In a world where fashion trends change faster than ever before, the fashion industry has found a valuable ally in the form of generative artificial intelligence (generative AI). Just as artificial intelligence (AI) has recently altered the world of music and visual art, it is possible that AI generated fashions will be displayed on the runways at future New York, London, Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks, as was done in Hong Kong in 2022.
While the fashion industry has experimented with basic AI and innovative technologies such as the metaverse, non-fungible tokens, digital identification, virtual and augmented reality, generative AI seems to be a real game-changer. Many consumer-friendly generative AI chatbots have been released on the market and became a huge sensation in 2023, especially in the creation of new content, audio, code, text, images, videos and simulations.
As generative AI keeps improving and are becoming more powerful, the contribution to the fashion industry could be significant. This cutting-edge technology has the potential to affect the entire fashion ecosystem and is poised to revolutionise the way fashion is designed, produced, marketed and consumed. With its potential to boost creativity, streamline processes and enhance customer experiences, generative AI is becoming an indispensable tool for fashion businesses worldwide.
Among many other uses, generative AI can, for instance, contribute to product innovation, improve marketing efficiency and sales, personalise the customer experience and make processes more efficient. In similar fashion, it can reshape the supply chain and logistics, the store operations, as well as the organisational and support functions.
The power of generative AI in fashion design
Since 2022, the global fashion industry has been experiencing challenging times due to rampant inflation, depressed customer sentiments, declining growth rates, shifting consumer patterns and new channel, digital marketing and manufacturing strategies.
Online business models are thriving, marking a continuing trend that was expedited by the Covid-19 pandemic. Brands are increasingly adopting hyper-interactive environments and investing in e-commerce as they push the boundaries of fashion. It is expected that companies will continue to explore fresh avenues for online creativity and commerce.
Fashion design is the heart of the industry, and generative AI is breathing new life into it. Traditional design processes are often time-consuming and rely heavily on human intuition and creativity. However, generative AI can analyse vast amounts of data (for example, text and videos on social media), including historical fashion trends, market patterns, customer sentiments and preferences, and cultural influences in order to generate design concepts in real time.
Generative AI algorithms, such as Generative Adversarial Networks, can create original clothing designs, patterns, and even colour palettes based on sketches provided by creative directors. Designers can collaborate with the algorithms to refine and personalise the generated designs while putting the fashion house’s signature touch on each of the looks, thus resulting in a fusion of human creativity and AI-powered innovation.
The synergy between human designers and generative AI not only accelerates the design process but also introduces fresh and unexpected ideas. It empowers designers to explore uncharted territories and push the boundaries of creativity in the designing of new fashion products.
Sustainable fashion and material optimisation
Sustainability is a growing concern in the fashion industry, and generative AI can play a pivotal role in addressing the challenge. One of its significant contributions is in material optimisation. By analysing data on material properties, availability and environmental impact, generative AI can suggest alternative materials and combinations that reduce waste and minimise the carbon footprint of fashion production.
Furthermore, generative AI can help in designing garments that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also environmentally friendly. For instance, algorithms can optimise clothing patterns to minimise fabric waste during the cutting and sewing processes. This not only reduces costs for manufacturers but also contributes to a more sustainable fashion ecosystem.
The surge in interest from brands, consumers and investors in social commerce is notable. This growing engagement is driven by new features and increased user comfort, paving the way for seamless shopping experiences from initial discovery to final checkout.
In the age of e-commerce, personalisation is the key to enhancing the online shopping experience of the customer and thus winning customers by making it more engaging and convenient.
Generative AI can analyse a customer’s preferences, purchase history and style choices to provide tailored fashion recommendations. The recommendations extend beyond suggesting products. They can also assist in creating entire outfits, including accessories and footwear that align with an individual’s style.
While the specific use cases may vary across global markets, brands are encouraged to focus on personalised in-app purchasing journeys and explore opportunities in technologies like livestreaming and virtual reality try-ons (such as provided by Paris-based Veesual) in conjunction with generative AI.
Some fashion businesses assign a generative AI “representative” to a brand to handle customer service queries across email, chat, text and the brand’s own platforms. The services help reduce customer service wait times and improve response times. As a result, businesses acquire increased customer loyalty and higher conversion rates, ultimately driving revenue growth.
Efficient supply chain and inventory management
Managing the supply chain and inventory is a complex task in the fashion industry, with constant changes in demand and supply. Generative AI can forecast demand more accurately by analysing historical data, market trends and external factors such as weather and social media sentiment. This enables fashion brands to optimise their production schedules and reduce excess inventory, thereby minimising costs and environmental impact.
In addition, generative AI can be employed in logistics and distribution. Algorithms can optimise shipping routes, reducing transportation costs and the carbon footprint of fashion logistics. This not only benefits the bottom line but also aligns with the growing consumer demand for sustainable practices within the industry.
Augmenting human creativity
Generative AI is not a replacement for human creativity but rather an augmentation. While AI can generate design concepts and optimise processes, human designers bring the emotional and cultural nuances that make fashion a form of art. The collaboration between humans and AI results in a harmonious blend of creativity and efficiency.
Generative AI is thus not merely automating the fashion industry but rather, enhancing and expediting it. It assists professionals and creative directors in the fashion industry to free up time from repetitive tasks, allowing them to focus on more strategic and creative aspects of their work. This shift is making the industry more exciting and dynamic than ever before.
Fashion powered by AI
Although in its infancy, the benefits of generative AI across the entire fashion ecosystem are vast and promising. It holds the promise of design innovation, sustainability, personalisation, streamlined operations and an improved customer experience.
The time is ripe to delve deeper into generative AI and tailor it to the needs of the fashion industry. Fashion businesses must adapt and embrace the changes to remain competitive in an ever-evolving marketplace. The synergy between human creativity and AI-driven innovation is shaping the future of fashion, where garments are not just clothing, but expressions of art and sustainability.
Professor Louis C H Fourie is an extraordinary professor in information systems at the University of the Western Cape.