By Claudia Schwarz
In February 2010, Burberry revolutionized the way guests could experience a fashion show. Their 2010 Fall/Winter show in London was streamed live to New York, LA, Paris, Tokyo, and Dubai using 3D technology. In part due to the pandemic, technology is starting to play an even bigger part in our lives and this encapsulates the fashion world too. March marks Paris Fashion Week and, this year, all events are going ahead in a digital format.
At the Met Gala in 2016, Karolina Kurkova lit up the room. Her dress, a “Cognitive Dress”, was created in a collaboration between Marchesa and IBM’s Watson supercomputer. The stunning white tulle dress was embroidered with 150 flowers which were connected to LED lights. The fabric, design and surprises were all designed by Marchesa. Technology in the form of IBM’s supercomputer guided and assisted the designers to bring their vision to life. Throughout the evening, the flowers changed to all possible colours – from bright rose to aqua. This, however, was not random. The LED lights, connected to the supercomputer, interpreted the emotional content of tweets about the dress. As the tone of the tweets changed, the dress lit up in different shades and colours.
Many designers are going a step further and have found a harmonious balance between technology and creativity. Yuima Nakazato, the Japanese couturier who is known for daring experiments with fermented microbes and digital fabrication, takes centre stage. His vision of AI-infused fashion uses 3D technology such as scanners and other personalised machines to
create clothing. Using a 3D scanner, the client’s measurements are taken and transferred to a second machine which cuts, then assembles the different pieces of fabric to create the piece of clothing. This way, no material is wasted, and the client is in possession of a perfectly fitted piece of couture.
With that in mind, AI technology seems to offer a solution to one of the biggest issues in the fashion industry: sustainability. The clothing and textile industry is the largest polluter in the world, second to oil. Out of all the fabric that is intended for clothing, 15% ends up on the cutting room floor. The fashion industry creates about 92 million tons of textile waste every year. The problem is evident, and a possible solution right at our fingertips is cognitive fashion. Cognitive fashion is, in short, a fusion of fashion and technology. The term was coined by the American multinational technology company IBM. With their supercomputer Watson, which combines AI and analytical software, they are able to predict upcoming fashion trends through a predictive model. Data from sources such as blogs, social media, runway footage and magazine articles are used for these predictions. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to know next season’s colour palette in advance? Or if power shoulders and flairs will ever make a comeback?
The analytical software, coupled with AI technology, is able to mimic a consumer’s thought process. It could help brands make more informed decisions regarding production. They can determine what we as consumers want, before we even know we want it. Using AI technology to detect trends could reduce forecasting errors by 50% and 20-50% of overall inventory levels. The best and worst selling items can be identified, and the inventory planned accordingly. Cognitive fashion could also help reduce the number of returned products. This is because AI technology enables personalization and ensures accurate information about products. The result is that clients are more informed and less likely to buy the wrong item. This would be a massive step towards sustainability. Designers such as Yuima Nakazato are able to reduce improper collection planning and apparel waste by using image analysis and fashion trend forecasting.
The well-known Australian fashion designer Jason Grech is a strong advocate of cognitive fashion: “My confidence in Watson’s data and design ideas gave me the freedom to focus on the creative side without second-guessing my decisions.” AI accentuates the creativity and imagination on which the fashion industry is built. It does not replace human creativity but rather collaborates with it. Jeff Arns is a strategy manager at Watson and has seen the harmonious interplay of fashion and technology firsthand: “There’s a tremendous value in having tech play an assistive role. At the end of the day it is the designer’s choice of what am I going to build with this?”
Cognitive fashion can give designers a new set of tools to realise their unique vision. Instead of using spreadsheets and crunching numbers by hand, AI technology utilises a wide range of data to forecast trends in minutes. Trend forecasting based on past collections and social media can build a bridge between generations and illustrate what consumers want in real- time. Knowing
what to create for the season to come will prevent overstocking and underselling, so fewer clothes are in need of disposal. So far, it seems that cognitive fashion might be the step towards the sustainability we need.