Lauren Sinclair: How do you see the relationship of craft and technology interacting?
Shokai Sinclair: Craft and technology are both designed experiences. And that means that we have the option to design them with elegance and delight as the primary drivers. Or they can be made to maximize consumption. It’s a given now that most of us are required to have computers and mobile phones to accomplish much of what we do in our day-to-day lives. But I don’t think that that’s reason enough to accept that we’re simply servants to our devices — updating our profiles and buying things. That’s where I think technology can learn a lot from the traditional crafts. Many of the crafts we’ve admired for centuries can accomplish much more (and with much more joy) than your typical app or website, and it’s because of that intense focus on the individual’s use of the craft object. Imagine how cool our lives would be if every piece of technology we touched was created with that level of care and focus.
LS: What is it like to visit your home state of North Carolina online?
SS: I’ve lived away from North Carolina for so many years (in California and now Colorado). But I feel a shared sense of pride whenever I encounter another North Carolinian out in the world. And there’s a kind of feral, self-reliant creativity to artists I meet from the Tar Heel State.
LS: Who or what inspires you?
SS: These days, I find it hard to be inspired by anyone who you all would recognize. I am of course inspired by my family. Beyond that, I am inspired by the planet — and by imagining what life will be like for future generations. I am inspired by the innate organic trait of resilience to preserve the balance of life. For example, I recently learned that our sun has gotten hotter over its billions of years of existence, yet our planet’s temperature has remained relatively constant. Our atmosphere adapted to maintain the perfect temperature to preserve life. There’s a will to survive there. And whether you call it evolution or divine providence, it’s pretty remarkable. Similarly, in the past few years, I’ve experienced devastating wildfires, heat waves, and now a pandemic that have profoundly impacted my life. But I feel like I’m also developing new powers of resilience that I never thought I had.
LS: Why are you passionate about creating this community for artisans?
SS: As someone who has learned a fair amount of marketing and digital technology, it’s sometimes even a struggle for me to keep up with the technical knowledge needed to run an online business. And (COVID or no) in our digital age, it’s becoming increasingly harder to run an offline business without its online counterpart. That makes it difficult for artists, local stores, and guilds to keep up. Some big corporations have capitalized on this paradox. Have you ever spent hours on Etsy trying to find a handmade gift for a friend or loved one? They’re definitely there, but these marketplaces are saturated with mass-produced objects that make it extremely difficult to find anything unique.
LS: What do you see as our role in encouraging and expanding sustainability?
SS: We get messages from all around us to do everything faster and cheaper. Fast food. Fast travel. Fast fashion. And that’s not a side effect of a “connected world.” Our technology is designed that way so that certain key performance indicators can be satisfied. Open that email. Make that comment. Push that button. I believe we can design different experiences that honor the “slow” things that are becoming an increasingly rare commodity.
LS: What opportunities do you see for making the NC Handmade community a vibrant, growing community?
SS: I think we have an excellent opportunity now (while we’re all sheltering-in-place) to learn more about all of the great things that artisans are up to and to adapt the ways that we engage with the arts. There’s been a popular resurgence in self-sufficiency practices (like canning, fermenting, and sourdough) that I think is leading to an increased interest in the traditional crafts that we haven’t seen in 100 years.