Fashion & Technology

The Double Edged Sword of Artificial Intelligence in Fashion

AI this, and AI that — the whole world seems bubbling over with excitement at the utility offered by the newest systems of AI. From cutting corners to slashing production times, and enhancing or instigating creativity, AI seems to be every handyman rolled into one. But, is the implementation of this technology as squeaky clean as it seems?
Anya KlyuevaCourtesy of Anya Klyueva 


Artificial Intelligence has been dubbed “a game changer for sustainable fashion”, a technology that will “transform the retail experience” and a solution to  “optimize the supply chain”, according to the headlines of Fashion United, Gulf Business and Forbes. AI is being advertised as the new fad multivitamin for the business world, compacting a myriad of benefits all into one. But, what is going on at the back end of these developments? And, is everything quite so perfect as meets the eye?

A vast amount of Artificial Intelligence has been conceptualized to minimize the environmental footprint of the fashion industry. At stage one, machine learning can help to track and monitor patterns and trends, allowing us to predict inventory in a way that optimizes sales and reduces deadstock. At stage two, AI can fasten 3D modeling and digital design, and then enhance the accuracy of real time production, assisting us with everything from cutting to printing. At stage three, and nearing the point of sale, AI can better equip consumers to shop more consciously and precisely. By enhancing the shopping experience, with everything from targeted recommendations, to sizing assistants, AI is actively encouraging consumers to make smarter choices. At least, that is the way these integrations are being marketed to us.


Kaveh NajafianCourtesy of Kaveh Najafian


However, contradictions regarding AI’s utility seem to spawn when we begin to unpick the fashion buying process. AI integrations are cleverly influential, and there is some supposition that this power can be used in an increasingly negative way. Whilst at first these add-ons seem to be helpful tools — simplifying the shopping experience, increasing customer satisfaction, and reducing the costly processes of returns and exchanges — nowadays, they can sometimes become pressurising tools. The success of AI, in manipulating our buying choices, has advanced to such an extent that retailers can now use it to generate intricately tailored consumer targeting, and promote overconsumption in a personalized way, that is impressively effective in driving sales. AI is revolutionizing the way we shop, but, might this also be leading to a generalized overconsumption?

Crucially, AI is no longer just a technology available to businesses and back-end programmers. Curated and bespoke intelligence tools, accessible through the internet, have now been launched to the masses, with the hope to bolster creativity and accelerate the nuanced tasks faced by everyday creators. Is the concept of AI for everyone realistic, or does it come with detrimental costs?

At The World Economic Forum this past January, Sam Altman, the CEO of OpenAI, warned that the AI industry, and the world, is heading towards a catastrophic energy crisis. In the last few years, Generative AI systems and LLM's have burst onto the technology scene and into public usage with unimaginable success. With ChatGPT spearheading this movement, there has never been so much intrigue, speculation, and hype about what is next, and how far these impressive virtual tools can expand. From students, to copywriters, to designers, more and more people are starting to task ChatGPT with creating words, pixels, and videos, for them. As of March 2024, ChatGPT boasted of 180.5 million users. That is, 180.5 million people asking the software for answers, information, and solutions, most likely every day.


Unmade Unmade CollectionCourtesy of Alena Stepanova


These answers don’t emerge from nowhere. These generative machines are backed by huge super computers that guzzle vast amounts of energy to both train and initiate these programs. These systems are educated and trained on inconceivably large data sets. The power needed to filter, select and cherry pick from this information is vast. With public usage of these energy extensive platforms spiking, so are carbon emissions from digital technologies. At present, AI vendors and developers have been concentrating on improving the accuracy and utility of their machines, but it seems that soon they will need to realign their efforts to focus on their environmental costs. 

Newness and invention scarcely come without a paradox. We are only just beginning to learn about the contradictions of AI, as this impact can only be assessed alongside the elapsing of time. However, what is most scary isn’t the fact that AI may be a double edged sword, but the fact that the majority of people are still in the dark about it's negative facet.


Visit NJAL I Designers to discover innovative designers working at the intersection of craftstmanship and new technologies.