AI is making waves in the fashion industry, but its role is seen as a complement to designers’ creativity rather than a replacement, according to Calvin Wong, the brains behind the world’s first designer-led AI system, the Interactive Design Assistant for Fashion (AiDA). AiDA leverages image-recognition technology to expedite the journey from initial sketch to the runway by recognizing design elements and proposing modifications to designers. Wong highlights AiDA’s unique strength in presenting all possible design combinations, an impossible feat using current methods.
An exhibition at Hong Kong’s M+ Museum showcased collections by 14 designers developed with AiDA’s assistance. Wong emphasizes that AI’s purpose is to “facilitate designers’ inspiration” rather than supplant their creativity, preserving the invaluable originality of designers.
Wong heads the Laboratory for Artificial Intelligence in Design (AidLab), a collaboration between the UK’s Royal College of Art (RCA) and Hong Kong Polytechnic University. RCA Vice Chancellor Naren Barfield believes AI’s impact on the fashion industry will be transformative, influencing ideation, prototyping, manufacturing, distribution, and recycling.
AI-generated designs: A legal quandary
Personalization powered by AI has already enhanced the customer experience through improved product recommendations and more efficient searches, simplifying shopping. As AI technology advances, specialized tools like AiDA are being developed to address various fashion industry challenges.
The Neo Couture project seeks to digitally preserve couturiers’ specialized skills and techniques, aiming to combat the skills shortage in the UK fashion industry by offering AI-assisted training.
Sustainability is another critical aspect of AI innovation in fashion. The AI Loupe project, for instance, addresses the problem of deadstock fabric by allowing designers to photograph leftover materials and assess their suitability for new designs. The project researcher, Chipp Jansen, explains that it utilizes the camera as an index, with the fabric acting as a QR code to provide essential information.
While AI is making inroads into fashion, its future role remains uncertain. Hillary Taymour, the founder of New York brand Collina Strada, recently admitted to using AI image generator Midjourney to create her Spring/Summer 2024 collection. However, concerns regarding intellectual property rights may hinder the integration of AI-generated designs onto fashion runways.
Rebecca Lewin, a senior curator at London’s Design Museum, suggests that regulating AI-generated designs, scraped from published images, will require substantial effort. Barfield believes that resolving these issues will likely involve test cases and legislation.
The key, Barfield asserts, is to determine who controls decision-making in the design process. AI, powered by genetic algorithms, can generate numerous design variations rapidly. Still, if designers retain control, AI can significantly accelerate the creative process without making decisions on their behalf.
While the adoption of AI in the fashion industry faces challenges, Barfield remains optimistic, suggesting that companies will invest in AI technology once they overcome the initial infrastructure investment hurdles. In doing so, they can reduce material waste, enhance productivity, and maintain the essential human touch in fashion design.