Sick of Censorship, Artists Launch a "Witchsy" Online Market
Meet the merchants freeing e-commerce, one NSFW enamel pin at a time.
Kate Dwyer and Penelope Gazin. Photo courtesy of Witchsy
Making and selling risqué goods online is a recipe for censorship. Not only are works depicting pubic hair or nipples a no-go on many e-commerce sites and social networks, last year Etsy infuriated the witch community by banning the sale of spells. Few people know this better than Kate Dwyer and Penelope Gazin, who repeatedly felt limited by what they were allowed to post online. “Can’t we create something cool, interesting, and weird without worrying about offending someone?” they asked. “Where is there a place where you can post things to sell and people aren't complete narcs?”
In 2015, the duo decided to take matters into their own hands and start their own platform for artists selling their own work. Taking its name from Etsy’s spell-ban, Witchsy is their curated e-commerce platform for artists, hawking a wide range of products, from clothes, home goods, and zines, to weirder, less categorizable items. “We just found it so ridiculous that [other e-commerce and social sites] found a need to actively go out of their way to block these people who are just trying to make money,” Dwyer says.
While not all art on the website is related to the occult, its founders curate Witchsy’s entire stock. And Dwyer and Gazin’s bet on offbeat art wares has paid off: Witchsy turned a profit in only its first quarter. Dwyer credits their success to creating a curated space for artists whose work fits well together: “We know so many different artists that we really love online, but they all have these separate shops and it's hard to navigate—especially for someone who doesn't know as much about art,” she explains.
As two women running a tech business, Gazin and Dwyer have had to negotiate a range of challenges in order to ensure the site remains true to their ideas. “There are certain areas that people would assume a woman would open a business in, and a digital marketplace is not one of them,” Dwyer explains, noting that out of the five major ecommerce sites, all were founded by men. “If we're working with developers, they often ask, ‘Are you ladies sure you want to do this? Is this a good idea, girls?’ It definitely makes us more likely to say, ‘Yes, we're sure, do it!’” Dwyer says. “We really trust our gut, because whenever we do, it seems to resonate,” Gazin adds.
Would anything be unacceptable on Witchsy? “Hate speech would be the only thing,” Dwyer says. “And if that did happen, I would first reach out to the artist and ask, ‘Why did you make this? What were you trying to say?’” Gazin adds. The variety of products sold on the site—from prints, zines, and cards to patches, totes, and enamel pins—is a metaphorical middle finger directed at art world snobbery. The pins, in particular, are one of the site’s biggest sellers. “They're kind of like a millennial's version of an art collection,” Gazin says. “Millennials don't have the money or the space to collect art. So instead they can collect these tiny little artworks.”
Weirder pieces available on the site are grouped into the site’s Mystery Pit section, which includes crystal-coiffed troll dolls, a pair of men’s briefs complete with a rabbit fur phallus, and Gazin’s nail clippings. “We wanted to create a business that wasn't tiptoeing around everyone else's expectations for what they think art is or what they think is acceptable,” Gazin says. It’s an attempt to widen the ideas of ways art can be purchased, Dwyer explains. “The idea of the gallery as the only place for art is archaic. It's everywhere!” she says.
Browse Witchsy's full range of offbeat art wares on their website.