Episode 193: Let’s Talk About Generative AI with Erin Cadigan (and Dustin, too)

In this episode, Amanda is joined by artist and print designer Erin Cadigan to talk about how AI impacts the world of print design and really, all creative jobs.  Erin is the print designer for UK slow fashion brand The Hippie Shake. You will get to hear about the importance of art, design, and creative exploration in Erin’s life, as well as her thoughts on the larger issues of economic justice associated with generative AI.  Dustin also drops by to help Amanda explain AI, how it works, and who really makes money from it.

Here are just a few of the things we will discuss in this episode about the ethics and impact of generative AI:
  • How does generative AI work?
  • How does this relate to working artists? What are the ethical concerns about generative AI?
  • What are the potential impacts for commercial artists and designers? What is are the larger economic and social effects?
  • How are we seeing AI used by retail and fashion right now? How could that expand?
  • If using AI saves money for companies, can we expect lower prices as customers?
  • The recent controversy surrounding Selkie’s use of AI for its Valentine’s Day collection.
Also: how we can find hope from the Octavia Butler essay, “A Few Rules For Predicting The Future.”

Additional reading:
“Selkie founder defends use of AI in new dress collection amid backlash,” Morgan Sung, Techcrunch.
“Leaked: the names of more than 16,000 non-consenting artists allegedly used to train Midjourney’s AI,” Theo Belci, The Art Newspaper.
“eli5 what Ai generated artwork is and how does someone accomplish this,” Reddit.
“This list of 4733 artists whose artwork Midjourney (and other AI image-generators) acknowledged was included in their dataset is truly mind blowing!!” Instagram post.
“Let’s Chat About AI,” Ensley Reign Cosmetics post.
Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, Douglas Coupland.

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Welcome to Clotheshorse, the podcast that hopes that when we all have to work in the Amazon warehouse because AI has taken away all of the creative jobs, that at least we’ll be able to bring our raccoon sidekicks to work with us.


I’m your host, Amanda, and this is episode 193.  And yes, today we are going to be talking about AI and how it impacts creative jobs like print design, graphic design, and so much more.  My guest today is Erin Cadigan, someone I have known since the early days of my career.  She was literally born to be an artist and she has been making art her entire life.  Currently (among many things she does) she is the print designer for The Hippie Shake, a slow fashion brand based in the UK.  Erin and I are going to talk about how AI impacts the world of print design and really all creative jobs. I was inspired to put together this episode after a controversy erupted last month involving Selkie, a brand I have mentioned many times on this podcast.  But really, while the Selkie Valentine’s collection controversy started this all for me, I have been on a whole journey of learning more about generative AI and its implications, as well as how it is being used as a tool by various brands out there.


Before we get started, I recommend that you read up on the Selkie AI story because it will be referenced quite a bit in this episode (although this episode is not specifically about Selkie).  I will be sharing a great Techcrunch article that explains the story.  So give that a read.  I don’t want anybody to feel that I am picking on Selkie (because I’ve actually been a long time fan of the brand, I was the buyer who actually launched it at Nuuly before anyone else was offering it).  Aesthetically, it was love at first sight for me.  And the brand does many good things:  offering a lot of sizes, using models of many different ages, races, and sizes, and even producing in small batches/on demand, rather than overproducing.  These are things that are great in my book.  But the AI controversy did bring some other issues to the surface that are worth discussing.


Next I’m going to tell you that this episode is LONG. But as always, I have broken it up into pieces so that you listen to it over a period of days if you like. Basically every time there is an ad break or a shift in segments, that’s your cue that it would be a good time to take a break (if you want) and not feel confused when you jump back in!


Okay, originally I had planned a long intro explaining what generative AI is, how it works, and what the impacts of it are.  But as I was editing my conversation with Erin,  I heard myself mentioning Dustin over and over because he and I have spent so much time discussing the social and economic implications of generative AI, so I decided that rather than a long monologue from me, it might be more interesting to hear all of that from me…and Dustin.  So let’s get things started with a special cameo from Dustin!

Coming soon…believe it or not, the AI transcription service used for creating transcripts really messed up on this episode.

Until we figure out a solution, you can find transcripts on Apple podcasts or listen via YouTube with subtitles.

Thanks again to Dustin for letting me drag him into my office to talk about AI.  

