A critical and much-talked-about implication of artificial intelligence (AI) is its potential to replace human jobs. The fashion industry, along with many others, is adopting AI, yet there will always be a need for the human touch.
Alexa, help me pick an outfit
The fashion industry is increasingly implementing AI to aid in the decision-making stage of the buying process. E-commerce sites already employ simple algorithms that use your taste or previous purchases to recommend products for you to buy, and this can be seen on popular websites such as Net-A-Porter and Selfridges. However, more complex applications are being developed. Whering, created by Goldman Sachs alum Bianca Rangecroft, posits itself as the outfit selection programme from the movie Clueless come to life. Featured on Dragon’s Den, Whering helps you construct an outfit based on an analysis of the clothes in your closet, aiming to save you both time and energy.
Another fashion app that incorporates AI is Psykhe. Its patented model combines psychology with machine learning to provide personal recommendations to consumers. The app, featured in Vogue and Business of Fashion, boasts of a five-times increase in conversion due to its recommendations.
The benefits of these applications are clear, as is their ingenious use of AI. However, AI lacks one essential attribute of human stylists that is often overlooked: empathy. While a computer can learn from your previous purchases, only a human stylist can gauge your actual level of comfort in an outfit and suggest pieces that make you feel empowered and confident. The ability to look at an individual and notice how their shoulders sit back in a particular dress or their walk turns into a strut in a certain pair of heels is still reserved for the human eye, and a seasoned stylist remains the best bet for both everyday shoppers and celebrities alike.
The virtual catwalk
Models are central to the fashion ecosystem, travelling across continents for high-profile events and countless photoshoots, showcasing clothes so effortlessly that we are inspired to buy them. Designers covet the best-known models to reach a broad audience and increase the likelihood of sales. But what would happen if one of these supermodels happened to be digital?
The AI fashion model Miquela Sousa boasts 2.8 million Instagram followers, her own Wikipedia page, and a signature hairstyle: bangs with Princess Leia-esque buns on the side of her head. Sousa, who burst onto the virtual scene in 2016, has worked with brands such as PRADA and Calvin Klein and has ‘posed’ with celebrities such as Bella Hadid and Millie Bobby Brown. Apart from the novelty of a virtual superstar, the appeal of Sousa to fashion designers is clear: she can replicate the reach and style of her human counterparts without incurring costs related to travel, accommodation, and hiring stylists and make-up artists. Miquela is beautiful and accessible, but is that the best way to sell an item?
Estimates put Sousa’s earnings per post at just over $8000. In comparison, when model and influencer Danielle Bernstein had roughly the same number of followers as Sousa, she could command as much as $15,000 per post. While designers may appreciate Sousa’s benefits, evidence suggests that customers respond better when they see how a piece of clothing moves and sits on someone with the same body shape rather than on a digital avatar. We can also better empathise with human models when they look joyous in a certain outfit or confidently strut down the catwalk in a must-have look, ultimately giving them a higher value than digital models.
A human touch
Fashion is not exempt from the technological revolution, and AI is here to stay. However, fashion is an art form and, as such, requires empathy. This needs sentience that AI may never possess. Ultimately, the fashion industry is best left in the more than capable hands of humans, who can adorn it with the gentle and passionate human touch.