AI's Greatest Contribution? A Return to Craft.

by Corey Malley

Will the threat of infinite creation ruin creativity? Or will it generate a newfound love for something entirely human?

One of my favorite things to do is go out into the world and get a coffee with someone. Or a beer. Or two. Your mileage may vary. The root of it all is my dominant belief that talking to someone face to face gets you a whole lot further than a text, phone call, or email chain.

I like to do this with people much smarter than me. Or people who do something in my admittedly oblong blind spot. Appreciation for Visvim optional.

An unavoidable and persistent topic has been the impending doom wave of AI. How can we create in a world where the average user will be able to have exactly what they want at the moment piped into their eye goggles in Dolby Atmos while tracking their DoorDash order? "I want to see a Norah Ephron romantic comedy starring Kareem Abdul Jabar and the Green M&M that takes place in my small hometown of Naperville, Il." What could be better than having exactly what we want at our fingertips whenever we want it? That's the promise that has flooded billions of venture capital into an industry that gives the majority of people a sweeping sense of existential dread.

My answer: that sounds awful.

The most moving works of art, technology, and design come from a place that we as the consumer have never imagined. For all of the praise of Steve Jobs, the technocrats have fundamentally misunderstood "figure out what they want before they do" while getting motivated by Whiplash clips.

We love movies that expose us to a world we've never imagined. Artists have shifted global perception paradigms by presenting something that deeply moves us in ways we never thought possible and fundamentally changes our view of the world. Creativity survives on the value exchange of "you've given me something I could've never imagined, and in turn that has allowed me to imagine more".

Ai terrifies us because it threatens that value exchange. "I'll give you exactly what you think you want, and in turn, you'll give me more of you". 

If you've had one of these beverages with me, you probably know I can talk a lot about pretty much anything (apologies). But shockingly, I listen a lot too. And all of that synthesizes into an INSIGHT™ that rattles around my brain until a nice little thought forms. Here's this one:

AI will bring about the return of craft. 

It's beginning to take shape now, though more as more of a consumer ideology. Quiet Luxury is a calculus of quality and stability. Logo-less brands like Bottega Veneta have emerged through craft. Patina has iconography as cultural capital du jour.

I think it's only a matter of time until the data-precise, lightning quick output of Shein trickles down into heritage and trusted brands. Today's market doesn't financilaly allow for creative risk. A collection designed from passion or creative intrigue gets nice posts from editors, but can be disatrous to the PNL. Joanna Williams writes some very insightful posts on my fashion blindspot - mass products. Brands can now hedge risk with social data insights. Some really cool AI can tear down the discovery wall for us and identify the exact piece we think we want right when we want it at the best price. Trends are identified, satisfied, and saturated within months. Great for the PNL. Concerning for creativity.

Where does this all lead?

Craft. Not in the sense of Nike using nicer leathers on an AF1, but in the sense of artisans creating the exact number of pieces they can at their standards, and selling them exactly where they want to. Brands like Proleta Re Art are at the forefront, creating hand-stitched, Uber-Boro denim pieces for thousands of dollars, and selling out nearly immediately - if you can even figure out where it is. Smaller crafters, like Shanana Mil are artfully stitching flowers onto hallmark symbols of Americana. Craft is beginning to return as we seek something MADE, not GENERATED.

This is usually the point where my invitee gets up for a second beer and returns to ask "so you think people really just want raw denim and Red Wings again?"


I think there will be new cultural capital in the pilgrimage to consume and the shift back to "I cannot get your thing, and that's OK. I'll get my thing".

Merch Culture was the start. "I ate here and liked it and now I have a hat" was novel. Then I could buy a hat for a restaurant I've never been to across the globe. Now everyone is a pilgrim from the comfort of their couch. The capital is devalued.

It makes me think of boutiques like RTH - first a little hut on La Cienega, now a little hut in Palm Springs. I've long been a fan and customer for the distinct lack of e-commerce, distribution, or knowledge. On a recent trip to Palm Springs, I attempted to visit their boutique THREE times during posted hours only to be met with "Sorry, Closed". No mention on social media. Nothing. It only made me want it more.

It also makes me think of Japanese jewelry grail Goros. And current luxury darling Chrome Hearts, to a lesser extent. Destination-based, artisan-led craft feels like "what's next" to me.

In the face of infinite generativity, I think we'll all yearn for something distinctly human. Imperfection, imbued "soul", understandably finite.

I could take up entire servers talking about how brands can harness this, but that's for another time, another place, another beer.

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