Pinkwashing

Oh for f#%ks sake ETSY!

UPDATE: The seller of the cell phone cover IS donating to SGK for every product sold, but failed to mention it on her site. I changed her status in my post.

This past weekend, Todd took me to Chicago for my 45th birthday. It was to be a weekend away from work, politics and most importantly, cancer. I mean, we both knew that making moments together and having fun together is becoming ever more important, especially during my chemo break. Of course, we couldn’t avoid it entirely, thanks to the pink ribbons stuck on every parking kiosk (though one had been brilliantly defaced with a statement about pinkwashing and a reminder to “think before you pink”) but for the most part we were able to concentrate on just being together.

The morning of my birthday I checked my email. Amongst the plethora of adverts was an email from etsy titled “Tickled Pink.” Now, I’m not an unqualified fan of etsy*, and last year I wrote them a letter about pinkwashing by their sellers, but this email was pretty freaking egregious. It was assembled by Nicole Smith, part of etsy’s marketing and merchandizing team.

What essentially happens is that etsy showcases items offered by sellers without any concern for pinkwashing. For example, the seller of the little ceramic houses donates the entire sale price to the Canadian Cancer Foundation (Yay!) while the pink mug for “mom” is suggested as a good gift for breast cancer awareness month (no donation.)

Strappy bra, bcam never even mentioned, no donation. Needle felted fluff balls, not bcam, no donation. Cherry blossom eye mask, no bcam, no donation. Deer head, ditto. Breast Cancer Support garland, BCAM theme, no donation. Tote bag, no bcam, no donation. Beaded BC awareness wreath, BCAM theme, seller’s donations  to local ACS chapter (no amount designation for product,) Embroidered cuff, BCAM, 70% of purchase price to ACS Project Embrace. Painted Tom’s shoes, BCAM, $5 per purchase goes to “breast cancer research.”

This is fun! Let’s keep playing!


Pink Ribbon cupcake picks, BCAM, no donation. Pink dog collar, cancer awareness, 10% of all sales to canine cancer research. Pink knitted sheep, BCAM, 15% to NBCF. National Breast Cancer Awareness Month Hoodie, BCAM, 35% to SGK. Pink ribbon quilt, BCAM, “A portion of the proceeds of the sale of this quilt will be given to the cause of your choice.” i.e “I’ll donate something to something if you ask me to.”

Let’s read on…

Breast Cancer Awareness Boobie Baby Hat, BCAM, seller claims they will make no $ from the hats. Vermeil Breast Cancer Awareness Silk Wrap Bracelet, BCAM, donating 25% to BCRF only during the month of October, she sells this without a donation for the rest of the year (also sells AIDS awareness, Eco awareness and Support Our Troops versions with no donations.) Ribbon hat, BCMA, proceeds to friends SGK walk team. Three “I ♥ Boobies” pencils, no BCAM, no donation. “Save the Ta-Tas” peep-toe pumps, BCAM, no donation. Personalized iPhone 4 Case Breast Cancer Awareness Ribbon, BCAM, no donation donation to SGK. Personalized Pink Ribbon Bracelet, BCAM, no donation. Survivor necklace, BCAM, no donation. Aluminium Fight Like a Girl cuff, BCAM, no donation.

After all these objects, the remainder of email just shows pink shit that you can buy that has no connection to BCAM. Pink clothing, different shades of pink, pink decorator objects and the like. What. The. Fuck? Etsy’s lack of ethics and oversight is bad enough. The fact that the majority of sellers are craven opportunists profiting off of our disease with cheap “handmade” crap is bad enough. But the fact that fuckwits like little miss Nichole actually promote these people as part of a fun, happy “Tickeled Pink” marketing email is beyond infuriating.

I told myself at the beginning that I wasn’t going to provide links to the sellers, but this is too awful to go without a response. The email can be found here with links to all the sellers as well as to Nicole Smith herself.

*Unlike the brilliant and vulgar Regretsy

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38 thoughts on “Oh for f#%ks sake ETSY!

  1. I find this really disgusting… I very much hope Etsy reconsiders their approach to marketing pink products based on your post and that Ms. Smith takes the time to consider this more deeply (she clearly gave the theme less than 30-second’s thought)

    I’m curious to know if they responded in any way to your previous e-mail about pinkwashing?

    • Not a peep. I understand that it would be difficult to police every seller offering BCAM items, but they could at least vet the ones they promote.

      But etsy pretty much ignores any criticism.

  2. I agree with Jane. I’m actually at a loss as to how to respond, because I’m so angry about this.

    I too would love to know if there has been any response from etsy to this post, and your previous emails to them about pinkwashing.

