Levi’s would rather dish out on AI models than hire human diverse ones

By Jennifer Raymont

Published Mar 30, 2023 at 04:51 PM

Reading time: 2 minutes

Whether you’re turning your head away from all things AI because you’re oversaturated or just downright terrified, with AI Fashion Week launching mid-April 2023, there’s simply no escaping it. Most fashion brands are jumping on the bandwagon, the latest being Levi’s. But has the denim giant taken it a step too far?

Collaborating with Amsterdam-based company Lalaland.ai, Levi’s proudly announced, in a press release published on 22 March, a push for diversity with AI-generated models. The pilot scheme aims to create “a more personal and inclusive shopping experience.”

How exactly? Online customers will be able to see products on a range of AI-generated—in other words, fake—body types and ethnicities. As a result of implementing this new technology, Levi’s hopes to boost sales by offering potential customers a personalised online shopping experience that they can easily relate to.

 

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The press release puts the current lack of diversity on Levi’s website down to the impracticality and slow pace of the physical fashion shoot, with a maximum of two models per product. The brand’s laziness is ironic considering denim’s history of workwear and hard work.

By comparison, Savage X Fenty’s website features a range of models wearing each product—allowing shoppers to visualise how an item will look on their body and skin tone, as opposed to comparing themselves to unrealistic ideals of beauty. If Rihanna can do it, Levi’s needs to follow suit.

With POC and plus-sized models already under-represented by the industry both in real life and in the digital sphere, the use of AI models is likely to reduce their job opportunities further. It seems the fashion industry would rather use AI-generated individuals than take the time to properly diversify.

The FW23 fashion month saw a significant decline in plus-sized models on the runway. Now, Levi’s has chosen to front its AI launch with a model that fits the conventionally “beautiful” model frame. So much for “body-inclusive avatars.”

Financial discrepancy has run rampant in the industry for years. In the 70s, Somali-American supermodel Iman refused jobs where she would not be paid the same as her white counterparts. 50 years later, minority groups are at risk of not being paid at all, with makeup artists, photographers and set designers, to name a few, also threatened by the rise of AI.

Lalaland.ai is a black-owned business that is “here to diversify the fashion industry and challenge the status quo when it comes to inclusivity, sustainability and innovation.” Yet, its most expensive deal only offers a S-XL size range and just three different “complexions” in exchange for €4,800 a month.

With a net worth of $6.5 billion, Levi’s shouldn’t be too phased by this amount. And after saving $100 million following the mass layoff of 15 per cent of its workforce in 2022, the use of AI is also set to make profits boom.

Again, in comparison, Savage X Fenty offers shoppers sizes ranging from XS to 4XL, and the company’s annual fashion show is a fierce celebration of diversity. Oh, and models are actually paid for it. If Levi’s is as devoted to diversity as it claims, critics are demanding the brand put its money where its mouth is:

@benjy_lookbook

Why Levi’s using AI-generated models to “increase diversity” is superficial representation. #learnontiktok #aigenerated #aigeneratedimages #inclusion #representation #representationmatters

♬ original sound - Hi, Benjy here!🙋🏾‍♂️🏳️‍🌈

Following the backlash, Levi’s responded promptly: “We do not see this pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals and it should not have been portrayed as such.”

The brand, known for the iconic 501 jeans, spent a lot of time reiterating its “commitment” to diversity and “authentic storylines,” yet there is no mention of how this is going to be achieved. Actions speak louder than words.

There is a fundamental need for brand transparency beyond the surface level. Not only do consumers want to see every body type, ethnicity, age, gender, sexuality, and disability both on the runways and in campaigns, this must then be replicated at all levels of the workforce. Levi’s attempt at an inclusive shopping experience is sadly nothing more than superficial.

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