AI in Fashion Poised to Change Industry’s Future

 

AI in Fashion Poised to Change Industry’s Future

Artificial intelligence (AI) is quickly permeating many aspects of our lives, from Alexa to Netflix.

Though still in its infancy — the robots are not taking over yet — AI is revolutionizing nearly all industries, including fashion. AI in fashion is already applicable to mass-production fashion, while entrepreneurs in the tech-fashion world scramble to refine other applications for consumer use.

 

Not only is it essential to understand the role AI will play in the fashion industry, it’s paramount to understand the ethical maze that we must walk to ensure that the technology promotes sustainable fashion. With the wrong algorithms, the wrong code, the wrong feedback loops, the future of fashion AI could be devastating to our planet.

 

Thankfully, the maze is not that difficult to navigate if you have the will to do so.

AI Discovering Future of Fashion

For the most part, AI in fashion is being used to rapidly identify either general trends or personal tastes of users based on enormous amounts of public data scrubbed from social media sites, such as Pinterest and Instagram. 

According to the Advertising Specialty Institute, a quick search of “#fashion” on Instagram reveals more than half a billion results. Sorting through that amount of big data to obtain meaningful insights and trends is only possible through AI. The project StreetStyle by Kavita Bala, chair of the computer science department at Cornell University, does exactly that.

 

The AI created for the project is able to develop a map of style trends and influencers by analyzing 14.5 million photos publicly shared on social media. The program is capable of answering questions, such as: How many people wear black in Los Angeles today, compared with two years ago? Or, where in the world is the hijab most prevalent?

 

One AI fashion company that has gained traction is Stitch Fix, which creates personalized suggestions of articles and accessories based on a user’s selected preferences and social-media activity.

 

Think about how much easier life would be if you could ditch your friends with sometimes-questionable fashion tastes and just ask your AI: Alexa, how do I look today? Then, Alexa could tell you that though the cut of your jeans is coming back in style based on your age and socio-economic standing, they certainly should not be worn with that print shirt.

AI Fashion Designers

Going beyond recognizing trends and allowing designers and producers to adapt more quickly to consumer needs, there is an attempt to have AI do the actual designing.

Though what is being rolled out is clearly unfashionable, there is work being rolled out.

At the research center Lab126, an Amazon team has already developed an algorithm using a generative adversarial network, or GAN — which exists on the frontline of computer learning.

Will Knight explained in MIT Technology Review that the algorithm developed by the team “learns about a particular style of fashion from images, and can then generate new items in similar styles from scratch—essentially, a simple AI fashion designer.” However, he admits that the system is still fairly crude — hardly a word any designer wants to hear about their work.

AI Ethics in Fashion

Despite its clear benefits for marketing and identifying trends, AI’s role in the future of fashion is riddled with pitfalls. We need to make sure we’re not using technology to widen inequality or worsen social injustice.

 

The tsunami is coming — that is clear. However, what form it takes when it makes land depends on a lot more than just efficient coding and rapid processing of big data. There are ethical questions with regards to all AI endeavors. And, because the fashion industry is plagued by ethical dilemmas, any AI being used will face those same questions.

 

 

Though you can include a note to your Stitch Fix stylist requesting ethically sourced, sustainable fashion items, that’s not the same as having AI recognize the trend in sustainable fashion from Instagram posts.

It really comes down to the choice made by a handful of people developing AI fashion programs for the industry. The future of fashion is in their fingertips; their views and moral values, as well as attention to ethical and sustainability questions, will revolutionize the fashion industry one or the other.

 

Designers and consumers must come together to ask AI fashion programers these ethical questions. Doing so is essential to the future of fashion and our planet.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts regarding AI in sustainable fashion in the comment box below.

When it comes right down to it, technology is not self-determining, yet. It is a tool that can be wielded for good, such as prioritizing sustainable fashion, or for bad, such as putting fashion ahead of the health of our planet.

Ask Yourself These Questions

To move forward with AI technology in the fashion industry, designer, consumers, and coders — who probably don’t know stilettos from wedges — need to ask themselves, and the industry, some very specific questions.

The most important is whether or not AI in the fashion industry will be designed to promote sustainable fashion. Without coding in ways to measure the new generation of consumers’ demand for sustainable fashion, AI could easily produce “hard data” that leads the industry astray.

 

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Any path where machine-learning programs attempt to replace humans in the creation of fashion trends needs to be riddled with safeguards. There must be sentries standing guard over what is fundamentally important: does this fashion address the environmental, ethical, and cruelty-free questions that the new generation of consumers are asking?

Another big question that will impact our world is whether or not programmers of fashion AI algorithms are willing to provide a solution to the overconsumption that plagues the industry. At this point, it seems that such programs are more geared toward increasing overconsumption, pushing boxes of low quality, unstainable clothing and accessories on people who do not need them. Without addressing this issue, AI could simply escalate the issue of overconsumption in the industry.

