Will AI Help Brands Show a Wider Range of Bodies—or Pose New Problems for Real People?

September 15, 2023

The recent rise of AI platforms has made it possible to create uncannily lifelike images of people. But as brands begin to adopt the technology, some people are still debating what kind of impact AI-generated images will have on real people.

This week, we take a look at several companies that are using AI-generated models in an effort to help fashion brands become more inclusive—and generating controversy in the process.

Lalaland, a digital studio in Amsterdam, builds customized AI-generated models that are designed to show a wider range of identities and bodies in mainstream fashion imagery. The company’s co-founder and CEO, Michael Musandu, says he carefully curates the data that’s fed to his system to reduce bias.

But in March, when Levi Strauss said it would use Lalaland models to show a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics on its website, it was criticized for commissioning virtual models instead of hiring real people from diverse backgrounds. Musandu said the company hires and pays models for the images it uses, which gives minority groups new revenue.

“We know our customers want to shop with models who look like them, and we believe our models should reflect our consumers.”

Levi Strauss, which has said it plans to use AI-generated models from Lalaland to show a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics on its website

Another studio that develops and promotes virtual models, U.K.-based Diigitals, recently worked with 100 different women with Down syndrome to create Kami, a virtual influencer with Down syndrome that was made with the help of machine learning (a subset of AI). “Her goal is to spread awareness about the lack of representation in 3-D spaces,” said Cameron Wilson, the company’s founder.

Sara Ziff, founder and executive director of the nonprofit fashion advocacy organization the Model Alliance, said the use of AI as a stand-in for diversity could be harmful. She’s also worried about models’ images being used as AI training data without their knowledge.

🤔 What effect do you think AI will have on online inclusivity? Send me your thoughts, questions and predictions by hitting “reply” to this email.

More on this topic:

  • 🎧 Katharine Zarrella, the fashion director of WSJ Off Duty, explains how the fashion world is dressing up AI. (Listen)
  • Tech titans brought the AI debate to Washington this week. (Read)
  • How to make artificial intelligence less biased. (Read)
  • Four young designers share their dreams for fashion’s future. (Read)