A mere five years ago, AI or artificial intelligence was something that only a select few programmers across the world could access, let alone use. When discussing the efforts of Mazin Gilbert, a Technology Executive who wanted to make AI technology available to all AT&T employees, including those without a background in computer science in 2018, the Harvard Business Review described this goal as “ambitious.”
Now, on the cusp of 2024, AI can be used by the average employee, executive, or consumer for content writing, brainstorming ideas, creating imagery, and generating marketing models across a number of industries– including fashion.
According to a McKinsey analysis, generative AI– which refers to AI models that can take text, image-based, or auditory inputs and generate alternative modalities– could add anywhere between $150 and $275 billion to the operating profits of the fashion, apparel, and luxury sectors. AI has already been used within the business models of a number of popular companies, including Nike, Macy’s, and Dior. Burberry uses AI to identify counterfeit items, and AI-driven fashion houses are becoming more and more popular.
As AI becomes more popular and accessible across industries, it is important to examine the pros and cons of using AI as a tool in the fashion industry, particularly as it relates to trend forecasting, design, and sustainability efforts.
Trend Forecasting with AI
Trend forecasting entails the use of consumer data and market research in order to predict the future preferences and buying habits of consumers, according to Indeed. In the fashion world, trend forecasting helps designers and merchants take account of the ever-changing, demographic-specific manner in which trends emerge– not only do trends change quickly, but they often vary based on location.
While social media apps such as TikTok can be great tools for gauging what trends are already popular or are slowly on the rise, AI has proven to be an effective tool for trend forecasting in fashion.
ChatGPT, Resleeve, and Heuritech are a few examples of AI tools that can not only analyze current trends and patterns, but can also predict what trends are set to emerge using data repositories of images from fashion shows, social media posts, and consumer data from online and in-person stores.
The biggest pro to using AI for trend forecasting is the efficiency– AI tools almost serve as a “one-stop-shop” for finding data that can be used to help inform how fashion designers and retailers navigate emerging trends. This can help inform numerous facets of fashion, including design and marketing. Because the data can be found so quickly, they can get a leg up on appealing to the masses.
However, if the input data is incomplete, inaccurate, or unclear, the output data from the AI tool will be the same. According to the Association for Finance Professionals (AFP), AI models require a large amount of historical data in order to train effectively; this dataset could be a huge limitation. Additionally, there exists the potential for “model overfitting,” which the AFP defines as the occurrence of a well-performing AI model that recognizes the training data yet fails to generalize new, unseen data.
AI and Fashion Design
Whether it is informed by the emerging trends of the year or by one’s own ambitions, creating designs is one of the most important aspects of the fashion industry. In the past, a designer who aimed to design a new collection would have to rely on their own imagination and sketching abilities. However, with AI, designers can create multiple design concepts in seconds.
AI art generators such as DALL-E, MidJourney, StarryAI, and Hotpot AI allow users in and outside of the fashion world to generate concepts by simply typing in a prompt with the image they’d like to see.
Designers are able to quickly conceptualize their concepts without the risk of wasting fabrics and other materials on design and product mock-ups. This becomes even more efficient when coupled with AI-generated trend forecasting.
On the other hand, using AI to generate designs and product mock-ups means that other people who aim to create similar products can potentially create designs that are similar or nearly identical. While the input data can vary among individuals using AI tools, it is wholly possible that two people with similar ideas might enter similar information, thereby generating similar designs. Additionally, there exists potential for AI tools to stifle the creative process. If depended on wholly for ideas and execution, AI could lead to homogeneity within the fashion industry, which makes it less creative and enjoyable for both creators and consumers.
Sustainability with AI
Sustainability is one of the fashion world’s greatest challenges. According to TheRoundup, the world wastes about 92 million tons of textiles every year, with only one percent of those clothes being recycled. AI has the potential to transform these statistics.
Because AI can be used to predict trends, generate designs, and analyze consumer data, it can greatly reduce the level of waste produced each year. Not only would this show up in the creation process, but it would impact consumer patterns as well. A number of companies are already using AI to improve the shopping experience through chatbots and try-on tools, which helps ensure that consumers are much more likely to keep their purchases.
AI has great potential to help facilitate sustainability in the fashion world– if used ethically. If sustainability is not a retailer’s priority, they could contribute to, and possibly accelerate, the cycle of fast fashion. Additionally, there still exists the potential for companies to overestimate the accuracy of the data generated from an AI tool, which could lead to overproduction of certain items.
Does AI Help or Hurt the Fashion Industry?
Like any innovation, AI is a fairly new tool with a number of potential benefits and drawbacks when utilized en masse. Therefore, it is important for fashion designers and retailers to consider all potential outcomes with regard to using AI.
There are numerous factors that contribute to whether or not a business or industry thrives, meaning that AI alone could neither help nor hurt the fashion industry. Rather, it is up to the designers, retailers, and consumers to ensure that they are doing the proper research on all avenues through which they could make decisions– AI-informed or not. This will help ensure that they are operating in a manner that is both optimal and ethical.
Whether you are open to the idea of AI or absolutely repulsed by it, it is clear that AI is bound to make waves in both the fashion industry and in all areas of business. Therefore, it is imperative that those who keep the fashion industry afloat remain diligent in their research of how AI works and determine whether or not it is worth a try, or worth avoiding altogether.
Either way, AI and fashion are likely to become even more intertwined in 2024– and we are interested to see what all is in store.