spouses, the continuous relocations make it challenging to maintain a career. Tiffany Miller, as an example, has moved from Florida to California to Massachusetts since 2011. The longtime Coast Guard wife sought a business that was truly portable.
“With Etsy, I can pack up my supplies, turn on vacation mode while we move, and then open the shop back up when we unpack,” Miller, owner of Stuck On A Cloud, said.
The mother of three says that in addition to moving during her husband’s 17-year career, the family’s expansion meant a growing list of extracurricular activities as well.
“It’s really nice to have flexibility with Etsy. I get up and take my kids to school, then work on orders and can pause for after school sports and dinner,” Miller said. “The money I make helps with the extra expenses like our kids’ lacrosse camps and Christmas gifts.”
For crafty military spouse-types, Etsy offers a reputable platform to reach a targeted clientele without geographic boundaries. And, in a way of life that leaves little control over what will happen, spouses have a say over their work schedule, their time-off, and how much or how little income they want to make. As with any entrepreneurial venture, opening a shop is a commitment and research can answer many of those questions for getting started. Still, for those looking to get their products in front of a larger consumer base, Etsy’s features allows military spouses to have an even playing field through buyer-seller interactions. Learn more about starting an Etsy shop at https://www.etsy.com/.