N: Hi Zane, how have you been lately? It's great to connect. Can you share what's been happening in your life behind the scenes over the past few months?
Z: I’m doing awesome, thanks. Cool of you guys to reach out.
I think I might’ve had the Best Summer Ever. I’m in New York for fashion week right now, which has been lovely, but other than that, I’ve mainly just been kicking around the west coast visiting friends, meeting people, and spending time outside. Definitely trying to get outdoors as much as possible before heading back to the Stanford bubble in a couple weeks for my senior year. It’s a very contained place.
Also I just got my first pair of Ricks. It’s actually kind of magic, I didn’t know what to expect but you just sort of walk around with a different energy.
I sound so terrible saying this but I can’t explain it. It’s the Island Dunks with the zipper entry on the side. Super used and a size too big so I had to add insoles but it’s been worth it. Anyway.
N: I'd love to hear more about Silk, the platform you are co-founding. It's a very ambitious and multilayered project, so I am sure it's hard to sum it up in a few words. Let's say I am a stylist working in London, and I'm a huge fan of Japanese suburban architecture. I get on Silk...what happens next?
Z: I appreciate the kind words! Before I say anything else here I just want to shout out the team – Greg and Darren. We’ve been solo bootstrapping the company for the last year or so which has been a gigantic grind, so approaching this point where we can start looking at our rollout and doing interviews is super gratifying.
I’ve found that a really sweet way to help people approach Silk conceptually is by imagining a sort of Tumblr, Pinterest, and Etsy mash-up.
It’s the best of blogging, research, and mood boarding, plus a peer-to-peer marketplace – all in one. We like to think of it as a new creative internet.
On the use-case side of things – as a fashion stylist, your Silk account can act as the central archive for any and all of your styling references, as well as its own point of discovery for finding new ones. Instead of sifting through screenshots in your camera roll or managing all of your likes across platforms, you can just save and organize all the good stuff in your Silk library. Poshmark, eBay, Mercari, Depop, Grailed, Tumblr – just put it all here.
Same goes for the architecture kink – we accommodate images, videos, articles, PDFs, songs, websites, product listings… basically any link online. It all revolves around this idea of multi-media moodboarding, but instead of calling them moodboards, we’re calling them “webs.”
The big idea is that stumbling into a well-made web on Silk should feel a lot like finding $100 bucks on the ground – a treat, a total score, an opportunity. Except that you keep finding a new $100 over and over and over again, every time you log on.
N: Let's also say my best friend just graduated from fashion school and is starting their own label. How do I get them to join, and what are some ways we can interact on the platform?
Z: On the interaction side of things, the primary social mechanism on Silk is the “connection” – which is a lot like a repost or reblog. When you find a piece of media you like, you can connect it to your blog or any of your webs. If you keep the connection public, it will show up in your followers' home feeds.
It’s worth noting that even though there are follows, follower counts aren’t visible. And there is no such thing as a “like.” We’ve found neither are very productive or meaningful for what we’re trying to achieve. In 2023, this might sound a bit weird and contrarian, but we want to keep everything on Silk very organic and human. This also means no machine learning algorithms. There is a lot of space on the rest of the internet for all of that.
Apart from all of that, my absolute favorite feature we’re playing with right now are our community spaces, which are like public group chats that any user can create and nestle into their webs, right next to any other piece of media. We want to prioritize open conversations over direct messages. It’s a remarkably easier way to start meeting the people you have overlap with.
Imagine this: you’re a filmmaker, you’re on Silk, and you find a web somebody is curating called “Sofia Coppola Forever <3”. Something cute like that. You click on it and scroll through a trove of stills and snippets from her films, interviews she’s done over the years, old movie posters, insightful Letterboxd reviews, and maybe even some of her work for sale on Blu-Ray. And then you notice a chat block! You enter, and there’s a dozen Coppola enjoyers in the middle of a discussion about how her fallout with Spike Jonze has affected her filmmaking.
Now, imagine hundreds of these handmade little media pockets across every other niche, aesthetic, and medium. It’s like a playground. We really want to foster a cultural space online that feels meaningful, cozy, and useful for people with creative orientations. You should be able to learn, work, shop, and connect here.
N: Within internet culture, there seems to be a wide spectrum of approaches around the proliferation and remixing of content.On one extreme, you have internet communities, like those formed around memes or aesthetics such as Milady, that embrace a somewhat anarchistic approach. Here, everything posted online is seen as fair game for appropriation with a "there's no such thing as original ideas" kind of mentality.Conversely, at the opposite end of the spectrum, you find web3 platforms advocating for putting media "on-chain" as a way to simplify the tracing of ideas and allows for fair compensation of creators, be it through merit or financial royalties. What are your thoughts on this?
Z: Appropriation and hybridization are kind of the name of the game right now, in my opinion.
Mass culture today seems to be much more focused on putting old things into new contexts rather than leaning into original experimentation. To some extent, it's always been this way, but it feels a lot more pronounced right now.
