Our new series of articles for “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” is about running business in exile
Andrei and Anna are the founders of the “Yadovito” (“Poisonous”) brand. We’ve asked them how they’d come up with an idea to create mushroom-shaped jewelry, discussed conscious lifestyles, and found out who the “happy people” are.
– Tell us about yourself. How has your brand appeared?
– We’re originally from Belarus and launched “Yadovito” there back in 2014.
Once we wanted to try magic mushrooms. And one of those experiments has inspired us to create mushroom-like jewelry. That’s how our brand came into being.
We feel like the world needs to make more conscious decisions and mushrooms can help with that. People more and more tend to adopt aware and mindful livestyle. And the relevance of our brand grows together with that.
– So what is mindfulness?
That’s the ability to explore your own thoughts from the outside without getting involved. Thoughts are electrical impulses that arise chaotically and you have to be able to control them. And that’s what mindfulness is about. Mushrooms are simply one of the ways to achieve it. They give you clues on the way toward that state of mind.
– What are those people practicing mindfulness by means of mushrooms?
There are a lot of people of that kind. There’s a term “happy people” that refers to those who hang out at open-air events like Burning Man. By the way, there’s a cool story about Burning Man. Paul Romer, an American economist, professor of economics at NYU School of Business, and the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in economics, once attended the festival and began to argue that the future belongs to urbanization in the Burning Man style. He started spreading this concept after seeing a city emerging from nothing.
– Does Elon Musk belong to “happy people”?
Maybe partly, but rather he doesn’t. If he had opened his own foundation and started investing in education for children in Africa when he had six billion dollars (like, for instance, Soros did) then maybe he could be “happy” in that sense. But he only cares about making billions to increase his own capital.
– Where does your brand name come from and what kind of mushrooms are we talking about?
These are these so-called “toadstools” that are basically considered poisonous. But for us, it’s totally different.
Psilocybin mushrooms can be found in various cultures. They grow across continents and have different names depending on the region. But all of them have similar effects that unlock your potential and help you see the world from a different perspective.
– I see you have a positive attitude to responsible mushroom use. Could you say more about that?
Yes, I am positive avout that. In many countries, they are used to treat ADHD, depression, and alcoholism. A lot of countries have already legalized mushrooms like the US (some of the states), the Netherlands, and Norway, to name a few.
They help me personally to escape from the routine and recall the importance of consciousness in life. In Poland, there is a community of people including professors, doctors, and cultural figures who advocate for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms. So in fact, mushroom use is nothing new.
There is a theory by Terence McKenna, an American ethnobotanist, mystic, and psychonaut. He also calls himself an anarchist and skeptic in a way. And as a philosopher and scientist, he advocates for the responsible and mindful use of psychedelic plants that grow in nature.
So McKenna claims that human consciousness and mindset were able to evolve to the current level thanks to mushrooms. Monkeys started eating psilocybin mushrooms first for life support but then for fun. Because animals have a routine too and it’s been proven that they do certain things for joy. So mushrooms activated some new areas of a monkey’s brain which allowed them to look at the world in a more creative way. That’s where evolution began.
– What were you doing before launching the brand?
Before the brand launch, I was one of the main suppliers of memory for servers in Belarus. I worked for the largest distributor of computer equipment in the country.
Anna was making ceramic beads. Then one day she got this idea of mushroom-inspired jewelry and two years later, I joined to promoted her products in the US.
– How you made it to America?
We were leaning towards the U.S. market since Americans have the most money to spend. So we’ve chosen the “Etsy” platform. Maybe we became popular there due to partial legalization introduced in the US. People reached a higher level of consciousness and stopped being afraid to express themselves. People demostrated their interest to mushrooms as a totem affiliation. Say, wear a mushroom earring and everyone who’s in the loop recognizes you as a part of their community.
It’s interesting that there are no streets named after military leaders in the US. Some of the streets have numbers and some have names of natural phenomena like Red Dawn St. or Wild Vineyard St. I see a preserved spirit of the Native Americans there. And if you see a street named after a person, most likely it will be a name of a doctor. I often send packages so I can notice that.
Still, it does not eliminate all the crimes America committed against its indigenous people.
– Do you face competition in the market? Does anyone else make products with mushrooms?
We had no competition before but then Aliexpress has copied our concept. So different people started reselling these products on Etsy as if they made them.
I’m against corporations and I have a clear stance about that. For instance, Etsy pays good money. But in fact, it puts you in slavery, controls the trends based on its own preferences, and creates some fishy stores on Aliexpress.
When I realized it, I provided them with evidence and said I would contact all the lawyers I know. And you know what happened? Our sales started growing immediately!
You had 300 dollars and it became 3000, so that’s what it is.
– Why have you emigrated?
We were dissatisfied with the post-soviet ideology spread in Belarus. Still, we had big plans for the future. But then we took part in protests during the presidential election in 2020 all together as a family. And as soon as it became clear that nobody is gonna surrender that easy, we had to leave. So to speak, we were choosing again and again and then realized we were fucked.
