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  • Writer's pictureGeoff Nichols

A Warning from AI to the Fashion Industry

Why brands are risking their reputations using AI generated imagery - Geoff Nichols & AI

Levi Strauss & Co. has recently announced that they have entered a deal with Dutch Tech company Lallaland to use AI-generated models in place of human models for some of their fashion imagery. The company has argued that this move will make their imagery more diverse and representative of their customers. However, this argument is flawed and does not hold up to scrutiny. In this blog post, we will explore why companies using AI-generated models do not increase diversity and representation and the potential harm it could have on their brand reputation and the fashion industry at large.

First and foremost, using AI-generated models does not increase diversity and representation. The algorithm used to create these models is only as diverse as the data it is trained on. If the data used to train the algorithm is not itself particularly wide ranging, the resulting AI-generated models will not be diverse either. In fact, the use of AI-generated models could perpetuate certain biases in the fashion industry. If the algorithm is trained on data that is biased towards certain body types, skin colours, or other characteristics, the resulting models will reflect those biases. This could lead to a lack of diversity and representation in the fashion industry rather than an increase. Additionally, there are numerous model agencies across the globe who now promote a huge diverse range of models for brands to choose from so this argument by Levi Strauss simply does not hold water.

Additionally, using AI-generated models undermines the value of human experience and emotion in fashion. Fashion is not just about the clothes; it is about the people who wear them and the emotions and experiences of each individual customer. Human models too bring their unique life experiences and emotions to their work, and they can connect with audiences in a way that AI-generated models cannot. At a recent international fashion symposium, I was asked the question “What's important visually when telling stories?” My answer “Connection – Between the customer and the brand, between the photographer and audience, between the model and the customer and between the model and the photographer.” By using AI-generated models, Levi Strauss is eliminating the emotional connection between the brand and its customers, which reduces the authenticity of the brand and will likely have a detrimental effect on the perception of the company by its customer base.

Moving to AI generated imagery (let's not refer to the images as models as they are not; they are simply machine generated images), utterly devalues the work of real models who have worked hard to build their careers and make a living. Modelling is a profession that requires unbridled amounts of hard work and dedication, and for many, it is their livelihood. By choosing to use AI-generated imagery, Levi Strauss and others choosing this route, are taking away job opportunities from real models and undermining their value and worth as professional creative human beings.

Levi Strauss tried to justify the move and in a press release, Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles, global head of digital and emerging technology strategy at Levi Strauss & Co. was quoted as saying: "While AI will likely never fully replace human models for us, we are excited for the potential capabilities this may afford us for the consumer experience.”

The cynic in me says that she chose her words carefully - “ AI will likely never fully replace human models.” That does not rule it out.

The real reason behind this move is probably a cost saving exercise – it is cheaper in the short term to use AI generated imagery than to employ photographers and human models and recent losses incurred by the company continue to mount. Two years ago the company laid off 700 employees (15% of it's entire workforce) and suffered a net loss of $364 million. Sales of denim are continuing to drop globally as consumer taste changes and it is anticipated that Levi Strauss will again suffer financially as a result.

However companies who think that using AI technology in place of real human beings for their imagery are at serious risk of losing customer confidence. By switching to a form of imagery which is entirely machine generated not only raises questions about the ethics of the company involved, it raises the serious prospect that consumers will view it as a cynical move solely to increase profit, the brand loses respect and any brand authenticity will be wiped out overnight.

Modern consumers are very ethically aware and will quickly shun any brand where questions arise over their working practices. Many people make buying choices based on the ethical and environmental credentials of a brand. Whilst companies may make savings in the short term, there is potential for serious and irreparable damage to be done from which there will be no turning back.

True connection with consumers is made through emotion not through a machine.

I will leave the final words with AI itself. It's response to my question “Why can AI not connect emotionally with humans and could it harm a fashion brand who use it in place of human models for their imagery?”, should be a stark warning to any brand:

“AI, as it exists today, is primarily based on algorithms and mathematical models that are designed to process and analyze data. While AI systems can recognize patterns and make predictions based on data, they do not possess the emotional capacity or subjective experience that is necessary for truly connecting with humans on an emotional level.

Emotions are a complex and multifaceted aspect of human experience that involve subjective feelings, physiological responses, and social and cultural context. While AI can simulate certain emotional responses or even mimic human-like behavior, it is not capable of experiencing emotions in the same way that humans do.

Furthermore, emotions are often rooted in personal experiences and cultural values, which can vary widely among individuals and societies. This means that even if an AI system could simulate emotions, it would likely struggle to fully understand or relate to the unique emotional experiences of individual humans.

While AI can be a powerful tool for many applications, including healthcare, education, and entertainment, it is unlikely that it will ever be able to fully replicate the depth and complexity of human emotions and the connections they enable.

Abandoning human models and photographers in favor of AI-generated imagery in the fashion industry risks sacrificing the emotional connection and authenticity that consumers crave, potentially leading to a catastrophic loss of brand loyalty and reputation.”

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