February 14, 2024

Sasha Wallinger on the intersection of fashion and technology, hidden connections, nature and culture, and nurturing minds (AC Ep31)

“It’s really exciting, truly. We have so much information at our fingertips and so much connectivity at this point in time, to go about pursuing your passion and to go about really finding that authentic truth within who you are, and how you can come out into the world.”

– Sasha Wallinger

Robert Scoble
About Sasha Wallinger

Sasha Wallinger is founder of Blockchain Style Lab, a team of strategists, researchers, and world builders that provides Web3 Advisory services, and acts as Chief Marketing Officer for major brands. She has lead global teams for brands such as H&M and Nike, and recently launched the Gucci Superplastic NFT collectibles. Her passion for translating art and science, nature and culture, and design and data is evident in this conversation.

What you will learn

  • Weaving nature, culture, and innovation
  • Bridging virtual and physical realms in the fashion and sustainability nexus
  • Pioneering the digital-physical hybrid in community building
  • Reflecting on technology’s evolution from the Industrial Revolution to AI integration
  • Innovations in everyday technology transforming personal and fashion experiences
  • Exploring the frontier of bio-scientific materials in fashion and wellness
  • mphasizing digital detox and mindfulness for grounding and future-thinking

Episode Resources



Ross Dawson: Sasha, it’s a delight to have you on the show.

Sasha Wallinger : Thank you, I’m thrilled to be with you.

Ross: So, you talk about creativity, community, and collaboration is central to your work and interests.  Tell me more.

Sasha: Sure, I mean, I think they’re huge topics, and that’s why they’re potentially suitable for all that I’m attempting to achieve. They come from the desire to connect both nature and culture, the desire to weave together fashion, sustainability, and technology, and truly just to enjoy that which I do with a bunch of people.

So, for creativity, I really take a lot of inspiration from design, art, music, and all areas of creativity. That also has been a natural scientist immersed in bioscientific material, and biomimicry, and areas in those different ways that we look outside of the expected into places that can be a little bit unique and unexpected. So, I think that creativity allows me to have a dialogue with artisans, both accomplished artists, and up and coming artists, but also look to nature for inspiration when having those discussions.

And then to develop a community. I mean, I really do enjoy bringing people together, I enjoy having conversations. And certainly, as a journalist, I really love listening to people’s stories. So that’s how I find communities, really woven the thread of what I’m up to both as a marketer and a communicator. But also as a curious individual who’s constantly learning and learning and community, I don’t think it’s great to only learn in silos, so trying to blend more of the learnings with groups that I’m able to be a part of.

And collaboration is, I think, increasingly just the name of the game holistically across whatever space, industry reality, you’re choosing to be a part of, either, you know, I won’t go into this a little bit more, but I traverse both the physical and virtual worlds, where I do feel like collaboration is critical and helps us as a society, and I guess, a world to move forward. So that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Ross: Well, there’s so much to dig into there. But maybe let’s start with that intersection of the virtual and the physical. I suppose, across those domains, so just collaboration, people will be able to work together to do more. So I would have liked to hear specifics around, the work you do and what you’ve been doing around how it is we can collaborate or be more creative or foster communities in intersections of virtual and physical worlds.

Sasha: Sure, I think that’s a very pertinent and important question to unpackage. I became interested in the connection between virtual and physical worlds before the pandemic, but certainly understood the potential for that type of ecosystem to be fostered in fast track speed during the time at which we were so siloed and so on our own, let’s say, in our own different worlds, and almost forced into a sense of a Metaverse or an ecosystem that was virtual and physical, toeing the line at the same time.

So, on Zoom calls, even meeting up with friends in gaming ecosystems. And having had a fashion sustainability background, I saw how difficult it was to actually connect with brands, museums, even entertainment spaces that meant so much to me in the physical, while I had to be, you know, more virtual, as a result of being home and sheltering in place.

And so, I think what was really interesting to me was all of the different tools that struck up during that time. I was able to work in the virtual physical connection space as the Chief Marketing Officer of Superplastic, during the pandemic, and actually helped Gucci to launch a discord channel but also helped to bring to life the Gucci NFT. And so, I saw firsthand the hurdles that would be needed to be trumped reversed(ts:4:35), and really, it’s a translation to build about the why behind heritage brands like Gucci coming online in a very tech-forward way.

