Bitcoin! NFTs! The metaverse! These days it seems very much like new technologies are bubbling up, dominating the cultural conversation, then immediately being replaced by the next buzzy concept before we’ve all had a chance to do our homework and figure out why someone would pay millions for a JPEG. As a result, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed or dismissive (or both) about the rise of blockchain-based technology. But it’s worth noting that even established old-school players in all industries are dabbling in digital futures. Fidelity now allows retirement planners to put some cash toward crypto; Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Burberry have all shown collections in the metaverse; and just last month Crate & Barrel gave senior vice president of product design Sebastian Brauer the title of head of Metaverse and Web3.
Brauer embraces both the possibility and uncertainty that blockchain technology provides—and as for adopting the features into the brand’s day-to-day operations, he says Crate intends to take it slow. But if the future of the internet is going to be a crypto-powered immersive VR experience, can the retail giant afford to sit on the sidelines? “There’s always three waves of everything. Wave number one is when it goes from novelty to commodity. Wave number two is when it goes from commodity to culture. And wave number three is when it goes from culture to consumerism,” Brauer tells host Dennis Scully on the latest episode of The Business of Home Podcast. “We’ve been in this stage where all of these concepts are novelty at the moment. And they may be for the next three years before they move into a commodity that’s more widely accepted.”
In the conversation, Brauer shares his interest in all things blockchain—from NFTs to the metaverse to cryptocurrency—and considers how they might affect the home industry. But while he’s keenly interested in what the future of a decentralized internet might look like, Brauer is also focused on the present day. He discusses Crate & Barrel’s retail strategy, supply chain challenges, designing product for designers and why value will always be a core part of the brand’s DNA. “In the end it comes down to the product and, most important, great value,” he says. “It’s about creating beauty but also about creating incredibly affordable pieces that make you scratch your head and say, ‘How is this beautiful piece of glass that is mouth-blown in Eastern Europe [only] $3?’”
Of equal significance, per Brauer, are physical stores, no matter what the digital future brings. “Even with the introduction of the metaverse and Web3 … even that I don’t think will replace the necessity and beauty of seeing something in real life,” he says. “I think it will only expand it.”
Homepage photo: Courtesy of Crate & Barrel