By Syd Stone
COVID-19 vaccines are doing more than just protecting people from the virus, they’re also giving some small businesses that were hit hard by the pandemic something to celebrate — and another shot at profits.
Some Etsy /zigman2/quotes/202790087/composite ETSY +4.16% sellers have pivoted to selling “I’m vaccinated” products as a way to make up for lost profits over the past year. The e-commerce platform has a variety of vaccine merch items — from badges and face masks to T-shirts and sweatshirts .
Kris Harris, owner of Seventh & Nash , sells his pop culture-inspired designs on products like stickers and earrings. He’s been running his Etsy shop since February 2021 out of Charlotte, N.C. When he got his vaccine, Harris said he was given a generic “I got vaccinated” sticker.
Also around the same time, Dolly Parton publicly received her first dose of the Moderna /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +7.68% vaccine — which she helped fund . So Harris decided to make Dolly-themed vaccination badges and stickers that say “I got the Dolly Dose.”
“It was definitely a natural extension of my current catalog, especially considering all of the press that Dolly has received in publicly getting the vaccine,” he said.
Since he’s just starting out on Etsy, Harris said he started with a test run of 10 buttons and 10 stickers. He quickly sold out and has put in larger orders for his designs.
“It’s insane,” he said. “I definitely didn’t expect that.”
Jon Cantwell, the owner of the shop, said his business saw huge losses as soon as the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns hit the U.S.
“It’s been a tough, tough year,” he said. “I’ve been in the business for 40 years, and by far this is the biggest kick in the pants.”
Cantwell has a brick and mortar storefront in San Diego, but he said Etsy has been crucial in helping him reach customers all over the world. He sells personalized leather luggage tags on the platform.
But when people stopped traveling, Cantwell said business went down about 80% for months, despite record high sales in the first few months of 2020.
“Because people stopped traveling and we’re a travel store, we had to pivot to different types of merchandise to get through this to survive,” he said.
As people began to get vaccinated in his community, Cantwell said he had the idea to make vaccination badges to raise awareness, encourage people to get their shots and as a way for people to show off their vaccination pride.
“It’s a personal expression point to reflect how they’re feeling and the passion behind how proud they were to have their shots,” he said.
The badges have been selling quickly, Cantwell said. He’s on his fourth shipment and sees new orders coming in from all across the country. It’s also been a way for Index Urban to give back to health professionals — Cantwell said 10% of all profits from the pins will be donated to Doctors Without Borders.
Both Harris and Cantwell said they’ve noticed Etsy customers are buying their vaccine merch in multiples, presumably for family members and friends.
“I’ve gotten a couple messages, especially once I sold out of the original run, from people saying, ‘Hey, I got a button, and my mom saw it or my grandpa saw,’ and now they want two or three more to share and to wear,” Harris said.
Cantwell said he plans to expand his catalog of vaccine merch by designing new pins that could appeal to younger customers as states open up vaccine eligibility.
“Everybody’s so ready to go, so ready to get out there, and this is just part of that too,” Cantwell said. “That element of a personal statement you can make knowing that at least there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”