Hayley Flurer from South Africa moved to Strasbourg in November 2009 and discovered a novel way of earning a living (and meeting new people) even before she had mastered the language. The best bit is that anyone can join in, anywhere in France. Hayley runs two etsy online shops, Hope & Vanilla and The Hope Tree specialising in vintage French jewellery and home accessories, respectively. Here, she talks us through what is involved and how it fits in with her expat life.
When and why did you move to Strasbourg?
My husband and I lived in England before that but it just got too expensive to have a child there. Strasbourg became an option because it is my husband’s home town and we wanted family around for our little boy.
Are there many English speakers there?
Strasbourg is a very international city. Not only is part of the European parliament based here but there are many international businesses and schools. Many foreigners come and go here for a short period of time but there are not so many that actually ‘live’ here.
Where did you move from and what did you used to do there?
I was born and raised in South Africa and my heart is often very much there still. After travelling to a few different countries, I started to earn a living painting, an artist at heart. My mother has been a successful artist in South Africa for over 30 years and I took after her. I sold my paintings in some galleries around South Africa and took part in exhibitions too.
How did you discover etsy?
Etsy seemed to pop into my life at the right time. When I first arrived in France, I was browsing the internet and read an article by a lady who sold vintage clothes on etsy. When I looked at etsy at first, it was to sell my paintings but I had a light bulb moment when I found out that you can sell vintage items too.
How would you describe Etsy to the uninitiated?
Etsy is a large market place on the internet where artists can sell what they make. Handmade goods are mostly sold but vintage items are also allowed, items older than 20 years. It is not just any ‘selling’ venue, etsy has such original items and a huge amount of choice. I now buy all my gifts and some clothes on it too.
What do you like about living in France?
If you asked me this question a year ago, I would have struggled to answer but France is growing on me. I describe my journey as falling in ‘like’ with France over time, I’ve found France looking though antique glasses. I can now say that I love the intensity of the culture, how passionate French get over the smallest thing. Strasbourg can take your breath away, it’s so beautiful and there are many other different places in France that are stunning. I also love the way the French love to preserve their culture as it is quite special.
Have you found any aspects of running a business in France particularly difficult?
In France, there is so much paperwork for any kind of application, visa, license etc. I find the paperwork a huge challenge as my French is not very good. As I am an ‘auto-entrepreneur’ who has a small business, I have to do the paperwork for that. Also, quite a few French people don’t see my ‘shops’ as work, they think I am wasting my time. This can be very frustrating.
How far will you travel for a brocante/vide grenier?
One brocante I went to was about an hour away but that is rare. I am lucky that from April to September, it is easy to find a brocante within 20km.There is one I am hoping to go to this year in Lille which is 600km away.
What types of items are you attracted to?
As I am a foreigner to France, I view their items differently. I try to find things that look ‘oh so French’. I love very detailed and ornate items but those often are the most expensive!
What are your best-sellers?
I sell a lot of ornate metal objects like tea strainers, bowls and a lot of crochet doilies.
Do you often end up buying things to keep yourself?
Well, I think I buy a lot of what I would like in my home but we just don’t have space. There have been two items that I hoped would not sell so I had a reason to keep them but no such luck.
What has been your best find?
There was a beautiful engraved large platter with a boy’s face on. I just loved it but it was very heavy and I normally don’t buy such heavy things. I took the risk though and it sold two hours after putting it on my site, even with a huge shipping fee. That was a thrill!
Who are your customers?
I have customers from all around the world, but mostly from the USA.
Is the plan to one day have a real shop?
It would be so lovely to have a real shop, but in France I would be selling my items to the French and that would not work as well.
Tell us about how etsy has helped you integrate…
When you get thrown into a new culture, you try to prepare yourself, but often things are not as one imagines. Coming to Strasbourg was a real shock to me and I struggled to adjust. At first, when I started etsy, it was my little hideaway from the world where I could interact and work in English. Then I had to hunt for French items and while doing that, I have met such wonderful people and learnt about the history and culture of France in my way. Etsy has not only been a door into this new home of mine but also a bridge from my culture to theirs. I never thought I would be able to do something I love to earn money and work in a country where my language skills are not great.