Clockwise from upper left: lamp by Mozi Dozen, porcelain vases by Wooow, necklace by 20/20, bench by ROC 69, bopomofo necklaces by 157-4

s a big fan of Taiwan’s independent designers and an avid Etsy shopper, I’ve often wished someone would create a Taiwanese version of Etsy. Well, someone has!

My article in today’s Taipei Times profiles online marketplace Pinkoi and its three person founding team, which includes a former Yahoo software engineer who helped lead the development of Yahoo! Answers. Pinkoi went live in October and is still in beta stage, but it already has an great roster of designers. You can buy sophisticated leather pumps, cute wooden desk lamps, gift boxes filled with handmade soap, even wooden furniture. Most of Pinkoi’s current sellers were handpicked by its founders, who traveled to craft fairs and studios around Taiwan to pitch their Web site.

I am looking forward to watching Pinkoi develop. I was one of the first users of Etsy when it launched in 2005 around the time I graduated from journalism school (I even listed some handmade jewelry) and it was exciting to watch it grow. The site now has 7.2 million users, more than 400,000 of who have listed items at one time or another. Over the last half decade, Etsy has changed the lives of many independent designers in the US and other English-speaking countries (though of course a lot of their success depends on combination of good luck and very, very hard work, as this New York Times article describes). Back in the US, Etsy was my site of choice for finding cool gifts, craft supplies and vintage clothing.

I still love shopping there, but shipping from the US (where most Etsy sellers are located) is pricey (and, of course, I really want to support Taiwanese designers whenever I can). Registered Etsy users hail from more than 150 countries, but there are relatively few sellers from Taiwan or the rest of Asia. A lot of independent designers here launch their brands by selling at weekend craft fairs or on consignment while saving up to open their own stores. If they do sell online, it’s on their own Web sites or blogs. Many avoid e-commerce sites like Ruten (露天) or Yahoo! Auctions Taiwan because most shoppers there are looking for bargains, not one-of-a-kind, handmade items. A site like Pinkoi enables designers to take advantage of Internet marketing with a very low outlay of money and time.

Having talked to its founders, several Pinkoi vendors and browsed the Web site myself, I think they’ve done a good job of making the site into a social networking experience by integrating the Web site with Facebook and offering features like a section where you can ask other users to help you decide what to buy. I purchased a Hexagonal Extensity necklace from 20/20 and thought Pinkoi was very easy to use (if you don’t want to log in with your Facebook account, you just need to supply your e-mail and pick a username and password). A lot of sellers let you check out with Paypal and offer international shipping. The site will be available in English within the next few months, but if you live outside of Taiwan and want to go shopping right now, you can contact the Pinkoi staff for assistance via the Web site or Facebook.