Is Technology the Future for Innovative Fashion? No!

Technology is built on data; innovation is built on imagination and cannot be replaced by artificial intelligence.

Technology has its place to analyze what happened, to use data to determine why it happened, assist in problem solving, and provide efficiencies in processes and production.  What we know today is that it cannot take the place of originality.  It cannot replace design innovation, future products – imagining and creating what we never thought was possible. Technology is built on data, its role is to inform.  Innovation is built on imagination.

Retailers are procurers, so whatever is in the market to buy, they select what is appropriate for their consumers, usually based on data.  Fashion brands, independent designers are the drivers of the industry and should lead, create, not reiterate what already exists.  They have the mission to advance innovative concepts and product. These two camps – retailers/buyers and forward thinking brands/designers – have historically been at odds, with retailers/buyers wanting to play it safe by using prior sales data to place their buys, avoiding risk in the unknown – innovative product.

Artificial Intelligence is shaping the future of fashion in ways that could suppress innovation.  In one aspect, brands use AI to forecast trends, to better match supply to demand, and to boost personalization of the customer experience.  In another, you have companies like Amazon, Stitch Fix, and Myntra, who play in the space of AI meets fast fashion.  With the use of algorithms, they have design platforms that track trend data from social networks, combining favorite attributes and images that generate machine produced fashion – a new iteration of what already exists.  But what AI can’t do is create and invent something new.  That calling is unique to humans, the ability to innovate.

Designer, Alena Kalana | photography: Natasha Hayes
Designer, Alena Kalana | photography: Natasha Hayes

Designer brands fall into an industry playbook of following the latest trends or paying for trend companies to forecast future silhouettes, materials, and color trends for them.  WGSN, a global trend forecasting company, uses AI along with traditional methods to predict future trends.  Since most major brands use services like WGSN, there’s little room for differentiation among them, offering similar looks.  Competing retailers generally look the same with the same brand assortment.  Store discount sales and markdowns are a result of this – too much of the same; a lack of innovation, experimentation, and discovery of what could be; instead the selling floor is a repeat of what was and what is at the neighboring retailer.

Brands rely too much on data-driven results and data-input technology for future ideas and too little on the constant evolution of change and exploration by the human talent that works for them.

The arts, in general, and fashion design, in this case, require a trait that is distinctly human.  The artist/the creator are unique in their capacity to convey purpose and spark an emotional connection.  As the labor market continues to be replaced by automation, technology, and software, basic human abilities and skill may become irrelevant in the workforce.  The future of the artist, however, is sustainable.  The power of vision from the mind, the passion from the heart, and the creation from the hand cannot be replaced or matched by a machine.

German born, Christoph Burkhardt, founder of Burkhardt Group and TinyBox, the think tank for emerging technologies, asserts that AI will not replace humans.  Humans, however, will learn to use new skills and collaborate with an AI system, but it will not replace them, because AI’s role is to manage data.  He says, “design will not be driven by AI, it will be informed by AI”.  Artificial intelligence learns and masters the input fed by humans.  Humans drive change and set innovation in motion.  Burkhardt denounces a robot driven future of innovation.  Unlike robots, humans have the space and intelligent capacity to experience and contribute to the progress of the human race by identifying a need.  AI can assist in serving that need, but he says, “innovation will always come from one human being for another”.  “Innovation serves human beings, not the technology.”

Creativity, imagination, and curiosity cannot be replaced with artificial intelligence.  Fashion brands, artists/designers must continue to change the rules of the game, to set the agenda for new ideas, to lead.  Is technology the future for innovative fashion? No!

Photo credit:
Tibetan Transplant collection, Alena Kalana, designer, photography: Natasha Hayes @myinfiniteadventure.  Repurposed home textiles designed for longevity.

Rhonda P. Hill

Founder, Publishing Editor