But then I also saw the opportunity. So that was the creativity, right, and being nimble, and some really great team members. Part of the Gucci team really were forward-thinking in that regard and were brave to take on that pursuit. But what they did was they built a community, and they built a community that was down aging the brands but also welcoming people to discover Gucci in a whole different way.

So those types of moments helped to reaffirm their commitment to fusing technology, creativity, fashion, you know, just even the opportunity to have a dialogue with the IP of a brand in a new and different way. I think that was very striking. And that led to a variety of different other projects and undertakings. But that was a really great snapshot of bringing the sensory experience into a technical-based organization, like a discord channel, or even like a Roblox ecosystem, to begin to fuse that which we observe from a cultural background and kind of what we project onto what technology could and should be, and how to open that up into the possibilities of what it can become.

Ross: So what did the community look like? What was that with avatar-based? Or what was it, sorry? You mentioned Discord.

Sasha: Yeah, it stood up initially in Discord. However, it connected to an NFT that was a physical-virtual connection, so both a digital collectible as well as a physical item. And I say that because I think that really set the precedent; this was early on. This is back when NFTs were pretty new but set the precedent of that physical-to-virtual connection.

The community itself was really just amazing to witness the growth from zero to 60,000, in such a short period of time, and a really active community, a really vibrant community, a community that fostered the commitment of one another to uphold certain championships of each other, certain creative inspiration, and then also guiding one another. I mean, Discord was pretty new for a lot of people at that point in time. And so what it helps people become as ambassadors and guides to one another and take the ownership of leadership in these spaces that they were just discovering too.

So it was a very vibrant time and exciting and neat to see some of the other projects that have cropped up as a result of that and other projects that have been inspired by that type of climate. I think that it doesn’t have to also just spin fashion or retail. I think that there have been a lot of advancements in health and wellness communities, I think there have been a lot of advancements across CPG ecosystems. Taco Bell held a wedding in the metaverse for the first time during that period of time. And so I think there’s quite a bit of ways to come together and draw inspiration from some of those moments.

Ross: It’s interesting, this idea of, brand, but brand is a place where ideation happens in a way the community co-creates the brand. I mean, that’s why we try to link it with the amplifying cognition. I mean, that’s where you can say, well, you know, it’s not just a brand, we’re putting it out there. But this is a place of co-creation. And I think that’s an interesting thing.

But to help out a bit since there’s so many things to cover, back to the creativity in this idea of augmenting creativity. So what thoughts do you have on how it is we can individually or collectively be more creative?

Sasha: Yeah, I get asked this question a lot. And I have to take us back to the Industrial Revolution, where, you know, especially as a textile and fashion historian, a lot of progress was made in a quick period of time through technology, augmenting creativity. And if you think about the mills and the different looms, and textiles that were formulated during that point in time, and how exponentially scale was achieved around,many industries, due to tools and technologies that now we would find archaic, but at that point in time, we’re revelatory.

So it hasn’t, it’s not the first time that we’re looking to enhance and step into these experiential moments of immersing ourselves with new technologies. But it’s just such a different world. And of course, catapulting further and further into what’s possible. I think it’s really exciting to think about humans and tools coming together like that sort of lead all anthropological pursuits and understanding, about the evolution of cognition. For so many generations and years and periods of life, that we know it as humans on Earth. Excuse me, I think it’s really important to reflect during those times that we’re lucky to be living in these really exciting times. However, sometimes we don’t have as much perspective in those moments.

So to think about something like AI, AI has been used for many, many years, a technology like RFID or NFC chipping, those types of things have been implemented into a lot of the different tools and technologies like our credit cards or frictionless checkout that we’re seeing now come to life. However, the consumer is much more cognizant and has the ability to be much closer to those types of tools. So it’s not simply just from the analogy of the Industrial Revolution, that the mills in Lowell, Massachusetts had the capacity to quickly produce textiles, but it’s the individual at home at this point in time. So the onus falls on the individual, but yet, there’s a lot of attention, of course, on the first-to-market players and actors. So we talk about Meta, we talk about Google, we talk about OpenAI groups, and things like that, and they get a lot of attention. But what I’m most keen on is the individual players and the people who are coming up, the Gen Alpha, Gen Z creators who are experimenting and just take into account these types of tools, you know, name your emerging technology tool, it’s in their creative journeys.

