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.