When Etsy in May put out the call for product entries for its inaugural Etsy Design Award, it knew the response would be enthusiastic. The 20,000 submissions it received from sellers around the world was even more than it imagined, an embarrassment of creative riches.
The judges — style professionals and tastemakers, including writer and actor Dan Levy, style expert Joe Zee, author and artist Garance Doré, interior designer Sophie Robinson, decor expert Holly Becker, fashion designer Anavila Misra, and Dayna Isom Johnson, Etsy trend expert — had their work cut out for them, and sifted through thousands of items, most of them made by hand.
“Some of the stuff I was so blown away by,” Zee said. “I thought, ‘I don’t need to see another hat.’ Then you see this incredible cylinder. I thought, ‘If this hat doesn’t end up on Megan Markle’s head…’ The beauty of the contest was seeing the level of talent.
“We all approached it from a very personal perspective,” Zee said. “What’s so great about this contest is that we all have strong sensibilities and strong opinions. I went into the contest having a completely open mind. Then, something just grabs you in an emotional way and speaks to you on such an emotional level.”
Doré agreed, saying, “It’s really important to see how much emotion the product will bring. You’re helping and promoting all of these creators. It’s not as if you’re judging a product, you’re judging an individual. You feel very sensitive about the work. The selection was beautiful, the work was very consistent. Identifying the talents of tomorrow made a lot of sense.”
The winning products are offbeat and unexpected. Sien Zeng, a graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins, captured the grand price of $15,000 for her magnetic wallpaper with hand-drawn fairy-tale-inspired illustrations of dinosaurs. Featured at the school’s degree show for graduating students, the wallpaper caught the eye of bloggers. “A year and a half later, the actress Hilary Duff placed a very large order and I put the magnetic wallpaper into production,” Zeng said. “She used it for her son’s room.”
Zeng said she’ll put the cash toward producing more collections. “I have tons of ideas,” she said, adding that her next pattern was inspired by swimming in Croatia. “I saw what it would be like if I were small and the fish were big,” she said.
Texas-based Molly Goodall captured the signature style award for her whimsical Rainbow Dreamer coat for girls made from pale blue wool felt and appliquéd with rainbows. Butterflies are hand-sewn on the front, back and sleeves of each coat, which has a faux fur collar and epaulets.
Goodall started designing children’s wear when her son was two years old and refused to wear a coat outside. Because he was prone to ear infections, the New School’s Parsons School of Design graduate created a coat with a lion’s mane hood that became a favorite with her son and a bestseller of her company, Little Goodall.
“I’m launching the Rainbow Dreamer coat in a black version for women,” Goodall said, who created styles for the 50th anniversary of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and has an upcoming licensed collaboration with Paddington.
The makers of the earth-friendly award winner for interchangeable slide sandals, Vicky Moudilou and Stam Guinis of Eating the Goober, said the idea for the sandals, which are made from recycled inner tube sandals, came from the need to travel light on vacation since their usual mode of transportation is motorcycle.
“We wanted sandals that were transformable so you could easily change the upper part, and thus the look,” Guinis said, noting the sandals come in 30 designs. “That way, you can have as many designs and colors as you want. Using useless materials is part of our philosophy. We always loved recycling and upcycling and making things from scrap materials.”
Other awards were given for inventive decor to Fernweh Studio’s hand-shaped American walnut frame and hand-stitched leather Sling chair by self-taught woodworker Justin Nelson; festive celebrations to Woodland Papercuts’ intricately designed hand-cut Jewish marriage license by Israeli illustrator and paper artist Naomi Shiek, and creative collaborations to Pijuán Design Workshop architects Alejandro and Sara Pijuán’s custom mid-century modern ranch doghouse.