Fashion in the age of AI: From design to customer experience
In the world of ever-evolving metaverse and Web3 technology, artificial intelligence (AI) is currently one of the most talked about, and one of the most enigmatic, forms of tech making the rounds. Sparking debates of what could be considered art or design, the innovation has certainly ushered in a new, albeit ambiguous formula for creation in the digital age.
What exactly is AI?
AI is the combination of computer science and data alongside machine learning, which develop algorithms that can create a system of predictions or analyses based on inputted data. Machines utilised within this technology mimic the human mind and can learn and improve over time in order to adapt their processes.
When it comes to art and design, AI has been applied in such a way that it is possible to create a constant stream of content. Yet, the actual process of producing AI imagery involves plenty of trial and error. On entering such a platform, the creator is asked to provide a prompt, which can be as generic or as specific as they desire. As the machine begins to learn and understand what is asked of it, the produced images become closer and closer to the desired output. The slightest adaptation of the prompt can transform the imagery, and the more that is explored the more detailed the finished product.
Now, the likes of music, art, fashion design and other creative fields have become subject to AI tech, in a sector that is rapidly evolving in line with accelerating interests. Experts in the field are also currently exploring whether AI can be creative without human intervention as they look to understand the depth of communication between people and machines.
The topic of AI particularly gained traction late last year when technologies like ChatGPT, Lensa AI and Midjourney began making their rounds, sparking a debate around the use of AI in creation. While some argue that the technology could be perceived as a form of copying and potentially presents a range of other ethical issues, including that of encouraging mass production, others see it as a new form of creative outlet, providing designers and artists with accessible tools to evolve their creations.
A similar discussion was recently brought to light in the NFT space, after artist Mason Rothschild was taken to court by Hermès with the luxury brand accusing him of stealing its designs to create digital assets that had made him over one million dollars in sales. Ultimately, a jury ruled in favour of the French luxury brand, determining that Rothschild had indeed profited off its name. The ruling, from the eyes of experts, set a precedent for how similar cases between technology and fashion could be handled in the future, drawing parallels with the ongoing AI discourse. But as the technology evolves could such advancements actually benefit the industry moving forward?
AI as a collaborative approach to design
For creatives, AI has opened up a door for those looking for a fresh way to enter the industry, with an array of online tools, both free and paid, that allow almost anyone to access the technology. Such products have been heavily adopted by both the public and a new breed of artists and designers, who are redefining what it means to be a creator in the modern day. Field Skjellerup, the AI artist behind the Instagram account @ai_clothingdaily, does exactly what the title of the profile says – creating daily AI clothing. His designs are so realistic that the comments of the page are filled with people asking how to order the pieces. Looks range from AI iterations of Nike shoes, complete with heavy embellishments and intricate embroidery, to full runway outfits donned by similarly artificial models.
It should be noted that this is not Skjellerup’s first venture into the fashion world. The creator also operates the research platform and marketplace, Luckynumber8, which collects and often sells vintage and archival garments. This closely links to his AI work, for which he draws inspiration from past designer runway collections, as well as materials that he would like to experiment with. Speaking to FashionUnited, he said on the process: “Working with AI in this way is a very collaborative approach, you have to give an input, wait for the generative image and then respond accordingly. Even if I have an initial idea, the outcome could be totally different depending on how the AI responds to it. I really enjoy the sense of mystery surrounding these tools.”
Through Skjellerup’s eyes, AI is an important tool for design as he believes the technology doesn’t take away from the artist but instead enhances their creative potential. He added: “The ability to rapidly generate large groups of images makes initial concept stages highly productive and pushes our own ideas beyond what they could have become otherwise. I would like to see AI design tools in the democratisation of the design process. Through this, we will see the role of the designer and consumer blur into one. As fashion is very much a top down industry, this blurring of roles could lead to some very exciting possibilities.”
Where does AI optimisation falter?
Criticism of this format is presently unavoidable, as individuals within and outside the sector have their say on what constitutes design. This is also something Skjellerup is acutely aware of, however, his perception remains resilient. When asked about his views on the possibility of misconceptions surrounding the topic, he said: “I have heard people within the industry refer to this as ‘assisted creativity’, and as these tools become more accessible, we will see this become the norm. I feel like people either haven’t tried AI creative tools for themselves and are ready to pass judgement or are scared of the possibilities of job loss within the sector. I think this is a valid concern, but we must remember that any job loss comes down to people in positions of power making decisions, not the tools themselves.”
This hesitancy surrounding AI’s place in design has become increasingly analysed in recent studies, as experts look to investigate the practical applicability of AI in the creative design process. This was a concept Yoon Kyung Lee, a professor at the Pusan National University in Korea explored for her study ‘Thinking Skills and Creativity’. To carry out this research, Lee started generating textile designs using AI software and compared the models to the work of design students. In her results, she found that the designs by both were similar, however there was a distinct uniqueness and originality seen in the human-made designs, which often derived from the person’s experiences.
Lee did note that the use of AI in repetitive tasks could improve efficiency, while the process itself can provide a good learning tool for those who lack expertise in the industry. The professor proposed that human-AI collaborative work was therefore effective in some instances, particularly in work that links to a variety of disciplines beyond just visual aspects, and has gone on to begin developing processes in which this model can be applied. Speaking on her report, Lee said: “In the future, everybody will be able to be a creator or designer with the help of AI models. So far, only progressional fashion designers have been able to design and showcase clothes. But in the future, it will be possible for anyone to design the clothes they want and showcase their creativity.”
Personalising the customer journey
As Lee deduced, it isn’t just clothing design that AI serves a purpose in. Retailers have increasingly been implementing the technology into their e-commerce and online marketing strategies, taking advantage of its ability to enhance customer experience and, possibly, ensure more sustainable production processes. It is particularly popular among the ongoing e-commerce evolution, often applied to retailers’ websites to provide more accurate product recommendations and data collection to make search and discovery more efficient.
There has been a surge in companies putting to use such technology in order to provide retailers with solutions that look to expand consumer experiences. One of these is Perfect Corp., a tech firm that offers AI-powered try-on experiences for e-commerce, allowing consumers to try on products from the comfort of their own home. The feature enables a fast analysis that can then offer the shopper customised product recommendations, efficiently matching products with consumer needs and heightening the confidence of their purchase.
Speaking to FashionUnited, Alice Chang, CEO and founder of Perfect Corp., noted the benefits of such products, stating: “Fashion brands can provide customers with personalised shopping experiences that boost customer satisfaction, while decreasing product returns. These solutions also enable more sustainable business operations, allowing brands to reach ESG goals by decreasing the excess waste and emissions generated from the product sampling and returns processes.”
In Chang’s perspective, implementing such technologies is also crucial to staying relevant to today’s shoppers, who are increasingly leaning on personalised, digital advancements to make their purchasing decisions. Chang added: “The advancement of AI in recent years has greatly accelerated, allowing brands to transform their consumer journeys while improving sales, engagement and customer loyalty. Consumer shopping habits are shifting, and this is happening across multiple channels and retail spaces. As we look to the future, AI will grow to play a larger role across industries by empowering consumers to shop in a more personalised, interactive way.”