I want to be clear that outsourcing creative work (copyrighting, graphic design, music, you name it) to AI will only exacerbate economic inequality. Artists are already underpaid and struggling.  All of my friends who are print designers, graphic designers, etc are actually incredibly talented artists and makers who have found a way to make a living via their creative skills, but they are often underpaid and overworked, all for the “privilege” of a creative career.  If companies can cut those roles and increase profitability by using AI to design packages and emails and prints for clothing and textiles, THEY WILL DO IT.  I have already seen so much cutting of creative staff over the span of my career. And not just in the design department…also visual merchandisers, display builders, copywriters, stylists…for so long companies have just decided that they will have less interesting stores or less compelling styling on their websites if it means cutting costs and raising profitability.  But certain things, like graphic design and product design have been non-negotiables.  I mean, they are still buying samples just to copy (and copying prints from vintage garments), but they still need creative talent to produce stuff.  If they can find a way to skip that and save even more money, they will. And as Dustin said, they will not pass those savings on to the customers. They will be effectively transferring the wages they have been paying to creative workers to the wealthy executives, investors, and shareholders.  This is a no-win situation for the working class as a whole, whether you work in a creative job or you work in a warehouse.

Okay, now let’s transition into my conversation with Erin, because I am so excited for you to meet her!


Coming soon…believe it or not, the AI transcription service used for creating transcripts really messed up on this episode.

Until we figure out a solution, you can find transcripts on Apple podcasts or listen via YouTube with subtitles.

Thanks to Erin for spending a few hours talking with me! If you would like to take Erin up on her offer of guidance, etc, drop me an email and I’ll connect you with her.  In the mean time, you can find her on instagram (warning: she doesn’t update it often) as @theerincadigan. Among the many things she does, she created a Grateful Dead tarot deck and it is so amazing. So go check that out! And of course, you can see her print work by checking out The Hippie Shake.


Also, thank you to Dustin for sitting down with me, too.  


It has felt as if we have been at a turning point for so long, like what we do now can change what happens next.  Maybe other generations have felt this way in the past, in fact, I’m sure they have felt that way.  But right now, dealing with climate change, multiple wars and genocides, an ongoing pandemic, the prospect of another Trump presidency, the plastic pollution crisis, widening wealth inequality…I mean, that’s just the beginning of the list of issues that keep me up at night right now.  It feels like…no it doesn’t “feel,” it actually IS, now is the time when what we do affects (more than ever) what happens next.  And it can be hard to feel hopeful, hard to see how we can do anything to change the course we are on right now.


I am reminded of an essay by science fiction writer, Octavia Butler.  She wrote some really incredible books that all contained this essence of communities forming in the face of really dystopic, apocalyptic situations.  


In 2000, she wrote an essay for Essence called “A Few Rules For Predicting The Future.” You should all give a read. It’s not very long and I think it will help you feel some hope.


She starts this essay by sharing an encounter with a student.


“SO DO YOU REALLY believe that in the future we’re going to have the kind of trouble you write about in your books?” a student asked me as I was signing books after a talk. The young man was referring to the troubles I’d described in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, novels that take place in a near future of increasing drug addiction and illiteracy, marked by the popularity of prisons and the unpopularity of public schools, the vast and growing gap between the rich and everyone else, and the whole nasty family of problems brought on by global warming.

“I didn’t make up the problems,” I pointed out. ‘All I did was look around at the problems we’re neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters.’

“Okay,” the young man challenged. “So what’s the answer?”

“There isn’t one,” I told him.

“No answer? You mean we’re just doomed?” He smiled as though he thought this might be a joke.

“No,” I said. “I mean there’s no single answer that will solve all of our future problems. There’s no magic bullet. Instead there are thousands of answers–at least. You can be one of them if you choose to be.”

Several days later, by mail, I received a copy of the young man’s story in his college newspaper. He mentioned my talk, listed some of my books and the future problems they dealt with. Then he quoted his own question: “What’s the answer?” The article ended with the first three words of my reply, wrongly left standing alone: “There isn’t one.”

It’s sadly easy to reverse meaning, in fact, to tell a lie, by offering an accurate but incomplete quote. In this case, it was frustrating because the one thing that I and my main characters never do when contemplating the future is give up hope. In fact, the very act of trying to look ahead to discern possibilities and offer warnings is in itself an act of hope.

Butler goes on to talk about how we have to understand history, we have to study history, in order to understand how things can play out and how we can change them. That there are patterns to humanity, and when we educate ourselves, when we truly see these patterns, we really can create different outcomes.