    I linked this post on twitter and pinterest, and a few people commented there. To me, there are two main points highlighted in this discussion I had on Pinterest:

    1) This is blatant opportunistic and exploitative marketing on etsy’s part. Cancer is here used as a marketing ‘tool’ to sell ‘pink decor’ that has nothing to do with actually raising cancer awareness or contributing money to cancer institutions and research – it’s just an avenue to sell more stuff. I find it disgusting that etsy would use the issue of cancer awareness to try and push ‘pink-themed’ wares, as if a devastating disease is a design decor or a ‘style’. Have we lost all sense of empathy and sensitivity in this online haze of superficial ‘style inspiration’ and colour-theming? Some things should be sacred, and should not be allowed to be turned into yet another avenue to admire pretty things and sell more shit to people.

    2) If a company or a business is going to promote anything in relation to cancer awareness, they have a moral and ethical responsibility to only showcase products and sellers who clearly donate to cancer institutions or research – and who state clearly how much will be donated and to where this money will specifically go. Otherwise, it’s exploitation of people’s suffering and a disease in the name of consumerism.

    I’m still new to this subject of pinkwashing though, and I’m starting to realise how much I don’t know and how much it has been turned into an industry rather than a way to ethically raise funds and discussion about cancer awareness.

    Please listen up etsy and actually do something!

    • Jane and I got a lackluster response from Nichole Smith (@smithnikki) where she thanked us for our “feedback on how to I prove and grow.” That was it.

      There’s a movie that just came out on DVD titled, Pink, Inc. that does a great job presenting the controversy.

      • Actions speak louder than words. I’d like to see etsy actually do something. “feedback on how to I prove and grow” sounds like marketing-speak to me.

        Thanks for the DVD recommendation, I’ll google it.

      • For what it’s worth, I dedicated my Friday post to this topic. I’m angry about it, especially at their glibness in responding (or not) to you. I know they can’t police their sellers, but I agree they can be selective in their marketing materials. They can also think about themselves making a contribution considering they profit from every transaction.

    • There is no real surprise here at all frankly Hila. Etsy frequently has questionable to exploitative marketing practices that show little to no moral judgement or oversight . Some of their marketing is blatantly exploitative and they frequently promote non hand made goods. Etsy quite frankly is the internet place for all things questionable especially profiting from disease and death and copyright violations.
      Certainly etsy could choose to show some class and moral judgement, but that might mean having to take the time to be selective and thoughtful. It might mean vetting featured sellers, which they do not do. over all if they made a moral choice i believe they fear it might harm their bottom line. hail the almighty dollar.

  3. I’m also really disappointed (but sadly maybe not that surprised) that people actually want to buy these things that they wear to “advertise” their awareness but that give nothing whatsoever to the cause. Thanks for bringing this to my attention (via Jane Flanagan’s link to your post), I don’t think I realized what a bad situation this was.

  4. Acacia, thank you so much for creating awareness of people who take advantage of a serious issue! I will definitely pay closer attention because of you, and Jane who pointed me your way, as well as educating as many others as I possibly can. I wish you the best of luck in your personal fight, Rachael

  5. Acacia, I’m with you on this. As someone whose career is dedicated to evaluating nonprofits, it’s pretty terrible when a corporation uses a charitable cause as a marketing ploy (don’t even get me started on TOMs). Thank you for bringing this particular instance to my attention and I would have thought etsy would be more responsible

  6. Acacia, my heart goes out to you. Thank you for writing this post. It’s a topic close to my heart, as an Etsy seller who actually used the sale of my items to support my mother who battled metastatic breast cancer until she passed away in January (after a 14 year struggle) – WITHOUT putting a f*cking pink ribbon on any of my items! – this is a travesty. I haven’t sold any items in awhile and was debating about whether to close my shop (because of time and motivation) and this information just made that decision really easy. I am so done with Etsy.

    Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you. I hope, in spite of everything, that you had a wonderful birthday. Goodness knows they’re increasingly hard to come by.

  7. This is disgusting. Really classy, etsy, not only not discouraging, but veritably encouraging racketeering by sellers. Is there anything you think we can do (other than boycott those sellers), since etsy clearly seems to not give a damn?

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  12. Nothing in that email said that the proceeds would go to support Breast Cancer Awareness Organizations and no one is forcing you to buy that “cheap “handmade” crap” unless you find it in some way appealing or have a friend that for some reason finds strength in things ‘pink’ while she is fighting her battle. I personally don’t get the ‘pink’ obsession, but I also am willing to see other people’s opinions as at least valid and not resort to cheap name calling. As long as people keep buying it, it will keep getting sold with or without Etsy’s promotion. And how can you assume that “fuckwits like little miss Nichole” don’t have just as deep a connection to Breast Cancer as you do and see it in a different light?

    • No, the email did not say that money would be going to charity. But when people use my disease to make money I have a problem with it and I believe that if etsy is going to promote sellers making prink ribbon products, they should at the very least select those who claim to donate a portion of the sale to some breast cancer charity.