And as they develop, AI visualized photoshoots, or product that’s become influenced by a Dall-e or, you know, tools and technologies of OpenAI, ChatGPT prompts, or such things, it’s really interesting to see that confluence, and I do think it has to be clarified that it’s a confluence of human plus data tools, technologies, not one over the other.

Ross: Are there any examples in particular that you have found inspiring in the last year, examples of that.

Sasha: Yeah, I was just at the NRF event in New York, and was really struck, there are a couple of really interesting, small but mighty moments there. First was from CES actually, where Microsoft just added the co-pilot key to their keyboard. So that’s a moment, it’s very simplistic, but when you think in the movement through time of a new key being put on a Microsoft keyboard, that’s it. That’s radical, right? And that’s a totally different way of operating.

And then looking also at NRF, I was able to see the fed through the technology of choosing on a screen a lip color, that then gets physically imported into a compact, so a little makeup area that comes through in a physical form, where you can choose a lip color that you actually get receive and then can travel with.

So these moments that are really, in our day to day, you know, just choosing what you’re going to type on your keyboard, assembling what you’re gonna wear, the lip shade, that are being enhanced by technology are, I think, really interesting. As far as the young designers, there’s a lot of different shows and different moments that are coming up. In February with fashion month, Copenhagen’s working with Spin Fashion to do some really exciting moments across the fashion space that are going to be AI-ated. And I think we’ll see a lot across the fashion month to take note of and how different digital Fashion Week’s occur across the globe, truly, and then those just continue to inspire young designers to create and come into a community to be able to continue to re-envision materialization and what the future of fashion holds.

Ross: Yeah, that actually is. I’m very interested in technology-infused clothing. And so, I’ve had CuteCircuit, I think it was, and you know, what amazes me is that it’s why don’t we all have technology-infused clothing by now, you know, it’s like, there’s a few examples of really good stuff, but there’s not much really, and it’s just seen so slowly come, and I kind of think well, this is the future waiting to happen. So I’d love to hear any thoughts around technology-infused clothing that you’ve seen or what you see the potential for that is.

Sasha: Well, I love that because I actually came into bio-scientific material research because I was interested in designing for outer space. For when we come into the outer space world and want to not just look lovely but also be practical. So I think there’s a lot of different bio-scientific materials that are out there that lend themselves to haptic integration. There’s the lab-created silks. There are mushroom-created leathers. I mean, there’s just, again, I mentioned biomimicry because I think there’s so much possibility for regenerative agriculture to play a role in this conversation. I do think it’s important to go there.

But just with what you’re sharing, when I think like, if I happen to be a football fan and add an NFC chip that was embedded onto a jacket that I was wearing into a football stadium when I’m going to see a match, I can get keyed up with different prompts as to certain events that are occurring, other friends that are going to be there, you know, at the actual match, maybe if there’s a meet-up of a player to meet them, you know, I think the possibilities are endless.

And I agree with you that the technology-embedded apparel is really an exciting horizon to surmount. And I think it also takes into account the opportunity to look into health and wellness too. I mean, we do many of us have monitoring, either on our fingers with the rings or trying to be friends, agnostic, but like, you know, on our wrists that are tracking our data. It makes total sense that our clothes would also do the same and maybe even begin to regulate our temperatures and help us to forecast health and wellness across the variety of ecosystems that we traverse. So I think the potential is quite vast.

Ross: So you’ve already touched on it in a couple of ways. You mentioned initially this idea of your nature and culture. First thing that brings back to mind is Gregory Bateson’s book, “Mind and Nature – a Necessary Unity” I think the subtitle was, and so what does that mean for you, in this idea of nature and culture, and I think our culture today could very well be positively informed by nature. That’s its wisdom. So where can we go from there?

