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.

 

 esse, quam nihil molestiae consequatur.

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.

Changing Fashion One Printer at A Time: Why Every Woman Needs 3D Printed Clothing in Her Closet

In 2018, I launched the world’s first-ever fully 3D printed women’s fashion line created on large-format 3D printers and presented it during the last New York Fashion Week. Throughout that week and in the time since, one question I’ve been asked more times than I can count is simply, “why?”

Most people are amazed by the quality of clothing that can be accomplished with my method of 3D printing in fashion, but the reasoning behind moving towards 3D printed clothing goes so far beyond just the aesthetics or function of the pieces. The thing that makes this new paradigm so important, and the thing that drew me to it in the first place, is the enormous potential 3D printing holds for advancement in an ethical and sustainable fashion.

Since I first started experimenting with 3D printing, my vision has always been a world in which fashion production is safer and cleaner, with the serious human and environmental costs that the industry currently inflicts greatly reduced or eliminated. There are a number of ways that 3D printed clothing helps to move that dream towards reality, and raising awareness on those positive impacts is one of the main reasons I design.

A Technological Solution to Serious Environmental Problems

The materials that traditional garment production utilizes cause a lot of problems, and they’re only going to get worse over time.   We know that cotton production is highly dependant on chemicals and fertilizers causing massive environmental damage, and the chromium used in leather tanning is extremely harmful to the people that work with it and the environment it leaches into. But beyond that, we’re also running into a shortage of space.

Textile production is incredibly resource-intensive, and as time marches on, we’re going to get to the point where it just isn’t possible to keep doing it the way we currently do. Cotton production, for instance, requires huge amounts of water. Cotton is grown in India – an already water-starved country – uses 22,500 litres of water per kilogram grown. It also requires large swaths of land to be dedicated to the crop. Neither land nor fresh water is in ample supply and, thanks to climate change and human expansion, every year they only get scarcer.

Imagine a world like the one PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has, in which, as space and resources dwindle, people move seaward and into floating cities. Where would the resources and space needed to produce clothing come from?

3D printing provides a solution to this resource scarcity problem. Clothes produced with 3D printers utilize materials that don’t require the waste of millions of liters of precious fresh water or land that could be used to grow food, and the printers themselves, even large-scale ones, require very little space in comparison to traditional clothing factories. It’s an elegant technical solution to a pressing problem, and it means that as the world’s population grows and the land we have available to us shrinks, we can continue producing all of the clothing we need while directing our most important resources to where they should go – improving the lives of human beings.

Real Progress Towards Ethical Production Methods

There is a lot of talk in the fashion industry about ethical and sustainable production, but unfortunately, there’s very little action to go along with it. Because ‘sustainability’ is such a buzzword, people get the incorrect impression that we’ve made big strides in fixing the numerous environmental and human problems that come along with traditional garment production – but we haven’t. In reality, we’ve only taken the tiniest of baby steps.

Baby steps aren’t enough, and 3D printing allows us to take some enormous steps towards solving problems like unethical labor practices and out-of-control waste. For instance, clothing created on a 3D printer doesn’t require cutting or sewing, so the demand for cheap labor that drives sweatshops is eliminated from the production process. That has an enormously positive impact on the welfare of women and children all over the world.

The shift in the role of the worker isn’t the only change. The role of the end-consumer also changes, moving them from a passive consumption position to a place where they can be actively involved in the design of their own clothing. That new involvement results in the production clothes that consumers will be happy to wear for years rather than a single season, reducing the massive landfill problem that currently plagues the industry.

The 3D printing process is also extremely efficient in and of itself. Whereas traditional manufacturing produces an enormous amount of waste material, 3D printing uses only as much filament as is required to complete a design, so there is effectively no wasted material discarded during production.

An Opportunity for Everyone to Help Create Change

The reaction to my full line at Fashion Week was incredibly positive but as nice as it was to receive compliments on the visual or functional aspects of the designs, what I was most pleased with was the immensely positive response towards the potential impacts of the technology. I love fashion, and making beautiful clothing is incredibly important to me, but my passion is making a positive change in the industry I love. A huge number of women feel the same way I do, and while few will ever design their own clothing, a consumer wearing a 3D printed garment can do so knowing they’re making a positive contribution towards sustainability in fashion in a very real way.  

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1*

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/20/cost-cotton-water-challenged-india-world-water-day

2*  https://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/floating-city-french-polynesia-2020-coast-islands-south-pacific-ocean-peter-thiel-seasteading-a8053836.html

Photo: Vita Zamchevska, Olya Helga, Julia Daviy 

Text: Julia Daviy

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