      In this case I don’t believe that cravenly selling items relating to breast cancer “awareness” is a tolerable position. And since this is my blog, I will resort to “cheap name calling,” when Miss Smith’s response to complaints about the email is to say “I appreciate the chance to learn and grow.” This is a very emotional issue for me because as we speak (or I write,) I am dying from metastatic breast cancer. Anyone who would put together an email like “Tickled Pink” is an insensitive fuckwit.

      If she had a real connection to cancer, she couldn’t have done this. If you watch a loved one go through chemotherapy, mastectomies and radiation, breast cancer doesn’t “tickle.” If someone going through treatment or as a survivor finds comfort in pink, wouldn’t she feel better if that pink contributed to saving the lives of people like her?

      Phanie, I appreciate your coming here and voicing an opposing position, but you cannot shame me for fighting pinkwashing with every weapon at my disposal, including name calling.

      • With all due respect ACACIA, I must say that I agree with PHANIE on this one. While the “tickled pink” email was in very bad taste, people DO have the right to sell items and use the pink ribbon to promote breast cancer awareness without making a donation to any charity, as long as they are VERY clear that the items they sell are NOT donating any proceeds. Awareness & support for breast cancer is just as important as donations, and frankly if people don’t like it, nobody is forcing them to buy anything. I also agree that this is your blog & you have every right to say what you want or call people names, and that you are probably angry about a lot of things. I am truly sorry for what you are going through, but keep in mind this is not just your disease, it belongs to far too many poeple out there. I have had several family members who have fought and are currently fighting breast cancer, and I have lost family members to other types of cancer. I can’t say I know what you’re going through, but I do know it just plain sucks. All that being said, I do plan to make & sell a few cancer support items in my store (not on Etsy) to help increase awareness & support, I will not be donating any proceeds because frankly I can’t afford to (I will be very clear on that and will let people know where they can donate), I also have no intentions of charging any more than I do for all my other signs. I wish you all the best & feel free to throw some name calling my way if you need to, I’m a big girl and can take it:) That was not meant disrespectfully by the way.

      • It makes sense that you agree, since you will be pink washing in your own store. No, breast cancer is not just my disease, but It is killing me so I feel the right to take a bit of ownership.

        If you are interested in awareness, might I suggest that you focus on under served communities including women of color? African American women statistically have more aggressive cancers (triple negative like mine) and worse outcomes. There are campaigns to remind women in these communities to do self exams and get mammograms. oh, wait…you can’t afford to. But you still can profit from breast cancer and feel good about yourself for supporting awareness.

        I’m sure disagreeing with my choice of language and thinking me unfair makes you feel better about profiting from breast cancer. But, to be fair, at least you are honest about it, which is more than I can say about etsy.

        Good luck to you.

      • i think MH is under the impression pink is a magical color that = awareness or research. the magical fairy of pink follows all pink items to be sure everyone knows you should be aware of breast cancer. any useless ink fob magically helps spread awareness even though it helps spread no information or ways to help women what so ever. because you know wearing some stupid pink plastic thing means you are more aware instantly.

        “I do plan to make & sell a few cancer support items in my store (not on Etsy) to help increase awareness & support, I will not be donating any proceeds” so back to the real world… how the hell does selling a widget thats pink and saying its for awareness and support, then doing NOTHING to contribute, have any benefit? other than personal profiting of course. i am oh so curious.

      • And by that I of course mean the comments by MH and Phanie, not Amanda (who I agree with). Gee, I didn’t know that we lived in a magical world where consumerism fixes cancer through ‘awareness’, rather than actual donations to research and patients. And not that she needs me to stick up for her, as she’s more than capable of speaking her own mind, but Acacia has a right to be as freaking rude as she likes about something that many people find distasteful, exploitative and horrible.

  13. I’m just learning about this now. Disgusting and typical. . . but I wouldn’t blame individual sellers who don’t even claim a tie to breast cancer awareness. Etsy can feature any item it likes in their “Treasury” lists, so an individual seller who just happens to be selling a pink mug can be plucked by Etsy staff (or one of many Etsy members who put these things together in their spare time) to be included.

    • I don’t blame the sellers that just happen to sell something pink at all. Nicole Smith is a member of etsy’s marketing staff.

  14. I find a lot of etsy’s practices sketch but this is pretty bad. Rather than buying any of this crap I hope people will just donate money directly to a good charity or foundation for breast cancer research.

  15. Amanda and Hila, thank you for supporting me on this. Phanie and MH seem bent on painting me as a mean-girl to make themselves feel better about what they are doing (though I don’t know if Phanie is a pinkwashing seller, but MH admitted that she is.) I makes me sad and tired.

