Words by Zoë Brecher
Banner Photo: Courtesy of Witchsy (L: Kate Dwyer, R: Penelope Gazin)
Best friends and business partners Penelope Gazin and Kate Dwyer met when their bands were sharing the stage at a show. Gazin is a drummer and artist, and Dwyer plays guitar and bass. Their company Witchsy provides online space for artists of all kinds to put their items up for sale directly to the public. The energy of its setup, and the art itself, is very DIY. They created a lot buzz when the two brought in another part-owner named Keith Mann. The twist? He doesn’t exist. In a recent Fast Company interview, the two said that customers and suppliers respond more quickly and respectfully to messages from Mr. Mann, because he’s a man. Tom Tom’s Zoë Brecher asked Gazin about the history of Witchsy and for advice on starting a DIY business.
Tom Tom: Can you tell us about how you started making art? How did you develop your personal artistic style?
I started making art as a kid. My style developed from me just assuming no one would care or like my art, so I just drew the way that I personally found the most fun.
What were the bands called that you were in? I’ve played shows with so many people, and I hit it off with them, but I never keep in touch. How did you two do it? Was there like an instant connection or something like that?
My band at the time was called Sadwich, and her’s was called Crooked Tooth. I still drum. Now my band is called Slut Island, and her’s is Family Pet. We still sub for each other, if I need a bassist or guitarist, or if she needs a drummer, and we’ve both played on each other’s recordings. Kate jokes that she bullied me into being her friend, which is a little true, and it’s one of many things I love about her. She is so open and not afraid to tell someone she wants to be their friend, but then isn’t offended if they say no.
How did Witchsy get going?
Kate had just been dumped, and quit her job. I was living in Brooklyn on an eight-month whim and was feeling very lonely and frustrated with Etsy [where Gazin was selling her art] jerking me around. We had no idea what an undertaking it would be, and by the time we realized how complicated a process it was, we were in too deep, and there was no going back.
Where did you live before Brooklyn?
I was in Los Angeles and just felt like moving for a change, because I could, & to get away from an ex.
What do you wish you knew before you started?
Actually, nothing! I wouldn’t have changed our experience. We had no mentors, no money, no experience. We just had each other and we figured it all out on our own.
Can you tell us about making up a fake man, Keith Mann, as a partner to found the site? The name is pretty funny.
We made up Keith Mann because we were so lonely.
What are the hardships or negative things that you’ve come across in the process?
Mostly working with ding dongs, but that’s okay. It taught us how to be expert ding-dong handlers, and no, there is no ding dong too big for us to handle.
LOL. “Ding dongs.” I love it. Can you give an example?
Someone we were working with started acting like our abusive boyfriend and actually deleted our entire website at one point, and then tried to sue us.
And what have been some of the most rewarding aspects, or positive things, that have come out of it?
Growing closer with my best friend, Kate. Learning how to overcome challenges and prove to ourselves how resilient and crafty we are.
What advice do you have for musicians trying to start up a DIY company like yours?
Do it for the process, not for the end result. If you don’t enjoy putting in the work, your end result will reflect that. Also, assume there will be setbacks and failures, and don’t let them affect you too much. We started the company with high hopes for it, but we also went in telling ourselves that if it failed, it was still going to be a worthwhile experience.
Do you think there are traits you hold that made you feel more confident about going for it?
I am smart, and I figure things out on my own quickly, and I have good taste. Also, I am not afraid to fail.
This piece was featured in our DIY Issue. Purchase your copy here.