She also points out that there was a time when basically everyone assumed we would all die as the result of a nuclear war…the end result of decades of The Cold War. Kids had nuclear bomb drills at school. People with the means were building fallout shelters under their houses, stocking them with years worth of canned food and iodine pills.  And then in the late 80s…that wasn’t the big looming fear any more.  Younger millennials and Gen Z don’t even know the world that kids of the 60s, 70s and 80s knew, that fear of nuclear war.  If you’ve never read the book Generation X by Douglas Coupland, well, I recommend that you do because the threat of nuclear bombs, that everlasting fear is built into just about every page.

Meanwhile, in her essay, Butler talks about how college students born in the 1980s are shocked when she tells them about that fear of nuclear annihilation, they think it sounds preposterous. 

Imagine if future generations could think that climate change or plastic in the ocean or genocide sound just as ridiculous and impossible? What if we could make all of that seem ridiculous to them because those problems no longer exist?

Seriously, this whole essay is a must read for anyone who wants things to be better. I see the hopelessness that so many of us feel being expressed across the internet. I mean, what is “there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism” other than a waving white flag of surrender? It is a sign of defeat.  When we say “well my impact will never be as huge as Amazon, so I’ll just keep buying K cups,” we’re saying “I have no hope left.”

It is hard to see the way forward when everything seems too huge, too broken to fix. But I promise, we can make things better when we work together.  Beyond AI taking creative jobs, or fast fashion, or even climate change…we have the power within us to determine what the future of this world will be.  We can’t give up.  We can’t lose that hope.  

Butler ends her essay by saying, “our tomorrow is the child of our today. Through thought and deed, we exert a great deal of influence over this child, even though we can’t control it absolutely. Best to think about it, though. Best to try to shape it into something good. Best to do that for any child.”

Let’s do this.  Let’s shape the future into something good, together.

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If you want to share your opinion/additional thoughts on the subjects we cover in each episode, feel free to email, whether it’s a typed out message or an audio recording:  [email protected]

Clotheshorse is brought to you with support from the following sustainable small businesses:

Thumbprint is Detroit’s only fair trade marketplace, located in the historic Eastern Market.  Our small business specializes in products handmade by empowered women in South Africa making a living wage creating things they love like hand painted candles and ceramics! We also carry a curated assortment of  sustainable/natural locally made goods. Thumbprint is a great gift destination for both the special people in your life and for yourself! Browse our online store at thumbprintdetroit.com and find us on instagram @thumbprintdetroit.

Picnicwear:  a slow fashion brand, ethically made by hand from vintage and deadstock materials – most notably, vintage towels! Founder, Dani, has worked in the industry as a fashion designer for over 10 years, but started Picnicwear in response to her dissatisfaction with the industry’s shortcomings. Picnicwear recently moved to rural North Carolina where all their clothing and accessories are now designed and cut, but the majority of their sewing is done by skilled garment workers in NYC. Their customers take comfort in knowing that all their sewists are paid well above NYC minimum wage. Picnicwear offers minimal waste and maximum authenticity: Future Vintage over future garbage.

Shift Clothing, out of beautiful Astoria, Oregon, with a focus on natural fibers, simple hardworking designs, and putting fat people first.  Discover more at shiftwheeler.com

High Energy Vintage is a fun and funky vintage shop located in Somerville, MA, just a few minutes away from downtown Boston. They offer a highly curated selection of bright and colorful clothing and accessories from the 1940s-1990s for people of all genders. Husband-and-wife duo Wiley & Jessamy handpick each piece for quality and style, with a focus on pieces that transcend trends and will find a home in your closet for many years to come! In addition to clothing, the shop also features a large selection of vintage vinyl and old school video games. Find them on instagram @ highenergyvintage, online at highenergyvintage.com, and at markets in and around Boston.

St. Evens is an NYC-based vintage shop that is dedicated to bringing you those special pieces you’ll reach for again and again. More than just a store, St. Evens is dedicated to sharing the stories and history behind the garments. 10% of all sales are donated to a different charitable organization each month.  New vintage is released every Thursday at wearStEvens.com, with previews of new pieces and more brought to you on Instagram at @wear_st.evens.

Deco Denim is a startup based out of San Francisco, selling clothing and accessories that are sustainable, gender fluid, size inclusive and high quality–made to last for years to come. Deco Denim is trying to change the way you think about buying clothes. Founder Sarah Mattes wants to empower people to ask important questions like, “Where was this made? Was this garment made ethically? Is this fabric made of plastic? Can this garment be upcycled and if not, can it be recycled?” Signup at decodenim.com to receive $20 off your first purchase. They promise not to spam you and send out no more than 3 emails a month, with 2 of them surrounding education or a personal note from the Founder. Find them on Instagram as @deco.denim.