    • ACACIA, I never said or thought that you’re a mean-girl. I think you have every right to voice whatever complaint you want & I take nop offence what so ever about your choice of language on the matter. I was just explaining my point of view, and by the way, I greatly appreciate the fact that you allow poeple to post opposing views on your page. I in no way meant to be disrespectful to you or anyone else fighting this battle, and if that’s how it appeared, sorry about that. The problem with this type of communication is the lack of hearing the tone in someones voice, and things can easily be taken the wrong way. But I will say for the record, NOTHING makes me feel good about cancer and I have no intentions of “pinkwashing” my store. When I said a few items I meant like 5 and I didn’t say they would all be for breast cancer (I also don’t make much of a profit on anything I sell, if any, in this economy). Awareness is very important & so is research. I sell all kinds of signs in my store (non-cancer by the way) and I just thought it would be nice to give people an opportunity to purchase one to show their support to a loved one. I have no intention of deceiving anyone and jack up the price or “claim” that I will be donating to any cause. Now all that being said, I do have a question that you may be able to answer for me. I know that there are a lot of breast cancer charities out there, but I was wondering if there were some that you would recommend that spend a high percent of donations to actual research? I also was not aware about the statistics you mentioned in the African American communities and was interested in knowing if there is any particular organization that addresses this. While I may not be in a financial situation to donate right now, I would like to be able to get the right info out to people who might be able to. Thanks

      • MH, when I first read your most recent comment, I started compiling a list of charities for you, but I think it is more important that you really understand what selling pink ribbon products without doing anything to help those who are suffering actually does to many people confronting cancer.

        When I was diagnosed with cancer the first time in 2009, it was in August, and my surgery was in September. I had a lumpectomy and was told I was “lucky.” But when I saw the hideous gash across my breast I lost it. I was mutilated and hurt and all I had to look forward to was chemotherapy. I started treatment in October, when it seemed like the entire world turned pink and happy. I was supposed to be positive and up for the fight and I just felt ugly and sick and scared. Everywhere I turned it was breast cancer, breast cancer, breast cancer. I hated it. Over time I noticed that a lot of the pink ribbon stuff was being sold, but most of it didn’t say anything about donating to any charity to help patients or find a cure. I became very cynical and angry about the ribbon. I live in Susan Komen’s home town (her grave is a landmark) so SGK is everywhere, and with a little research I learned that only about 20% of the money they raised went to research, so I anti-Komen from early on. I could handle products that actually helped people with cancer, by donating to research or services to make patients’ lives easier.

        17 months after ending treatment, my breast cancer metastasized into my lungs and bones and I learned that I was terminally ill. This October, the ribbons are everywhere again, but I can’t even pretend they have anything to do with me. Early detection, “awareness,” and survivors are only stark reminders that I am in the shadows in the breast cancer community. The pretty ribbons, “save the ta-tas,” and awareness campaigns hurt deeply because they don’t address the reality of breast cancer. It kills women and men every year. The number deaths from breast cancer has changed very little in the past 20 years. That is what the ribbon ignores.

        When people sell BCAM products while doing nothing to fight breast cancer (including just giving information where people can donate,) you are profiting from the disease that is killing me. You are profiting from a disease that kills wives, mothers, sisters and daughters. While I was angry with you after your first comment to my post, now it just breaks my heart that you won’t even try to understand what you are doing and are going out of your way to justify it. You just can’t.

        Bethany Suckrow wrote an amazing post on her blog about the etsy controversy and how it effected her as a daughter who lost her mother to MBC earlier this year. http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/problem-with-pink/ Please read it.

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  17. Hello. I came across your blog today as my iPhone case on Etsy is mentioned here.

    As a cancer patient myself, I donate monthly to a cancer association. The funds that I earn to support my family and charitable causes come only from Etsy. I pay dearly each month for insurance to help treat my cancer and subsequent treatments. I actually began my other Etsy store due to my cancer diagnosis.

    I don’t share this in this Etsy store. I don’t think I need to either.

    However, on the other hand, I do understand the frustration that you feel about this topic. I have modified my listing to reflect that I will be donation a portion of my net proceeds to Susan G. Komen for the Cure®. I have definitely not meant to offend nor make anyone angry.

    • Dee, you don’t need to share your personal story at all, but considering all the issues behind selling the pink ribbon, letting your customers know that you are contributing to research (and perhaps the care of a local cancer patient) simply lets people know that your products aren’t a craven effort to capitalize on breast cancer.

      I understand and respect your not wanting to publicize your private health issues, and you have not offended or made me angry. My anger is with etsy promoting sellers during BCAM without vetting them enough to know if their sales contribute to the cause in any way. Even donations to other cancers while using the ribbon are great (I thought the pink dog collar donating to canine cancers was sweet.)

      I believe that letting people know that a donation comes out of their project will only increase your sales, and I will happily change your product’s status in my post.

      Good luck Dee.

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