If you've read our blog over the past few years, you'll know that I'm a little bit obsessed with AI at the moment. I'm using Github Copilot to help me code, we're using ChatGPT to write questions for a quiz game called Five, and we're making use of AI with various clients in lots of exciting ways. We're planning a series of free AI tutorials and we're happy to chat about the possibilities of using AI for yourself or your business, just get in touch

 

Starting a t-shirt store

Last summer I thought it would be fun to try using the AI image-generation tool Midjourney to make some t-shirts. I'm all about colours and bright patterns, and I'm never happy with the boring range of options in men's clothing stores. So I created a dozen different designs of t-shirts that I loved, and I hoped that other people would enjoy them too. 

The design process was largely similar for each t-shirt. First, I spent a few hours playing with Midjourney until I found an image that I liked. As an example, here's the process for some monsters that I used to create the Furry Monsters t-shirt. I didn't know what I was aiming for, I didn't have any particular image in mind when I started, and this made the design process a lot of fun. 

The earliest image is on the left side above, and I worked through dozens of iterations to get the next image to the right in each case.

The first image's prompt text was:

  • Smiling friendly furry monster, eyes open looking at camera, neon colour palette, acrylic palette knife painting, beautiful art, glitch, damaged, pixelation, low poly, light leaks, cyberpunk, 3D shading, glow, ultra-detailed technical precision, wide shot, backlit.

The final image's prompt text had evolved into a fairly succinct:

  • Smiling furry monster, realistic 3d render, detailed fur psychedelic neon colours, brightly-lit, isolated on black background.

I repeated this instruction hundreds of times to get the 140 monsters that feature on the finished t-shirt.

The design process for The Eyes Have It was very similar, following the same progression from left to right:

Here, the first prompt text was:

  • Fun bright colourful t-shirt design, geometric patterns, hidden faces, neon colours

Which evolved into this text by the end of the process:

  • Fun bright colourful design, complex geometric patterns, multiple layers, small hidden eyes, neon colours, continuous pattern, flat colours, repeating pattern, complete coverage 

I stitched dozens of images together in Photoshop to create the final design:


Print-on-demand t-shirts

I wanted to use a print-on-demand company to print the t-shirts to reduce waste, and settled on the excellent Printful. For t-shirts ordered in the EU and UK they're made in Latvia, and their creation and shipping times are really fast. Unfortunately, they don't offer a shop front for sales, so I decided to use one of their partners, Etsy. I've bought things from Etsy in the past and it's a well-known name, so it seemed like the obvious choice. Printful connects right up to Etsy so you just push the designs into your Etsy store with a few clicks. Any orders are automatically sent to Printful and so the whole process seemed very hands-off. I ordered a bunch of t-shirts for myself to test it, and I was really happy with the print quality, the material and the delivery times. You can't do this kind of printing onto cotton, so they use a mix of 95% polyester, 5% elastane, but it's super soft and comfortable.

 

My first Etsy order! Or is it?

I added all the t-shirts to my Etsy store and opened it to the public at the end of November. A few minutes later I got my first order! The purchase message read:

๐ŸŽ‰ Congratulations! Your item has been purchased๐ŸŽ‰

๐Ÿ›Ž Order number: 148390
๐Ÿ“† Date of purchase: 19.11.2023
๐Ÿ‘ฉBuyer: Josephine Rossel
๐Ÿš› Delivery to: van Dijkpad 7 2562VH Reduzum
โ“ What should I do now? โ“

You must send your email in this chat. You will receive an email from Etsy.

It seemed a bit weird because I couldn't see an order on the Orders page on Etsy, just this message. But maybe this was how it worked? The message icon had a weirdly corrupted version of the Etsy logo, and alarm bells started ringing in my mind. I did a quick search for the text of the message and discovered that it was a scam. My heart sank, but at least I hadn't replied to it.

 

No support from Etsy support

I sent a message to Etsy support and included the text of the message. They replied with a very weirdly-worded message that made me wonder if it, too, was a scam.

Thank you for reporting this. Let me inform you that situations like yours have been getting escalating to our specialize department regarding Scammers. 
 
