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AI in fashion design and retail takes center stage

AI and fashion are a natural pairing as clothing designers and retailers are using technology to monitor what's hot and improve the efficiency of manufacturing and supply chains.

The fashion industry is big business, and globally it is valued at an estimated $3 trillion according to FashionUnited,...

representing 2% of global Gross Domestic Product. A lot goes into the clothes we wear, covering a spectrum of activities including designing, manufacturing, shipping, marketing and sales. It's no wonder that the use of AI in fashion design and retail is becoming more popular among clothing brands that want to transform various steps throughout the process.

Predict fashion trends and design fashion with AI

Before every season, clothing designers are hard at work designing new clothing lines. Given the constant of change in fashion and design, retailers need to estimate demand, which can be tricky due to the trend-driven nature of fashion.

Retailers base these estimates on prior year sales and some intuition about what will be hot sellers, but these are really just educated guesses. They can be off due to a number of factors such as changes to customers' buying patterns, certain colors or styles being less popular this year than in years past, or other hard-to-predict factors. AI-based approaches for demand projection have the ability to reduce forecasting errors by up to 50%, according to some projections by Business of Fashion.

Some retailers are letting algorithms help with designing clothes. By analyzing images, copying popular styles and using data to see what does and does not sell well, these algorithms are able to use this information to build completely new designs. Mega retailers such as Amazon and Walmart now have their own clothing brands and are building machine learning systems that can identity, spot and, in the not-too-distant future, design fashion trends.

AI helps with manufacturing and transport

Once clothes are designed, analytics and operational intelligence tools are applied to make the entire manufacturing process more efficient. A lot of textile manufacturing is done in countries with low cost of labor like China, India, Bangladesh, Guatemala, Indonesia and Vietnam. AI technologies are still nascent in textile manufacturing but are slowing being adopted for a variety of things. AI in fashion is being used to improve efficiency as well as augment the capabilities of human textile employees. Systems are now able to detect defects in fabric and provide quality assurance to ensure that the original design colors match the colors in a finished textile.

Machine learning and other cognitive technologies are similarly applied to help speed up deliveries by optimizing routes, reducing overall shipping costs and time in transit. Companies are able to automate logistical work processes or quickly find alternate routes for vehicles derailed by unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather or road construction.

Once at a port of destination, AI technologies are being applied by customs and border enforcement to help spot fakes. High-end goods such as purses, sunglasses and clothes are frequently counterfeit and identifying these fake products can be difficult. Technology vendors have developed technologies that are able to take photographs of an item, run them though algorithms that are able to analyze various materials such as leather, wood or metal and tell users if the item is authentic or a knock-off.

AI enhances the clothing buying experience

Increasingly, customers are becoming accustomed to hyper-personalized websites, email, social media posts, video and other content that is tailored to what they want right now. Customers are also demanding ease and convenience. AI-enabled shopping apps allow customers to take a screenshot of clothes, identify shoppable apparel and accessories in the photo, and then find the same outfit and shop similar product styles and looks.

Online and physical retailers are launching apps and virtual try-ons that allow shoppers to model a pair of jeans, a dress or even makeup from the comfort of their couch. Stitch Fix, the online personal styling service that delivers monthly outfits to your door, currently uses machine learning algorithms based on design trends, customers' personal preferences and feedback to help their stylists provide the best clothing and accessory options for each customer.

Aiming to increase the ease with which customers can purchase clothing on demand, many brands are using conversational interfaces such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Apple Siri, Samsung Bixby and Microsoft Cortana to help customers with their purchase decision. These voice-based interfaces prompt users with a series of questions related to their purchase and learn over time to suggest related and add-on items. Fashion companies are also using AI chatbots which enable 24/7 engagement with customers to help with a wide range of responsibilities.

A lot goes into the clothes that we wear, and AI technologies are transforming elements of the entire process. While adoption of AI in fashion still has a ways to go, forward-thinking brands are already investing in AI and are just beginning to see the potential impact it can have on their overall bottom line.

This was last published in November 2018

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