You may have seen some surprising, but not completely unbelievable clothing collaborations on Instagram recently, and experienced chills shortly after finding out that these pieces weren’t designed by hand, but were instead “AI generated.” Read more to find out about how it works, what it means for the future of clothing design, and what I think about AI generated fashion as a personal stylist.
CALA is the operating system behind some of those beautiful concept-clothes on your feed; using artificial intelligence image-generator DALL-E (the system that produced a couple of controversial art pieces and album covers this last year), a variety of preset templates, and text or reference image inputs, CALA produces six original designs for you to pick from. You can opt out of using their templates, and instead use a fashion brand’s existing design, or even a design of your own.
Sounds pretty cool, right? I can easily see myself using AI generated fashion software to create look books for my clients, based on their individual styles, body measurements, and clothing values. In a broader sense, I think that as a new art medium, it’s already produced a number of thought-provoking images and design concepts. Being a huge advocate for self-teaching and DIY crafts, I find it exciting that systems like CALA would allow anyone to design clothing faster, and would make the process simpler for those without formal fashion-design training.
However, this accessibility applies to a wider audience than just your average user — it’s the same technology that’s made fast fashion even quicker than it already was. SHEIN has the shortest design-to-manufacture process to date, with a record-breaking turnaround period of only a few weeks. Their business model, a constant small-batch-production of thousands of new designs, has been called “real time manufacturing” by many — a process that will only continue to accelerate at SHEIN, and at other fast fashion brands with the widespread use of AI design systems.
Small businesses (like Sincerely RIA, Baiia and Transformations by Tracy), which have repeatedly fallen victim to fast fashion brands’ predatory online scouting, have seen the dark side of AI generated fashion-technology for years. Considering how quickly brands like SHEIN uploads cheap, unsustainable renditions of trending styles in the likes of Bailey Prado’s cropped wrap sweater, or Kim Kardashian’s black vintage Mugler dress that she wore to the 2019 Hollywood Beauty Awards (which was ripped off by Fashion Nova within 24 hours of her being seen in it), it’s likely that the company has long been using AI to generate their designs.
In a world that seems to slip further and further away from our control with every new development of independently thinking AI systems, it’s grounding to remember that the future depends on two things: their user demographic of real people, and how we use it. This applies to fast fashion companies’ AI practices too, whose successes rely completely on us consumers and on the original work of real designers. As a tool for design exploration or styling inspiration, I think AI systems have a lot to offer, and introduce an exciting future for fashion — but like all technology, it’s critical to know how it works, how to use it within morally-good parameters, and to whose detriment the convenience of fast fashion falls on, and who pays for convenience in general.