AI Fashion Design. The ‘robots’ are coming. But rather than nudging out the need for humans, the artificial intelligence might stand to enhance the creative process. Or so the experts say. The implication of AI on design is a major theme of the 21st century, with experts from many fields discussing the AI’s entanglements with fashion, design, media, art and beyond.
AI Fashion Design – Recommending Clothing Based On Body Shape
Entrepreneur Camilla Olson was in town to promote her fashion-tech software solution Savitude, which uses AI to recommend clothing based on a shopper’s shape and proportions. Before Savitude, Olson founded two predictive modelling companies and designed an eponymous fashion label, both of which informed her insights into solving fashion’s fit issues.
“Someone who has the mathematical appreciation — engineering — will look for perfection and overkill” in solving the fit problem, Olson said. “If you have expertise [in fashion], you know where to draw the lines in product design. You have a gut feeling of what the market needs.”
Olson’s perspective reflects the growing tension between human and machine. As science gets smarter and is able to make recommendations on what is most likely to sell, traditional approaches are facing irrelevance.
AI Fashion Design – The Human Takes A ‘Defensive’ Role
Fashion designer Gretchen Jones, who is the former fashion director of womenswear at Pendelton Woolen Mills, found that her role as a designer had become more ‘defensive’ than proactive.
“I was fighting against big data that would often negate the creative design directions,” Jones said. “I was speaking through my gut and they had paperwork that could prove another black mock turtleneck was the thing that sold. But rarely can a customer tell you what they want that hasn’t been created yet, and that was stifling my ideation.”
Jones’s solution was to pursue a master’s degree in fashion at the University of Arts London, where she researched the role of data in the fashion business. What she found was surprising: she learned that data analytics can be valuable in empowering the creative process if the business side invites the creative side to participate.
AI Fashion Design – Creativity Is Illogical And Abstract
Human creativity isn’t algorithmic, it is illogical and abstract, but we can use AI to overcome the limitations of our mind. “It’s not just guys in suits or Mark Zuckerberg dudes,” Jones says. “We need to disrupt data; it’s a tool, but not the only thing.”
Designers, she said, are wise to acknowledge that customers feel that aesthetic choices are an extension of their identities and that a designer is designing for them, rather than creating a vision that is delivered to the customer. In this way, Jones found that data could help designers understand the emotional connections that customers have with a brand.
Jones added that leaning too heavily on either the creative or the business side, whether that’s expecting a miracle by appointing Raf Simons as the chief creative officer of Calvin Klein, or former Starbucks executive Adam Brotman as president and chief experience officer at J. Crew — will not save fashion. “Dictatorial creativity is a failure,” she says.
AI Fashion Design – The Age Of AI Influencers?
Actor and entrepreneur Brooklyn Decker, who co-founded digital wardrobe app Finery with Whitney Casey, think that artificial intelligence will take over the role of the fashion influencer, using the computer-generated “influencer” @lilmiquela (who has 1.1 Mil Instagram followers) as an example.
“This person can be anywhere and fit any size, and appeal to any audience, all based on the data [the brand] layers on top,” Casey says. Decker adds, “and if the content is interesting enough, I don’t think she becomes [advertising cartoon] ‘Tony the Tiger.'”
Some experts suggest that in certain cases, it’s even possible for an algorithm to mimic human intuition. Jenna Niven, who is creative director at advertising agency R/GA, explained that “the gut” is the brain’s organic algorithm, and because a person’s knowledge base is limited to one worldview, humans can lean on AI to enhance creative capabilities by creating associations between huge amounts of data.
The increase in the number of possible designs leads to more creativity, as designers see more possibilities and inspiration. “Over time, it has been ingrained that creativity is an elusive thought process that happens deep in the sub-conscious,” Niven said. “I don’t think human creativity is algorithmic. The rest is illogical and abstract, but we can use AI to overcome the limitations of our mind.”
At a conceptual level, Niven said, fashion designers could look to AI to generate designs to come up with a stimulus, in a way similar to what Google did with DeepDream, which used computer vision to alter images.
AI Fashion Design – Taking Advantage Before The Curve
“You look at that and you think, I would never have been able to imagine that before AI produced that. It’s taking all of these possible combinations and producing them really fast so you can comprehend and use that as inspiration. Funnily enough, fashion is one of the few industries that is taking advantage of AI before the curve,” she said.
Although algorithms aren’t generally creating new garments, they are being used to educate designers about what is needed in the market at companies such as True & Co., RocksBox, Rent the Runway and Amazon. Stitch Fix uses data to both inform designs for its in-house labels and to scale the capacity of its 3,400 stylists, who lean on AI to curate an assortment of product recommendations.
Eric Colson, who is the chief algorithms officer at Stitch Fix, firmly believes that human designers are still very much the curators of fashion, but that machines can expand the number of possibilities that a human designer can consider. “The increase in the number of possible designs leads to more creativity, as designers see more possibilities and inspiration,” Colson says. “Because apparel is both personal and emotional, a design has to strike a chord with a fashion designer before it goes into production.”
He also thinks that machines can estimate the probability of a design’s success, although it’s still difficult to predict which totally new concepts will succeed. In other words, predicting the popularity of “the cold shoulder” is “revolutionary,” but tweaking that concept with elements such as back and side cutouts is “evolutionary.”
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AI Fashion Design – The Problem of ‘Too Much’
“Machines can capture elements of style and allow us to manipulate them further. Imagine saying, ‘Take that skirt by Theory, but add a Kate Spade touch.’ Deep learning algorithms can, in theory, do such things,” Colson said. “It’s able to learn what makes Kate Spade, Kate Spade. Once they learn it, they can apply it to anything.”
Finally, Niven, of R/GA, had some encouraging news for (human) designers worried about proving their worth: “If you look at something that is mass-produced, it ends up losing value,” she says. “So if we are constantly producing garments out of an AI machine, the garments produced by AI are going to be devalued, and hence the value of a garment produced by a human is actually going to increase.”