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How AI and machine learning change the future of fashion

Posted on Monday, November 5, 2018

Knowledge of modern technologies like AI, Big Data and ML will help future fashion designers strike gold, writes educator Sanjay Gupta

Fashion always keeps moving. It is, by nature, malleable and mutable, and each season transforms into something new. The whole industry is based on perpetual dynamics of change, of constant renewal of fresh blood. In the last decade itself we have witnessed many changes - the biannual fashion calendar has changed to multi-seasonal; traditional wear is gradually getting sidelined to occasions and trendy-wear running the show in popular fashion; fusion is the biggest creative gift of fashion schools combining western with traditional fashion. The game changer, however is technology, which will create new paradigm and will dissolve all the boundaries. 

The newest challenges in fashion world is coming in the from intervention of technologies like automation, big data, AI, ML, 3D scanning and printing. How do we harness this reality? Here is a glimpse of where fashion is headed in the tech-enabled future.

AI, Big Data and Machine Learning-enabled predictions-Designers are constantly wondering what next? Finding something stylish once is not sufficient. They need to come out with something new every season. There are trend forecasters who make predictions based on assumptions, which go wrong at times and eventually impact the business. It is here that algorithm-based analysis of consumer behaviour can give more dependable outcomes. AI and big data is thus creeping into the creative domains by starting to mimic human neurons.

The key word for AI intervention is 'prediction'. Artificial intelligence-enabled design bridges the gap between the right and the left side of human minds, between the creative or marketing/logical aptitudes. Google’s Project Muze used a neural network and a set of aesthetic parameters to understand people’s colour, texture, and style preferences. It learns from the style preference of over 600 fashion experts, refines them using trend forecasts and predicts style preferences of people with similar interests.

An Amazon Lab126 project used machine learning by using images to learn a specific style, and then replicate more designs in that style. That could mean spotting a trend on Instagram, Facebook, or your own collection of fashion imagery. The day is not far when Amazon will spot a trend and then quickly design clothes via AI that can be produced on-demand, and shipped to meet consumer’s constant demand for cheap, trendy clothes. 

Will technology replace the designers? Not really! A hybrid approach, with designers becoming more tech-enabled will be required to survive. An illustrative example is that of designer Tommy Hilfiger, who recently tied up with IBM and New York-based Fashion Institute of Technology to analyse real-time fashion industry trends from Tommy Hilfiger’s product images and runway images from other fashion shows. The tool then predicts popular trends, patterns, silhouettes, colours, and styles that enabled FIT students to create completely new designs from the ones already existing in the Tommy Hilfiger database.

What AI is enabling is unprecedented. Human mind cannot comprehend or retain thousands of images which AI enables in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. This in turn also speeds up the supply chain process by getting products to the shelves in weeks to keep up with the consumer demands.

Enables customisation

Another paradigm change foreseen from AI’s entry into design is that styles will become both personalized and more customer-driven. While the earlier technology was aimed at making fashion a mass product, the recent interventions like 3D imaging and robotics has led to conceptualized, built and previewed for a single customer type. The new technology can combine all these with predictability, ‘thinking’ like individual customers and even more recently, simulating their ‘feelings’. It can create digital avatars that help designers understand the precise user taste. Automated production of individual pieces is being facilitated by robotics that helps in cutting, sewing and assembling a product. With the adoption of AI and its sophisticated partner, machine learning, this traditionally supply-driven space will see a turn towards one that is more defined by the customer.

Faster supply chains

Speed and instant gratification are important for the new generation. Technology and delivery of this customer-driven value will speed this up. Cost-effective automation increases the speed of supply chain processes, thereby facilitating the popular trend. This process is exploited by modern fashion brands like Zara, H&M and Forever21. Combine automation with speed of delivery and low marketing costs of social media, and you ensure a steady supply of cheap, trendy and well-designed fashion.

A revolutionary world awaits the world of design, and we need cutting-edge schools of fashion and design to groom tech-enabled professionals, combining precision and complexity with aesthetics.

Prepare for the changing future 

  • Be an active learner 

  • Hone your digital skills 

  • Read blogs, articles and dummy-guides on all emerging technologies like 3D printing, IOT, AI, Robotics, Blockchain, alternative energy etc

  • Combine technology and innovation in your assignments

  • Promote sustainability in your work

  • Pick-up as many cross-disciplinary electives as possible

  • Pick-up at least one course on entrepreneurship

 

For aspiring students

  • Old is no longer gold. Apply in cutting edge institutes 

  • Science background mixes very well with fashion. Go for it.

(The author is the vice-chancellor of World University of Design)

 

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