But, while fashion conglomerate executives continue to do the bare minimum, others are stepping up to the bar and tackling the challenge of revolutionising the retail sector. One such visionary venture is Daughters of Witches – an online shop dedicated to supporting and selling various fashion, beauty and accessory brands owned by women and non-binary people. Co-creators Natacha Bastiat-Jarosz and Marta Szmyd have acquired a carefully selected repertoire of small businesses from all over the world which pride themselves on their feminist values. Alluding to the persecution of medieval witches, the e-tailer wants to give a voice to those same marginalised and oppressed individuals today.
Since its founding in 2018, the online shop has not only marketed and supported emerging brands, but collaborated with female and non-binary artists and photographers on projects such as designing T-shirts and planners. Originally hailing from Poland but now based in Brussels, Natacha developed the idea for an online shop from a place of frustration while working as a low-income journalist in a community of struggling artists and lacking resources. Hereafter, she partnered with Krakow-based friend and graphic designer Marta to create a marketplace that would better serve her endless searches for small businesses and designers while also endorsing their products and work.
Today, Daughters of Witches caters to several markets and interests with their broad selection of emerging entrepreneurs selling T-shirts, underwear, makeup, jewellery, stationary and more, many of which communicate politically-engaged and feminist messages. From sustainability stalwarts such as Australian-based underwear brandHarato emerging Black-owned illustration and print design brand Brownie Points, customers are ensured guilt-free spending thanks to their transparent pricing guide and bold sustainability manifesto.
We spoke to Natacha Bastiat-Jarosz about what makes a brand sustainable, financial obstacles and how Gen Z and social media will dictate the future of online fashion retail.
What are your core values at Daughters of Witches?
We really try to make sure that we only work with people that have the same values as us, which means owned by certain people, but also we really want people to just be nice? I know that sounds basic, but we really don’t work with people that we feel are creating toxic kinds of behaviours. [We work with] people who do more than just produce and sell, but also support causes in everything they do. Finally, we try to be as sustainable as we can.
What makes a brand sustainable in your opinion?
For some of our brands it’s producing everything themselves, producing small quantities and producing products that last. I think this is where we’re a bit more flexible with small brands and I think that with big brands we can expect that they do everything that can be considered sustainable. Obviously, small brands don’t have the resources to do that, so we really make sure that they have at least one of those criteria. For the small brands that we sell most of them are doing a great job at doing the best with what they have which is more than a lot of big bands do actually.
There are some brands that, for example, ship everything themselves, so they don’t send it to us first. I think that consumers often assume that brands or shops are responsible for [sustainable shipping] but if we make enough noise about it, shipping companies will actually find solutions.
What can online retailers do to be more ethical and environmentally conscious?
I think that now online retailers don’t have a choice anymore because Gen Z is here and Gen Z cares a lot about those things. I think the production process is the most important thing to do right now, because we still see way too much abuse on the production side and that’s a key issue. I think The Slow Factory is doing a great job about how to find solutions for the production process but looking at brands that we sell – having control over your production process and keeping it local and close to you – that’s the first step of doing a really, really good job at making sure you keep it sustainable.
Having control over your production process and keeping it local and close to you – that’s the first step of doing a really, really good job at making sure you keep it sustainable.
How do you see the future of online retail evolving?
I think it’s a good moment to ask this question right now because the pandemic has really accelerated online shopping. So first of all, we’ve been shown in the past ten years that online shopping is not enough. What brands try to do is create some pop up events to still be in touch with their community and a famous example of that is Glossier.
I think social media has allowed small businesses to really grow and reach more customers. However, it has become increasingly competitive with more and more big brands coming and they just have more resources to create good content and better advertising that small businesses cannot compete with anymore. Especially with Facebook kind of openly trying to silence small businesses that do not fit into what they think is acceptable. There are so many small feminist or LGBTQIA+ small businesses that are really struggling with Facebook, it denies ads and product tagging to us.
However, I think TikTok will be a big part of [the future of online retail]. There is a movement of supporting small businesses on TikTok which is way more strong than on Instagram. This is where I see the power of Gen Z because they care so much about authentic brands, transparent brands which small businesses are. I’m still having some hope that an app like TikTok, which is a bit more authentic and more Gen Z driven, can still offer more opportunities to small businesses as opposed to Facebook where it’s all about money now while small businesses just can’t compete at some point. Also, I think if you want to really grow the small business shopping we really need to find a way to make it easier for customers to find small brands.
There is a movement of supporting small businesses on TikTok which is way more strong than on Instagram. This is where I see the power of Gen Z because they care so much about authentic brands, transparent brands which small businesses are.
What’s been the biggest obstacle in leading a small business?
I think I speak for a lot of small brands when I say this, but the money part is a big problem, most of all when you want to pay everyone. First of all, we have higher production costs because we want to keep it small, local and ethical. Then we also want to keep it cheap because the customers we sell it to just don’t have a lot of money to spend on things. So, we just have incredibly low margins on all the brands that we sell. Honestly, for us it’s okay, I have to say that we are quite privileged. But I know a lot of other small brands where usually the person behind it has like one or two jobs to be able to keep up.
Can you name some of your favourite brands you support on Daughters of Witches?
The first brand that comes to mind is a brand that we don’t sell but I’m in love with – it’s called Nöl Collective and it’s based in Palestine. They do everything locally, they really support their community in Palestine, they make statements, they have stories to tell – I love this brand. Thinking of artists that we support, I love Junior High, which we made the planner with. It’s a non-profit organisation that supports artists in LA and they’re so genuine and authentic.
Regarding brands that we sell, I think Badassprints is doing an amazing job at being really political in her work, in what she prints on her apparel, the people she works with, her production ethics and I just have so much admiration for her.
Then I really, really love our new makeup brand Rituel de Fille because the make-up and beauty industry is really big and it’s not easy to stay true to your values in this kind of setting because there’s just so much pressure. Rituel de Fille is so, so ethical, they keep everything local, it’s three sisters and they have their own lab in LA and they create everything themselves.
I think our most sustainable brand right now is Hara the label, it’s an underwear brand that we sell and I think they’re a very good example of leading a great job at sustainability. They produce everything themselves in Australia, they have their own factory, they have control over the whole chain of production and that’s the best way you can do it.
We want to keep on finding small brands while making sure that they actually have proper ethical values, and then get them the chances to really grow, make money and change the economy. Small brands have the potential of really changing capitalism and get rid of all the oppression.
What do you hope for Daughters of Witches to achieve in the future?
Honestly, what we want to do, and I’m talking in the name of Marta and me, is really just keep on supporting small brands and artists to grow and just make a decent living. We want to keep on finding small brands while making sure that they actually have proper ethical values, and then get them the chances to really grow, make money and change the economy. Small brands have the potential of really changing capitalism and get rid of all the oppression. Yeah, I’m just hoping we can keep on doing that and destroy capitalism one small brand at a time.
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