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Algorithms to Runway: Examining the Implications of AI on Fashion

AI created images of models wearing red embellished dresses
Photo: Courtesy of Gabriela Roses Bentancor

Take for instance, you resume work one day, and you get a notification saying “Your services are no longer needed because we’ve found an AI that can replace you”. Although it may not sound as blunt as this, the above is one of the fears of many in today’s fashion marketplace.


In November 2022, San-Francisco based technology AI and research company, Open AI released its text-generating AI chatbox. It is able to write essays, code, and more given short text prompts, and hyper-charging productivity, but a lot of people are more concerned about the negative side of the new software. Although we’ve had AI tools present before now, it appears the release of the ChatGPT has opened more ways that were previously non-existent. It is however important to note that in this case, AI tools are not going ways, and indeed over the past few months, we’ve witnessed its dramatical expansion. Students now use it for tests and essays, major brands are experimenting with it.


In the fashion industry, for instance, brands now use AI to sketch dress illustrations, create mockup images, and even for fashion websites. Two months ago, Levi’s portrayed generative AI - a type of intelligence that can create images, audio, video, and text from user prompts. The AI will help the company display hyper-realistic models of every body type, age, size, and skin on its website. As expected, the announcement generated mixed reactions from netizens. Jobs from marketing, copywriting, design, and content creation might begin to experience a shift in their number and scope.


Understanding AI’s Role in Fashion

AI created fashion designs showcased at the AI Fashion Week 2023
Photo: Courtesy of Wale Oyerinde

When it comes to the question of whether fashion should fear AI, the answer is yes. These fears are not unfounded, but it does not certainly mean neglecting new technologies, a sector which AI falls under is the best approach for any fashion brand. The role of AI in the fashion industry has had its history right from the 16th century. During the period, Queen Elizabeth I is said to have denied a patent on the first knitting machine to inventor William Lee over fears that it would put hand knitters out of work. In today’s marketplace, there is almost no room for Luddites (people who are slow to embrace technological advancements). Rather it is better to understand how the adoption of AI into fashion brands can be of help to general operations.  


AI plays a significant role in the fashion industry, transforming various aspects of the design, production, marketing, and customer experience. Think of innovative designs as a fashion designer, and AI helps you bring them to life (see it as a form of assistance here). Companies before now have been trying their hands on virtual try-on and personalization, these tools help customers to digitally try on clothing and accessories. When incorporated into the supply chain and inventory management system, it helps to optimize the fashion supply chain by analyzing data on customer demand, production capacities, and others. From retail and customer experience, sustainability and ethical practices, trend forecasting and market analysis, to quality control and fraud detection, integration of AI into fashion sectors hold a lot of promises, but are these promises at an expense to fashion creatives?


The Impact of AI on Fashion Creatives

The first ever AI Fashion Week event took place last month (20 - 21 April 2023) with over 350 submissions that showcased the latest in AI and fashion featuring cutting-edge-AI- generated collections and designs from the best of fashion creatives.


“The ability to tailor text prompts for generative AI tools to get the desired outcome is becoming a specialized skill, with companies hiring “prompt engineers” and AI fashion designers like those competing in AI Fashion Week treating the prompts they devised to generate their collections as a competitive advantage.” - Marc Bain; Business of Fashion.

AI created images showcased at the 2023 AI Fashion Week
Courtesy of Gabriela Roses Bentancor


The image above is the submission of fashion designer, Gabriela Roses Bentancor at the 2023 AI Fashion Week. The submission later went on to become a top 10 selection, which will, later on, be made into real-life garments with Revolve. Through the ability of AI to provide design assistance to the innovative ideas of Gabriela Roses Bentancor, she becomes a top finalist and will see her ideas become real-life garments.

Aside from this example, it is suggested that fashion creatives develop a positive viewpoint toward the introduction to the world of fashion. This introduction can see AI provide more design assistance, help fashion creatives to virtually prototype and visualize their designs before physical production, help them explore new designs through pattern generation and customization, and several other benefits.




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