Witchsy : An Island for Misfit Artists
WORDS BY: SEAN ARENAS
Peddlers of the gleefully perverse, Kate Dwyer and Penelope Gazin launched Witchsy, a curated marketplace for artists, in 2016 to combat the censorship and prudishness of other online storefronts. Witchsy is an island of misfit artists lovingly led through example by its benevolent rulers, Kate and Penelope, who ensure that edgy, original creators have a place to call home. Want a pin that reads “Eat Butt” or a patch that warns “Dead Men Can’t Catcall”? Looking to own some of Penelope’s hair in a tiny frame? If so, head over to Witchsy, but be prepared for sensory overload.
Every photograph of you two together is an instant ray of sunshine. How did you both meet?
Penelope: We met because of rock and roll! Our bands were playing a show together, and we’ve since played in each other’s bands as well.
Kate: I could tell she was my tribe, and we’ve been close ever since. We’re usually beaming in pictures because we genuinely love each other.
What made you two want to open a business?
Penelope: Etsy is always kicking me off for dumb reasons, like for selling a figure drawing that shows pubic hair. I was getting sick of their rules and general prudishness.
Kate: My frustration with Etsy started when they began banning witchcraft. It’s so ridiculous and part of the annoying censorship that exists on most online retail platforms. “Be edgy and unique, but not too much.” We wanted to create a sincere space on the internet where people could create and sell what they wanted.
What were some of the challenges going from idea to launch?
Penelope: Everything. Everything is a god-damn nightmare and harder than we expected. Nothing ever works right the first 10 times.
Kate: There’s a lot of misconceptions about what you need to do to start a business. Before we got started, I was fairly convinced you had to know a ton about coding and have a lot of money to do anything on the internet. That hasn’t been true for us, but we had to figure out ways to manage having minimal coding experience and little financing. We asked for favors and spent a lot of time making mistakes, breaking the website and having to backpedal. The biggest way we’ve overcome a lot of challenges is by learning to be better about letting go. The site you see now is after lots of trial and error.
How does Witchsy differentiate itself from sites like Etsy and Society6 (besides being totally gonzo yet unpretentious)?
Penelope: We are definitely a little pretentious! Artists apply to be on our site, and we only accept about a quarter of applicants. I will say no to an artist if I feel like they are emulating another artist too much because I want all the artists on Witchsy to feel unique. We’ve turned away some good artists, too. We just sell what we want to sell and that’s it.
Kate: This is because our business is basically a digital gallery. We want to share artists we love and to see the wonderful things they make without limitations. If an artist is bound to what is “sellable,” then we’re limiting their scope of creativity. Etsy and Society6 can be beneficial to some, but they are businesses that pull revenue from having users, charging listing fees, processing fees and advertising. We don’t have that in our model at all, and I think it inspires our artists to do whatever they want.
What have you learned since Witchsy’s launch?
Penelope: Probably to value and hold onto people who are hardworking and trustworthy because they are rare.
Kate: We’ve learned to be clearer and more concise with our communication with each other and everyone inside and outside of the business. It’s allowed us to go through the ups and downs without getting upset. Along with that, just staying positive and always taking moments each day to live, laugh and love. In all seriousness, we’ve been lucky and I am thankful for that every day.