Sasha: Yeah, I love that reference. I haven’t read that book. But I was, my Bachelor’s in Nature and Culture. And that was actually the pursuit of my undergraduate degree and what that looked like was a fusion of the humanities. So Gary Snyder, who is a US poet, who has quite a stronghold in a reverence for the earth, and a spiritual reverence for the earth. But a holistic reverence for the earth was one of my professors juxtaposed with the painter, Wayne Thiebaud, who’s a very contemporary artist, happy colors, really interesting, contemporary funk movement artists, as well as the microbiologist Mark Willis, and geologists too.

So I think that this preconceived notion that there are silos too that separate nature and culture was really early on, I guess, dispelled for me. I grew up on the east coast of the United States, where Walden Woods was famously, you know, Thoreau kind of wanted to be with nature and commune. And so there just was never this disconnect. So I think, actually, I had to reassemble the understanding of why these two ways of thinking or even areas of thinking were disconnected. And then look around, we did a lot of work, early days from searching around dominion, and how humans come into neutral spaces. I think that that’s really impacted the work that I do, you know, the foresight strategy that I work on today, in the sense of understanding, let’s not get too invested in a certain disposition, but who was here first, on the land, and how nature has a really important role and all that we are and do, and to have a reverence for that.

So I really like to share the Iroquois precept, when thinking about seven generations ahead, especially when we think about technology, and when we think about the impact on our Earth, so I think there’s a lot of different natural resources that we can draw from and give to as we’re creating the future. And it wasn’t any happenstance that I mentioned outer space and the different areas that we potentially will traverse in hopefully our time and our children’s time and just being able to carry the goodwill with us as we embark into those exciting journeys.

Ross: So in terms of your own personal practices for living in a world of unlimited information, using technology to enhance your work, your creativity, your thinking, your mood, I mean, what are some of your personal practices to amplify or augment yourself?

Sasha: I think it’s really important actually. Most of the time that I take away from the digital, digital detoxes, I think I’m really intentional about those. We try as a family. I have a young child, and my husband and I try to go at least once a week on a hike, being in nature, and you can never get too far away. But, however, I do think it’s really important to have perspective. And those moments, as I mentioned earlier, have creative inspiration.

But, certainly, being so invested, I mean, I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. And when you’re thinking about the future, you are thinking about different avatars and different ways of receiving a myriad of things: sustenance, health, wellness, information and collecting that information. So, I think being able to separate the reality from what could be, I guess, it’s very grounding to me personally. And I do think that mindfulness practice has always been a critical component of my life. And it has kept me anchored and rooted, both again, in the reverence for the present moment, but also an understanding why that’s so important as we look to the future to reflect upon the past.

So yeah, I think we talked a little bit before we started to record around, you know, just this interplay between humans and data. And I think we’re all athletes in one respect, that have this amazing computer in our minds and our bodies. So remembering to nurture that and to fuel that, and to power up is really important.

Ross: Yes, absolutely. It’s good for our health. And part of it is, it’s like giving it the space, which it needs, you know when you get caught and pulled into business on all sides. And so we have to be volitional about, you know, say, right, well, let’s switch off for a little bit and see where that takes us. So where are you working on now? And what’s exciting you and your current projects and where those might go?

Sasha: Yeah, thank you. I think one that I just got back from a lot of info, grabbing information with various tech conferences, and just kind of understanding what the future holds. And also, at this point in time, I’m really interested in entertainment and immersive, experiential moments, due to a lot of things, not just Apple vision pros headset, however, I think that connectivity and facial computing is going to be really interesting to watch, not simply just in one’s own home, but how different developers and designers are created for that new tool, as well as how people begin to interact, given that they are going to potentially have a headset on for a large portion of at least some of the month of February, for a lot of times. So thinking about that is really captivating to me.

And then also thinking about how we create with that in mind, but also thinking about how, again, I mentioned health and wellness, how that cycle of boomers and as we age, millennials, Gen X, Y Z’s are coming into an ecosystem in which there isn’t this apprehension to have a virtual health assistant or have voice AI-affiliated help with health and wellness moments. I think we’re going to see a lot of that confluence of mindfulness and wellness come to life quickly actually, based on what I just saw, within a technological aided circumstance. And so thinking, how we bring the complexities of being human aided by technology into that space, I think that’s going to require quite a bit of thought.

