NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Lara Lewis used to be a stressed-out single mother whose teaching job left her little time for her young daughter, but now she works from home, selling an estimated $60,000 a year worth of jewelry online.
The 37-year-old from State College, Pennsylvania, is one of an estimated 5.1 million stay-at-home U.S. mothers, many of whom juggle child-rearing and generating an income. A growing number are starting their own businesses.
The Small Business Administration says the number of self-employed women around the country jumped by 10 percent from 2000 to 2006, to 5.3 million.
For Lewis, an online marketplace called Etsy provided a place to sell her estate-style and faux vintage pieces. The website, www.etsy.com, lets craft makers set up their own virtual shops. It currently has more than 4.2 million users.
"It's wonderful to be able to call my own shots," Lewis said. "I can work at night, so if I want to do something with my family, I can."
Launched in 2005, the Brooklyn, New York-based Etsy now has more than 400,000 sellers, most of whom are women, and posted more than $180 million in sales last year. Nearly 70 percent of sellers are college-educated.
"You have this generation of women who understand the value of staying at home to raise their children, but they also want to contribute to the household income and have a creative outlet," said Megan Auman, a Pennsylvania-based designer who started Crafting an MBA, www.craftmba.com, a blog aimed at helping artisans market their products online. "It's another path to financial security."
Etsy's craft makers, some of whom are scattered around the world, sell elegant gold bracelets, crocheted dishrags, wooden teething toys and everything in between, paying 20 cents per listing and a 3.5 percent commission.
Julie Boyles, 46, who lives near Indianapolis, Indiana, quit her job to stay home with her three children in 2000, but found the loss of income stretched the family budget. She joined Etsy in 2008 and sells leather-bound journals, earning about $1,500 a month.
"When it gets busy, I include everybody, my husband as well as the kids," Boyles said. "I work out in the living room, so I can be helping with homework and put in a few stitches at the same time."
Etsy is shouldering in on a marketplace dominated by eBay and Amazon.com, which still rule in terms of sales but don't boast the same homemade flavor.
"Women are looking to both work and take care of families, but the traditional workplace doesn't provide that opportunity, so they are looking for their own ingenious ways (to do that)," said Pamela Stone, a sociology professor at New York City's Hunter College.
"What women are seeking is flexibility and these companies are providing them with this option," said Stone, who wrote "Opting Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home."
On its site, Etsy offers sellers tips on how to create a marketing plan, set prices and offer good customer service.
"Laundry, cooking and changing diapers are unavoidable chores that can be repetitive to the point of mind-numbing," said Kristina Havens, a 34-year-old painter who has two young children and lives outside of Atlanta.
Havens uses the money she makes selling paintings on Etsy to pay for her children's preschool.
"Chatting with adults in Etsy or connecting with my fans on Facebook is a little bit of an escape," she said. "I feel that my life as a mom and as an artist has found a better balance."
Editing by Michelle Nichols and Eric Walsh