Promise I won't start every post with "Totally," but it is infectious.Thanks for making your way over here and welcome to the new site! I'm super excited for this new start and I hope you dig around and discover things you love or maybe something new. Some of you may know that I had a lovely Etsy shop. Here's what happened.
This new site launched much faster than anticipated. For the past month I had been tinkering away at this site and occasionally looking it over while I maintained my Etsy shop. Then, my Etsy shop went *poof* and I spent the last six days laboring over this site. There's still quite a bit to do (variations, etc), but it feels really good. So what happened to my Etsy shop? Here's the scoop and I'm tossing in some unsolicited advice for any Etsy shop owners that may read this post. First, some background for context.
My Etsy shop opened in late 2014 and I originally sold greeting cards. Gay greeting cards to be precise. The shop was originally called, Totally Gay Cards. The greeting card idea was just not hitting home with my target. I thought some more and thought about tote bags and possible apparel. I wanted a name that just evoked a good time. No brainer, right? Totally Good Time was born.
In April of 2015, after getting Totally Good Time off the ground, I woke up from a bunch of frantic texts from my friend on the east coast. She was telling me to wake my ass up because Mindy Kaling regrammed my T-shirt that was a homage to her. I freaked out/couldn't breath, checked the shop and saw orders blowing up. I knew then that I could just ride that wave or turn this into a full-fledged shop with lots of fun items and make this my sole career. Keep in mind, I had never screen printed shirts before and honestly, that first batch was kind of awful. I'm sorry to anyone reading this that bought one. But know that it was made with tons of love and by someone that was really trying and truly cared.
At this point, I invested in some great industrial apparel machines and was adding all sorts of decorated apparel listings to the shop. Anything that popped into my head became a garment. I also want to point out that I was still working a dead-end job (that is actually now out of business) and any experience I was using for marketing was from the six years I spent operating my magazine, BRINK. BRINK magazine was about people making things happen and was lot of fun, but it was a ton of work and not enough people cared. That's another story.
As the weeks went on, my little Etsy shop really took off. I was making sales and soon, I left my dead-end job and was only working my Etsy shop. Etsy owners dream of this, I've seen posts on the Etsy message boards. I felt really good. After coming off an awful 2013 and 2014, this was the absolute brightest spot in my life. The something happened. I received a "notice of intellectual property" from Etsy.
Etsy sent a generic email letting me know that they removed a listing from my store because someone had report it. As I continued to read the email there was a mention of who reported the item. It was the TAS Force. Taylor Allison Swift. I had a T Swizzy garment in the shop and it was removed. This happened a few more times throughout the summer. Etsy mentioned that this was a warning and that my selling privileges could be revoked.
As a new shop owner, I honestly had no idea how to find out who trademarked what and which phrases and words I could and couldn't use. I went to the trademark database and was equally confused. I entered the trademark infringement codes that were provided to me by Etsy and nothing would come up.
Over the course of the last 14 months this happened about a dozen times. I sold over 3,500 items in my shop and had all positive reviews (except one, but the buyer was just not cool. Be cool, buyer.). Half the times this happened, I got it, message received. Don't use Beyonce's name - understood. Don't use Taylor's lyrics - got it. Other times, it was complicated because I wanted to know how I could use some celebrity names and not others (i.e. Mindy Kaling). Was it just luck of the draw? Does Mindy Kaling not give af? It's a slippery slope. Finally, there were times it was just plain wrong.
One notice of intellectual property I received was from a car dealership. They flagged my "I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie" top. When I saw this flagged, I immediately thought it would be Sir Mix A Lot, even Nicki Minaj. How does a car dealership flag this item? I followed the provided links to find out why it was flagged and they trademarked the word, " cannot lie." First, is that even possible? Second, ....::eye roll::. Third, the link provided to Etsy doesn't even work.
Now when Etsy said they could revoke selling privileges, I had no idea what this meant. I honestly thought maybe I would be on probation for a week or maybe I just couldn't sell from my shop for a while, but the shop would remain intact. I did reply to Etsy a few times and let them know I contacted individuals who flagged my items inaccurately and it went nowhere. They would respond with "We're not singling you out" and "this decision was not made by us."
Wednesday, May 25th, I was texting with my friend in the afternoon. Suddenly, I blanked and told her, "let me get back to you, something came up." There was the email from Etsy that my shop had been closed. I went to my shop, refreshed the page and the entire thing was wiped out. From that day until today, has been a complete blur. I put every ounce of my energy into getting totallygoodtime.com up and running and ensuring every Etsy order from my shop had been sent. I emailed Etsy three times and received two generic emails back from Danny at Etsy Legal. There is no phone number to call and nothing else provided. They said they would not reconsider their decision and my shop was permanently closed. In my last email to them, I was practically begging to get the shop back. The only thing I can compare it to is if I had a physical shop and someone doused it with gasoline and threw in a match.
The Etsy shop symbolized so much more than items/listings on a page. I developed relationships, put genuine care and effort into the look and had my entire shop revolving around Etsy links. Every link on Twitter is now useless ("Darn! That item doesn't exist. Here are some that are similar." ::insert fellow Etsy vendors ripping off my designs::). Every link on Pinterest and Twitter had to be updated to totallygoodtime.com. Every post a blogger has done now links to a non-existent page. All reviews I received (hundreds) are now gone. Words on a page that lifted me up when I was feeling down never happened.
After making my way to the Etsy report copyright infringement page, I discovered it was very easy to flag a listing. Can you image someone just casually doing this and then the shop owner loses their shop.
With all this said, there are some major lessons to be learned.
Back your shop up daily (if you update constantly like I did). While my orders are intact, every listing is gone. Like totally gone. Every picture, every word is gone. Two days before my shop was closed I downloaded a CSV of my listings to import to the new totallygoodtime.com. Every picture and word was saved when I did this and I honestly can't believe the timing. However, I lost my return policy, about section and all the other details pertaining to my shop including reviews.
If I had not downloaded my listing CSV, you would only see like ten pictures on the new site. You might be thinking, why don't you keep a folder of all your images? I've been taking images with my iPhone and honestly delete as I go unless I happen to back up my iPhone and save the pics to a folder at that point. As one person, I can only do so much.
Have a back up shop. Wow. Lesson learned. Enough said, do not risk it.
If you have a pop culture shop and have names in your listings (Taylor Swift, Disney, etc.) or tags - remove them. It's not worth it. Think outside the box or let people discover the listing organically. I'm not saying go against trademarking, because there were many, many times in which the trademark was not infringed upon, but I still got a notice. Etsy is not looking at your item and judging it. They're sending a note and warning you no matter what the deal. Also, just because you see other people selling a similar item doesn't mean you can too. You could be the one to get in trouble, they just haven't yet. Is it worth it?
Those would be my top tips. Do you have questions? Let me know, maybe I'm blanking on some key points.
As I look back on the past year, I'm grateful for everything I learned and all the wonderful relationships I made with so many of you. With my Etsy shop totally gone, I do feel as though a weight has been lifted. I'm excited to make totallygoodtime.com the best it can be and to really ramp up for the future. I'm loving the new site and confident about the years to come. But first, wine. #onwardandupward
Kyle, TGT Shop Owner