Backlash over Levi’s AI-generated clothing models to ‘increase diversity’

·3-min read
AI models - lalaland
AI models - lalaland

Levi’s was facing a backlash after it unveiled new AI models it claimed would help boost diversity and sustainability.

The fashion brand recently said it was partnering with a digital studio that uses artificial intelligence to create realistic computer-generated images of different body types wearing the clothes.

Shoppers on Levi’s website can currently look at an item of clothing on one model, but Levi’s said the new tool will give shoppers the chance to see the items on those who resemble them best.

However, the move has prompted outrage, with fashion experts accusing Levi’s of neglecting real people of colour to achieve false diversity.

“The Levi’s images are not my idea of diversifying fashion,” fashion commentator Caryn Franklin MBE told The Telegraph.

“Instead, the use of AI in this instance feels like a way to cut out diverse models who deserve representation, jobs and exposure. There are many agencies who will supply vibrant and exciting humans, so brands have no excuse.”

'Digital blackface'

“How about using AI for the white models and putting more money into the pockets of a diverse workforce?” designer Joy Suthigoseeya said.

“Sounds like digital blackface,” blogger Jennifer Laws added.

Amy Gershkoff Bolles, Levi’s global head of digital and emerging technology strategy, reassured that AI will “likely never fully replace human models for us”.

AI Levi's model - lalaland
AI Levi's model - lalaland

She added that Lalaland’s technology “can help us continue on our journey for a more diverse and inclusive customer experience”.

“This AI technology can potentially assist us by supplementing models and unlocking a future where we can enable customers to see our products on more models that look like themselves, creating a more personal and inclusive shopping experience,” Levi’s said., an Amsterdam-based company, says on its website that the AI models are “inspired by real people, generated with AI”. They have also worked with Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and the Otto Group.

In 2022, Levi’s laid off around 15 per cent of its workforce as part of a restructuring of the company, saving around $100 million per year.

More companies using AI

Levi’s is not the first company to move towards using AI technology. Mattel, CarMax, and Coca-Cola are currently using tools such as DALL-E and ChatGPT for various purposes.

Coca-Cola’s most recent advertising campaign combined AI with the works of the world’s greatest artists, including Utagawa Hiroshige’s Drum Bridge And Setting Sun, J.M.W Turner’s The Shipwreck and Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arle.

At one point in the advert, the Girl With A Pearl Earring cracks open a bottle of the soft drink.

Other companies have also looked at replacing real people with AI, but with mixed results.

In August of last year, Capitol Records signed and then fired AI rapper FN Meka after criticism that the character promoted “gross stereotypes” of black culture.

Claire Leibowicz of The Partnership on AI, a nonprofit group established and sponsored by leading tech providers, recently released warnings for companies producing AI-generated content.

“They should play around and tinker, but we should also think, what purpose are these tools serving in the first place?” she said.