We were aware there were no sales in Belarus and no sales in russia. So how we should have survived? What should have we done with that handmade stuff?
After we had moved to Poland, Etsy has banned sales in Belarus and russia due to the war. We’ve managed to move the store to a Polish domain two months before that. So we were lucky. The crafters who started moving here after the war started had to re-open their stores from scratch because their stores on Belarusian domains have been blocked.
– Why Poland?
Because it is not far from Belarus. We have grandparents in Belarus and want to show them our children. Belarus is important for Anna. She likes Zhabinka a lot, that’s her hometown near Brest. In Zhabinka, they don’t even have fences around their houses! When I lived in Smilovichi (suburbs of Minsk), the culture was completely different – those who had a higher fence were the coolest. But that’s not the case of Zhabinka.
And you know, the human being is a cowardly creature. People always leave escape routes and places to return to.
– Was it difficult to move your store from Belarus to Poland?
There’s no problem to move your store from Belarus to Poland.
You have to constantly talk to tech support and in 14 cases out of 15, they will give you the cold shoulder. But on the fifteenth try, you’ll probably break through. But you have to speak in legal language to be heard.
The main problem was to prove to Etsy that we live in Poland because the countries of the former soviet union can’t sell in the U.S. They argued that it was due to sanctions but there is a commercial move as well.
There were a lot of crafters in Belarus, Ukraine, and russia who sold their products at normal prices. Then this market got shut down and corporations began to order similar products in China. Before, corporations used to get 6% of the sales and now, they get 100%. So they cheated everyone.
– Who’s your target audience?
Our customers were very funny to watch. Our brand has 3 generations of buyers: older “hippies”, “happy people”, and savvy young adults advocating for legalization. And so, these grandparents give mushrooms to their grandkids for the New Year, guys give mushrooms to their girlfriends, husbands give them to their wives, and vice versa. Three generations! Can you imagine? But that’s about the United States.
In Belarus, it was weird. We noticed that something was wrong with our clients. Because of all the pressure from the government, folks just kind of stopped trying to be different and stand out from the crowd. Sure thing, they are afraid of going to jail for anything. You don’t go out with a mushroom earring to hang out anymore. And why would you need it at home?
We once traveled to russia for the “Bessonitsa” (“Insomnia”) festival and met girls in their 30s who went “Wow, wow mushrooms!” And then they were like “How would you wear them to work?”. In the post-soviet space, there is less freedom. It’s important how others perceive you. The way you look determines whom you’re lucky to work and how much you get paid.
– How long did it take to open your store?
It takes 10 minutes to set up an Etsy store here in Poland. You can open it as a private person and each private person is allowed to sell up to 1500 zlotys. That is, until you gain buyers and grow your revenue to 1500 zlotys, you don’t need to register a legal entity but just sell as a private person.
– What it’s like to do business in Poland?
Of course, there are many more opportunities here in Poland than in Belarus. I can promote myself, I can do my accounting transparently, and I can apply for grants. But immigration is so stressful that it’s hard to find time to evolve. We’ve moved as a family and it’s super stressful.
I know how to develop our business and promote the product but I can’t find time for that. There is a bare minimum you can earn living paycheck to paycheck. But if you want more, you have to engage on a full-time basis. We are counting on that when our daughter goes to the first grade. This summer, we plan to rent a bead, pack it with our jewelry, and go together to Croatia and Hungary to sell our mushrooms at festivals.
– Where can we find you this summer?
What festivals are we going to attend this summer? These are Azora, Moden, and Boom festivals, to name a few. We also have a friend in Australia who organizes open airs so maybe we’ll visit him as well.
There are many different festivals even in Poland. Most of the attendees are those who want to take a break from the hustle and bustle. People just shut themselves off from the outside world, and it resembles a collective meditation, a retreat.
– Are there any problems with emigration?
The main problem is money. We have to pay for studies, apartment rent, kindergarten, insurance, and more. Just so you know, we had none of these expenses back in Belarus. Instead, we had our own house, $2,000 per month, a swamp around. No one had to support us there. We sort of lived in a bubble of our community.
Here, we have a lot of support. But money issuesmoney issues and language barrier aren’t going anywhere. No matter how hard hard you try, you’e still an alien, with a different language,, socializes primarily with other migrants, and basically survives. And at the end of the day, there’s also fear. Like, you put yourself into a box and make up reasons to justify that
A lot of effort goes into keeping family vibes comfy and pleasant for the whole family. That’s hard to balance with work, especially seasonal type of, that’s very stressful. But we are human beings. We also dive into that busy routine of dealing with orders and financial matters at times. Yet we work on ourselves andtry to support each other during this not-so-easy time for all of us.
– What would you wish other crafters who plan to launch their own store?
We wish all crafters to open their own store on Etsy and post as much work as possible, five pieces a day will do. It will all work out, trust us.
Disclaimer: the “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” team does not call to psychoactive substances use.