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Artificial Intelligence – Undressing the Fashion Industry

Forecasting Industry Futures with Data & AI

In 1926, economist George Taylor made the observation that hemlines rise with stocks. In other words, the stronger the economy, the higher the skirt. Whilst this might not ring as true today as it did in the twenties, the fact still remains that fashion is highly influenced by external factors in society, the economy, and even politics. In the 1960s, a new profession sprung up in Paris called ‘fashion forecasting’. Forecasters pulled together research from the catwalk to the sidewalk, attempting to identify the next big thing in the industry. These companies are still at work today – except of course now they are using Artificial Intelligence, perhaps the greatest trend in technology, to predict other trends. By 2020, the market for AI is expected to reach $40 billion. But what as this got to do with the way we dress?

Fashion focused AI
Retail marketers are no stranger to AI, but results have been mixed. In 2014, for example, artificially intelligent platforms were getting half of fashion predictions wrong. Luckily, interest and investment has rocketed. AI has inspired an arms race between the reigning tech giants to build the best AI platforms for industry, and the fashion sector has been no exception. Google, for example, releases regular Fashion Trends Reports using information gathered and collated by Artificial Intelligence. Younger companies are also keen to develop competitive technology. This July, AI and fashion startup Syte.ai closed an $8 million Series A funding round. The company’s aim is to build a bridge between physics and fashion, using deep learning techniques developed over three years. The software allows users to hover over an item of clothing with their cursor, and then suggests similar products. Likewise, EDITED applies machine learning to formulate ‘solid metrics’. Another important development is the use of chatbots and conversational interfaces like Alexa to deal with customers on a personal level, but on a mass scale.

AI, data analytics and the future of fashion
There can be no doubt that fashion has been impacted by innovative technology. 3D printing has transformed product design, Virtual and Augmented Reality have changed the way we view fashion, and blockchain is protecting luxury brands from fraud. . . but how exactly will AI affect the industry?

In short, gathering and analysing data is all about finding out what people want today, have wanted in the past and are likely to want in the future. This depends on a plethora of factors which simply can’t all be considered by human minds. As well as predictive capabilities, AI software can tell sales teams what, how much, and when to sell, as well as who is most likely to buy. By combining economic, political, social, and digital data, forecasters have the best chance of making successful predictions. The more data an algorithm has, the better it can perform. In many ways, AI enabled fashion is as beneficial for consumers as it is for retailers. Stye.ai, for instance, gives consumers the chance to instantly browse similar products and find better or cheaper alternatives. On the other hand, consumers won’t be able to take advantage of drastically reduced prices, because retailers will fine tune supply to fit demand. Of course, the involvement of big tech firms in developing artificially intelligent technology could also be a game changer. Brands will be faced with the choice of developing their own AI or outsourcing to large companies. A further option is to forge partnerships.

In the ever changing world of fashion, AI is disrupting design, display, supply and personal service. Brands can rely on complex data sets to indicate how the market will change, and use this to inform the entire process of creating, marketing and selling products. Data sets can tell us a lot, but there’s still a need to innovate boldly. Ironically, this could be stunted by data driven insights. Even so, closely tracking consumer preferences and using data to enhance all round decisions is making the clothing industry’s supply chain more flexible than ever. It’s also offering customers the quality personal service that is vital to a company’s success. It looks like AI is fast becoming the essential little black dress of the fashion world.

How else could AI be applied within the fashion industry? Are fashion forecasters out of a job? What other external factors could influence the adoption of certain fashion trends? Share your thoughts and opinions.