The internet gives us access to all of the information. This is an extremely recent development in the grand scheme of things and we’re definitely still in the dirty throes of adapting to it. To try and put things in perspective – the first generation of people who have grown up alongside the internet are just now turning 40. Most of the people around age 30 have little to no recollection of life pre-internet. It’s just fragments for me.
I think we’re still processing what it means to have access to it all. It’s very stimulating. That’s why it seems like every other week there’s a new aesthetic interest or a new branch of esotericism – we’re collectively speedrunning nostalgia and it can get really hectic.
In the midst of all of this, though, I admire the initiatives that prioritize keeping track of sources and amplifying the voices of marginalized creators. But it's a tricky conversation, for sure.
N: Speaking of web3, the NFT frenzy during the last bull market seems to have temporarily tarnished the reputation of the creative economy side of web3, at least in the general public's perception. What do you see as the potential "next big thing" that could reintroduce web3 to the broader public? Any insights on this?
Z: Great question. Even though we’ve derived a large part of Silk’s ethical foundations from web3, we’ve ultimately chosen not to go that route as a company. For our model of business, attempting to take on the combo of negative cultural positioning and all of the crazy tax stipulations involved would probably just be shooting ourselves in the foot—with a bazooka.
I honestly have no idea how the future of web3 looks, but I hope something really wonderful manages to break through and find positive reception soon. The tech is too useful not to find some kind of adoption.
N: How do you view the potential correlation between the rise of AI and an increase in the importance of curation as a cultural practice? Some suggest that as AI makes media production more time/cost-effective, there could be an increased demand for curators—individuals with discerning taste who can navigate the vast sea of AI-generated content. (It makes me think that in the near future we will see people putting "curator" in their bio, just in the same way at some point people started putting "creative" LOL.) What's your take on this?
Z: It seems like over the last few years the quality of our public spaces online have noticeably deteriorated, mainly in search. It’s become increasingly challenging to find “real” info that isn’t just clickbait or an ad trap. And it’s a huge bummer to reckon with because search engines have acted as such an amazing public utility up to this point.
With the advent of AI content production that you’re getting at, it’s pretty easy to imagine how these massive public spaces could get even harder to navigate. I certainly don’t envy the road ahead for a company like Google.
So, yeah—I’d agree. Authentic human curation and creative production will likely gain a ton of value in the near future as they become even scarcer resources. When you think about how this phenomenon coincides with a moment where society at large has found itself digging through the cultural archives and obsessing over the past, I think it makes a curated media platform like Silk look like a really cozy place to be. It’s almost like a filter layer on top of the internet.
In addition, there’s no VC in our ear pressuring us into weird stuff. No machine learning algorithms, no targeted ads. And you can trust that every time you see a piece of media, a real human put it there.
As the creator economy grows, the curator economy does too. It is about to be so important. That’s what we’re here for.
N: I know you are passionate about technical wear and have even ventured into developing your own. Can you share a bit about this without revealing too much, especially if it's still in the works?
Z: Yeah, it’s funny. Silk actually started as my personal creative outlet for curation and the clothes I was designing.
During the pandemic, I was lucky to snag an assistant design gig for Nocta and Arc’teryx System_A, which involved a sickening amount of techwear research.
I needed a place to archive all of the crazy stuff I was finding, and I’ve always been sort of anti-gatekeeping, so I started sharing it on Instagram.
Everything I shared was super functionally minded, and also deeply boyish, but it served as an unbelievable marketing tool for my work when I finally had my own stuff to sell. And even though I had recognized the power of the independent curation-marketing model in my hands, I had no intention of doing anything larger with it. This changed after the first run of jackets I ever made sold out in a day. I just dropped everything to explore why. My audience was very small; it made almost no sense.
As it turns out, the people who are attracted to the things you like are inherently predisposed to buy the things you like as well—whether you're making those items yourself or just reselling them. What really makes it all tick is curation’s ability to summon like-minded people and enable network effects. There are a ton of brands and archive resale accounts on Instagram who have been starting to catch onto this over the past few years, but the infrastructure for us is still lagging. I want to enable it for everybody.
This pivot and pursuit have unfortunately come at the smaller expense of my personal design practice, but I’m not really sad about it. I’ll get back to it at some point down the road for sure, but right now it would feel terribly irresponsible to leave all of this potential on the table in favor of anything else.
All of that said, the team and I have been designing some beautiful Silk collectibles for the early true believers. It’s really hot stuff. The first thing we’re dropping will probably be a black hat with the logo embroidered in 3D. Will go well with my Ricks, I think.
N: Thank you, Zane! What can we expect to see from you in the coming months?
Z: Of course, and thank you for egging me on with all the thoughtful questions. It’s really been a pleasure.
As for the coming months, it’s all eyes on rollout. I encourage any and all of the people reading this right now to consider paying us some attention and jump on our waitlist. You could be a part of something very special.