The Pewter Thimble Is there a little bit of Italy in your soul? Are you an enthusiast of pre-loved decor and accessories? Bring vintage Italian style — and history — into your space with The Pewter Thimble (@thepewterthimble). We source useful and beautiful things, and mend them where needed. We also find gorgeous illustrations, and make them print-worthy. Tarot cards, tea towels and handpicked treasures, available to you from the comfort of your own home. Responsibly sourced from across Rome, lovingly renewed by fairly paid artists and artisans, with something for every budget. Discover more at thepewterthimble.com

Blank Cass, or Blanket Coats by Cass, is focused on restoring, renewing, and reviving the history held within vintage and heirloom textiles. By embodying and transferring the love, craft, and energy that is original to each vintage textile into a new garment, I hope we can reteach ourselves to care for and mend what we have and make it last. Blank Cass lives on Instagram @blank_cass and a website will be launched soon at blankcass.com.

Gabriela Antonas is a visual artist, an upcycler, and a fashion designer, but Gabriela Antonas is also a feminist micro business with radical ideals. She’s the one woman band, trying to help you understand, why slow fashion is what the earth needs. If you find your self in New Orleans, LA, you may buy her ready-to-wear upcycled garments in person at the store “Slow Down” (2855 Magazine St). Slow Down Nola only sells vintage and slow fashion from local designers. Gabriela’s garments are guaranteed to be in stock in person, but they also have a website so you may support this women owned and run business from wherever you are! If you are interested in Gabriela making a one of a kind garment for you DM her on Instagram at @slowfashiongabriela to book a consultation.

Vagabond Vintage DTLV is a vintage clothing, accessories & decor reselling business based in Downtown Las Vegas. Not only do we sell in Las Vegas, but we are also located throughout resale markets in San Francisco as well as at a curated boutique called Lux and Ivy located in Indianapolis, Indiana. Jessica, the founder & owner of Vagabond Vintage DTLV, recently opened the first IRL location located in the Arts District of Downtown Las Vegas on August 5th. The shop has a strong emphasis on 60s & 70s garments, single stitch tee shirts & dreamy loungewear. Follow them on instagram, @vagabondvintage.dtlv and keep an eye out for their website coming fall of 2022.

Country Feedback is a mom & pop record shop in Tarboro, North Carolina. They specialize in used rock, country, and soul and offer affordable vintage clothing and housewares. Do you have used records you want to sell? Country Feedback wants to buy them! Find us on Instagram @countryfeedbackvintageandvinyl or head downeast and visit our brick and mortar. All are welcome at this inclusive and family-friendly record shop in the country!

Located in Whistler, Canada, Velvet Underground is a “velvet jungle” full of vintage and second-hand clothes, plants, a vegan cafe and lots of rad products from other small sustainable businesses. Our mission is to create a brand and community dedicated to promoting self-expression, as well as educating and inspiring a more sustainable and conscious lifestyle both for the people and the planet. Find us on Instagram @shop_velvetunderground or online at www.shopvelvetunderground.com

Selina Sanders, a social impact brand that specializes in up-cycled clothing, using only reclaimed, vintage or thrifted materials: from tea towels, linens, blankets and quilts.  Sustainably crafted in Los Angeles, each piece is designed to last in one’s closet for generations to come.  Maximum Style; Minimal Carbon Footprint.

Salt Hats:  purveyors of truly sustainable hats. Hand blocked, sewn and embellished in Detroit, Michigan.

Republica Unicornia Yarns: Hand-Dyed Yarn and notions for the color-obsessed. Made with love and some swearing in fabulous Atlanta, Georgia by Head Yarn Wench Kathleen. Get ready for rainbows with a side of Giving A Damn! Republica Unicornia is all about making your own magic using small-batch, responsibly sourced, hand-dyed yarns and thoughtfully made notions. Slow fashion all the way down and discover the joy of creating your very own beautiful hand knit, crocheted, or woven pieces. Find us on Instagram @republica_unicornia_yarns and at www.republicaunicornia.com.

Cute Little Ruin is an online shop dedicated to providing quality vintage and secondhand clothing, vinyl, and home items in a wide range of styles and price points.  If it’s ethical and legal, we try to find a new home for it!  Vintage style with progressive values.  Find us on Instagram at @CuteLittleRuin.