And then lastly, like, I’m always going to be a champion of fashion and sustainability. And so I’m really looking forward to seeing the shows coming up and seeing how designers incorporate so many moments from technology into their collections. I think Pharrell Williams did a really interesting pixelated collection two seasons ago. And Tommy Hilfiger always has a really interesting job bringing in the web through crowds. So looking forward to seeing how that’s presented on the runway coming up.

Ross: So in terms of just this theme of amplifying cognition, you know, how it is we think individually collectively. So what is your advice to our listeners as to how it is they can amplify their cognition or directions or ideas or frames which could be useful?

Sasha: I don’t think I have it all figured out, but I can offer two juxtapositions. One, I’m a voracious reader, and the people who continue to impress me are also voracious readers. I think that reading, however you choose to read, is so important to hear and see and learn the stories of different realities and different individuals. Just be informed and keep informed and keep learning, you know, kind of goes without saying, but a lifelong learner, and think that helps to be able to, then as I mentioned, like take a pause, take time to collect one’s thoughts, and be able to understand what amplification of cognition looks like to you.

There are so many different moments now. I mean, I’m close to Silicon Valley, in California, and a lot of our senior-level tech executives are prolonging their lives with different aids and different tools and technologies. So if we’re going to be around for a longer time, which sounds great, we’re going to have to have a lot more stuff to talk about, and to stay connected to that continual well, not just of use, but of information. So I’m excited about that.

And I think also, finding one’s passion. It’s been extraordinarily validating to me to discover a lifestyle in which I can weave together things that were seemingly completely unconnected and bring that translation of how they can become connected. That’s just absolutely the joy of my life. I’ve been called a hidden connections detective in that regard. And it’s one of the nicest compliments I’ve received. So I think it’s really exciting to truly, we have so much information at our fingertips, and so much connectivity at this point in time, to go about pursuing your passion and to go about really finding that authentic truth within who you are, and how you can come out into the world. That’s the best advice I can offer.

Ross: So just to, like, dig it a little bit into that into the hidden connections. And I think you’re absolutely right, that the passion one has for it, you pick from a list, now there’s a long list of passions you could have on that one. You know, it’s got to be unique to you. So you have to bring together the connections, which are your unique passion. So are there any ways that we can nurture our capability to see or to surface or to intuit those hidden connections?


Sasha: Yeah, I think there’s so many, and I think they’re unique to the individual. So I think, you know, someone like myself, I could get down any rabbit hole, honestly, that somebody can take me on because I’m so inquisitive and so curious. And so, I guess I’m not afraid of risk. But I do think that it’s also important to understand how there’s a multitude of voices and different ways of learning and knowing, and specifically having managed global teams, as a former Chief Marketing Officer, not every one of my team members and the teams that they’ve been led, felt comfortable going down those roads.

So I think understanding different learning styles and having held various managerial positions, whatever you know, you have, or like just being in, in the real thick of it with individuals, you see how illuminating it can be for somebody who’s like myself to be partnered with a real planner with somebody who can be really very grounded. So I think that I’ve learned a lot from colleagues and friends who have the dexterity to really be systematic and logistical. And I hold a lot higher respect for that type of individual than I ever have, having to verse through a variety of scenarios where one needs that planning.

So I think just, I mean, it kind of boils down to having reverence for our differences and having the patience to both learn and teach one another. Why different ways of perceiving knowledge and information and different paces of cognition and different amplification abilities. You know, maybe some people don’t care to speak and, you know, have a conversation like we’re having now, maybe they just want to listen. And I think that that’s been something that has had more attention lately. That has been really powerful, and we can see the collective intelligence moving forward as a result of that. So making room for all different voices and minds into the conversation. I think that’s very critical. Yeah.

Ross: Absolutely. Well, actually referencing Gregory Bateson again, who said that “Wisdom comes from multiple perspectives” and that’s today more than ever. We need that. So where can people go to find out more about your work Sasha?

Sasha: Sure, I’m on sashawallinger.com. I have a newly minted website, which you’ll have to excuse because it’s really new and really minted. But I’m very active on LinkedIn as well. And I love hearing from people their ideas. I mean, you can tell them I’m truly a journalist and a listener at heart. So I really enjoy hearing your stories. And thank you for the time. Yeah.

Ross: Thank you so much for your time, your insights, Sasha.

Sasha: My pleasure. 

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