Image credit : The Australian
Late this month, plans by Levi’s to test out virtual apparel models created by artificial intelligence were met with immediate criticism in the sector. While diversity issues received the majority of the attention, the retailer’s proposal also sparked other anxieties that have been brewing in the sector for years.
Some detractors of Levi Strauss & Co.’s collaboration with AI design company Lalaland.ai, which sought to show online shoppers various types of people wearing Levi’s clothing, charged the company with trying to address representational issues on the cheap while potentially driving professional models from their jobs.
“When you have to hire a model, book an agency, have a stylist, do the makeup, feed them on set — all that costs money,” said Shawn Grain Carter, a professor of fashion business management at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “Let’s make no mistake about it, Levi’s is doing this because this saves them money.”
A representative for Levi’s cited a statement in which the corporation denied having any financial savings goals for the initiative. The firm claimed that its live model photoshoots will still be used in addition to, not in substitute of, the AI models it planned to release. A comment from Lalaland was not forthcoming.
Concerns about technology replacing human labor are nothing new, and the fashion industry is by no means an exception. Although AI has long been used in the fashion industry, some employees are becoming increasingly alarmed as they observe its expansion.
Model and owner of Yanii Models, Yanii Gough, claimed that many of the over 100 models she represents are still “dying to get back to consistency” while the industry recovers from pandemic-related setbacks.
Clients can now “send an email to the agency and say, ‘Hey, this is exactly what I’m looking for,’ and someone will find that person,” she said, referring to businesses that book models for everything from photoshoots to fittings.
For worries like Gough’s, there is precedent.
Shudu, who is regarded as the first digital supermodel in the world and was founded in 2017, has signed contracts with luxury companies like Louis Vuitton and BMW in the last 12 months. Shudu, an AI model that was supposed to seem like a Black woman, also attracted criticism for the AI modelling business The Digitials and its white founder Cameron-James Wilson.
For brands and advertisers looking to employ AI to help market and sell garments, choices are now expanding. Along with Lalaland, a new AI startup called Deep Agency also enables users to create a virtual photoshoot using either synthetic models or an AI representation of a real person.
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Gough stated that she is concerned about models’ photographs being used by AI without their consent; this issue is shared by Sara Ziff, the founder of the Model Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group.
She added that these models, who try on clothing for designers and manufacturers to check sizing and shapes, are already calling her organization in increasing numbers. “Fit models may be replaced by AI body scans,” she said.