Additionally, you may choose to report the suspicious site to Google safe browsing You may also want to enable additional security settings for your Etsy account. You can read about these account security settings here.

Are they suggesting that I report Etsy to Google Safe Browsing?

 

More scam messages

Over the next two days, I got five of these messages from scammers asking me to send my email address, presumably so they could take the conversation outside of Etsy and start fleecing me. I reported the first few to Etsy but soon realised that they just didn't care. 

As you can see, most of these scammers are using the actual Etsy logo on their profile. I could write a script in a couple of hours that stopped Etsy users from using the company's own logo as their profile icon, so I concluded that Etsy has no interest in protecting people from scams like this.

Each time I added a new product to my store I'd get another few scam emails, but no actual orders. I was upset that Etsy seemed to care so little about its sellers, but I was excited about opening the store so I put up with it. 

 

Opening the store

I wanted to make sure that everything was working okay with the Etsy store and connection to Printful, so I offered a few friends a discount if they ordered a t-shirt, on the understanding that there might be problems with the order process. Two people successfully bought items without issues, and so I was just gearing up to start promoting the store when this email arrived in my inbox from Etsy:

We’re writing to let you know your account has been permanently suspended for violating Etsy’s Terms of Use. Our policies help to keep Etsy special, unique, and safe. Violations may include but are not limited to:

    • Items listed for sale don’t meet our handmade, vintage, or craft supply policies
    • Items violate Etsy’s Prohibited Items Policy
    • Shop violates Etsy's Intellectual Property Policy
    • The account owner’s information is inconsistent, incorrect, or closely associated with an account previously suspended by Etsy

[...]

If you think this is a mistake, you may be able to file an appeal with Etsy – here’s how it works.

At first, I assumed it was another scam email pretending to be from Etsy, but then the two friends who had bought items both told me that they'd received emails from Etsy saying that there was a problem with their order, my store had closed and they might be able to get a refund for their t-shirts. I was completely confused. I read through their terms of use, the prohibited items policy and the intellectual property policy and couldn't find any reason why they might have permanently banned my account. I decided to appeal. 

 

The awful Etsy appeals process

The Etsy appeals form is pretty short and confusing. The important question was "Are there any actions you’ve taken to address your suspension?" to which I answered "I have no idea why you've closed my account, I'm not sure what I did wrong." I completed the form assuming that the whole thing was a mistake, and waited patiently for Etsy to reinstate my account. But no! Six hours later I got a response:

After careful consideration, we've determined your account does not qualify for reinstatement. We've performed a comprehensive review of your account and the information you provided, and are unable to reconsider this decision.
 
While we’re unable to disclose our internal review criteria or discuss your account status further, if you have questions related to your Payment Account please review Etsy’s Payments Policy.
 
We’re unable to reconsider this decision and can no longer respond to further messages about your account status. We appreciate the time you’ve invested on Etsy and wish you success in your future endeavors.
 
And just like that, my Etsy shop died before it could even really get going. I wrote back pleading for them to explain what I did wrong, but they never replied. I was in turn disappointed, then angry, then sad, then angry again for a bit.
 
 

The internet isn't ours

After a couple of days, I realised that this is just one of the downsides of the internet. We spend so much of our time online, forgetting that all of these websites are privately owned and can deny service to us at any time and without any explanation. I've read stories of people who had their Google accounts deleted because their baby photos were flagged as sexual abuse images. I can't even imagine how hard it would be for me to live my life without access to my Gmail, Calendar, Photos, Drive and Keep. So these days, whenever I add childhood photos where I'm not wearing enough clothes for Google, I always Photoshop underpants onto the images before I upload them. I try to keep an offline copy of as much data as possible in case I lose access to these services.
 
 

Rising from the ashes

After I'd mourned the loss of my Etsy shop, I looked about for a suitable replacement and settled on Storenvy. I uploaded all the t-shirts again and I'm proud to announce the opening of the store today! If I'm honest it's not as nice a website as Etsy, but hopefully I won't get banned for an unexplained reason. Please take a look at my store, I hope you like the shirts. 
Visit Mat's Psycheteelia t-shirt store
 
 
 

Tagged under: Design   E-commerce   Legal   AI   Fun  

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