The last question boils down the question of art. Is AI capable of creating art? An algorithm has been used to write a novel now, but can it define style? Style does not bloom from trends, trends are in fact the flowers of style.

It is far too easy to get caught up in the rhetoric and marketing capabilities of the AI being used by the fashion industry. Though AI is neither good nor bad, it is capable of both depending on what questions we ask while it’s being developed.

Consumers, designers, and programmers must ask these questions as we move into the future of fashion.

Three Problems Holding Back 3D Printed Fashion and the Solutions to Each

The days of 3D printing being a hyped-up novelty are gone. The technology has moved past the innovation stage and is well into the early adoption phase as more and more people seek out information and dip their toes into the industry. But while 3D printing as a whole is rapidly becoming more mainstream, when it comes to printing clothing, there are still major challenges.

I experience some of those challenges every day in my 3D-printed fashion lab in Miami, and I’m using one of the most advanced 3D printers available on the market. For someone working on clothing at home with a consumer-grade 3D printer, the challenges would be even greater. But luckily, I do see solutions on the horizon, and as the technology matures, most of the problems fashion designers currently face will begin to ease.

Here are the top three problems I currently see facing 3D printed sustainable fashion, and the solutions that I believe will arrive sooner rather than later to help ease the frustration of 3D designers like myself.

Problem 1: Materials are Currently Quite Limiting

While there are a number of types of filament on the market, there are some major limitations to essentially all of them. From a fashion perspective, the biggest one is flexibility. As it stands, we can 3D print clothing that behaves similarly to stiffer materials like leather, but we aren’t quite at the point of being able to print something that flexes and flows like a cotton t-shirt. With that being said, there most definitely are 3D-printed t-shirts, and with any luck it won’t be long until they move and feel just like their cotton cousins!

The other big problem is a lack of sustainable, eco-friendly materials to choose from. ABS is recyclable, but a ton of it still ends up in landfills. PLA is the most common biodegradable filament currently used, but it takes a long time to break down and requires a composting facility. It’s also not flexible enough to be realistically used in fashion applications. That means fashion designers looking to maximize the wearability of their garments are currently forced to take a less eco-friendly route.

Luckily, there are innovative companies out there tackling both of these problems as we speak. A company called Essentium has recently developed a new filament they call TPU 80A, which is one of the most flexible 3D printing materials available to date, and I personally have started to use TPE 70A, which is even more flexible! On the sustainability front, the Singapore University of Technology and Design recently unveiled a material they call FLAM – a completely natural, 100% biodegradable material that the SUTD says is completely safe for use, potentially in every ecosystem on the planet.

Problem 2: 3D Printing is Slow

There have been great strides in the efficiency and speed of 3D printing over the past few years, but I’d be lying if I said that the technology was currently fast. The time it takes to complete a design is obviously based on overall complexity, but even the simplest of fashion pieces requires some serious patience.

For example, in my September show at New York Fashion Week, the pieces incorporated a lot of complex geometrical shapes. As a result, it actually took around 150 hours to print one of the dresses on a single printer! That’s obviously an extreme example, but even with the current skirt I’m working on, which is a much simpler design, printing takes around 18 hours.

The solution to this problem is obvious – the unstoppable march of technological progress! Every year printers get faster and faster and, especially as large format printers grow in speed, the time it takes to do large, complex designs will rapidly decrease. For multi-piece designs like the skirt I mentioned (which requires a 3D printed liner as well), employing multiple printers is also an easy way to cut the manufacturing time down.  

I’ve also begun experimenting with stereolithography (SLA) printers, which are faster than traditional printers. SLA printers also allow me to print with different materials like silicone and flexible resins. The downside is that, while fast, SLA printers are small. They are getting larger though, and I’m eagerly awaiting the launch of a large-format version in the coming months.

Problem 3: There’s a Long Way to Go in Education and Acceptance

While 3D printing is now in an early adoption phase and more and more consumers are becoming familiar with it, when it comes to 3D printed fashion, there is a long, long way to go. In fact, when you tell the average person about 3D printed clothing, most of them initially don’t even believe it’s real. They also assume that 3D printed clothing is worse for the environment and for the consumer than traditional materials like cotton. That’s understandable, since most people associate “plastic” with “bad”, but when it comes clothing production, they couldn’t be more wrong.

The industry also needs more education on the technology itself, specifically the software used to create designs. As it stands, it can be a steep learning curve to tackle, and many fashion designers that might otherwise be interested in trying out 3D printing will never get started due to the barrier to entry posed by the relatively complex software.

In my opinion the thing that will drive the greatest change in this area is going to be the continued shrinking of global natural resources. As we continue to run out of land and fresh water all across the globe, the harm done by traditional production methods will be brought more and more into the light. The result will be a widened understanding and appreciation of 3D printing as a means of textile production, and a growing interest among designers looking to implement the technology into their own collections. That raised awareness will naturally lead to greater education and adoption.

Julia Daviy

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Photo: Vita Zamchevska

 

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