AI in Fashion Technology: The Newest Industry Upset

Big Apple, USA – During the previous week, the fashion realm congregated in Big Apple for New York Fashion Week (NYFW). The biennial happening lauded the finest in the sector and exhibited the trendiest styles for the season. NYFW is a massive profit generator for the city and the fashion sector as a whole. Typically, the event rakes in a whopping $600m annually.

However, despite the significant economic and cultural importance the event carries, it is overshadowed by the same existential danger affecting industries like media and technology – artificial intelligence eroding current jobs and constraining work opportunities in the future. Behind the glamour and glitz lie the same concerns that largely triggered the strikes of the Writers Guild and Screen Actors Guild in the preceding year – safeguarding one’s likeness.

“When your physique is your vocation, having your image altered or commercialized without your consent violates your rights,” Sara Ziff, initiator and executive director of the Model Alliance, remarked in a statement.

Yve Edmond, a model situated in Big Apple, mentioned that due to the new era of AI-driven modeling, there is ample space for exploitation.

“There are some individuals in the sector who have had their physique scanned or photos amassed over the years used to create their virtual self, yet they possess no ownership. They have no entitlement to that whatsoever,” Edmond conveyed to Al Jazeera.

She is concerned that this might undermine work opportunities for models in the imminent future.

“As models, our image, measurements, posture, and body shape constitute our brand. In numerous cases, someone takes possession of that brand without our awareness and without remunerating us. We’re essentially competing against ourselves in the market,” Edmond appended.

Edmond is one of the several models eager for reform and is advocating for the Fashion Workers Act in New York State. Among other significant alterations, it would offer new protections to shield models from clients attempting to use their image without authorization. The act would mandate models to provide explicit written consent for any digital reproduction of their respective likeness.

It would also necessitate clients to specify how they intend to utilize their image. The brains behind the legislation is The Model Alliance.

“We launched the Fashion Workers Act to establish fundamental labor safeguards for models and content creators working in an industry that notoriously operates without supervision. The misapplication of generative AI presents a new challenge, and we cannot let it operate without regulation,” Ziff, of The Model Alliance, expressed.

The bill authored by state Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal would revolutionize how the fashion sector operates in one of the most iconic fashion cities globally, rivalling only metropolises like Paris and Milan.

Models contend that this would also safeguard them from signing unfair contracts when the only other option is no work at all.

“You don’t want to land in a situation where the model feels coerced to provide their consent or they won’t receive payment,” model Sinead Bovell shared with Al Jazeera.

If sanctioned, it would be a local decree, yet it aids in setting the stage for a more comprehensive effort.

Models are prepped before the Thom Browne fall/winter 2024 fashion show during New York Fashion Week
Models state AI exploits all the sacrifices of real human models [File: Peter K Afriyie/AP Photo]

Life-threatening danger

As the deployment of AI spreads across sectors spanning from media to client assistance, corporate leaders contend that it will enhance workflow and simplify jobs for workers with the aid of novel tools.

However, that has not been demonstrated in the statistics. As per a November survey from Resume Builder, roughly one-third of corporate leaders indicate that AI will result in staff reductions this year alone.

These are some of the worries surging in global fashion as AI poses a life-threatening danger by undercutting work opportunities across the world, particularly for communities of color.

Models like Bovell have fought for more inclusivity in fashion and voiced this concern.

“Companies may take advantage of all the sacrifices of real human models, and instead simply generate various identities upfront,” Bovell remarked.

“You might have a brand profiting from the marginalized identities of communities without having to compensate them,” Bovell stated.

That’s precisely what occurred with Levi Strauss the previous year. The brand initiated a collaboration with Dutch company, enabling tailored AI-generated models. In a release, the company articulated:

“ employs advanced artificial intelligence to empower fashion brands and retailers to construct hyper-realistic models of every body type, age, size, and skin complexion. Through these body-inclusive avatars, the company strives to establish a more inclusive, individualized, and sustainable shopping experience for fashion brands, retailers, and customers.”

The move was met with public backlash, and critics labeled it problematic and racist. The apparel company subsequently revised its statement.

“We are not diminishing our plans for live photo shoots, the utilization of live models, or our dedication to collaborating with diverse models. Authentic storytelling has always been part of how we’ve connected with our fans, and human models and collaborators are fundamental to that experience.”

Some companies are entirely removing models from the equation. In the past year, both Vogue Brasil and Vogue Singapore featured AI-generated models on their respective covers instead of human models.

Companies like Deep Agency devised AI-generated models to showcase clothes. Danny Postma, the creator of the tool, expressed in a post on the social media platform now recognized as X that it will assist marketers and social media influencers.

In response to his thread, there was substantial public backlash alongside applause.

Critics contended that the concept was immensely unethical and subverted work for models and all those engaged in the process, such as photographers.

Others accused the company of a money-making scheme and designated the move as dystopian. One user called out Postma stating:

“I’m certain you also possess concrete proposals to aid everyone who would lose their jobs if technology like this flourishes, correct? Or is everything acceptable as long as you can generate profit? No decent ‘solution’ brings more troubles than what it aims to address.”

The tool is no longer accessible for beta testing. Postma, who, per his LinkedIn profile, lacks experience in fashion or photography, has produced a series of AI products.

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