Will AI Kill Fashion or Improve It?

I have to confess: I’m FAR from being an expert on AI.  But given my role at Google, and the work of my team members, it comes up in many conversations, is the engine behind some of the tools my team creates, and it makes its way into at least one article in my news feed a day.  So I have some understanding of it.

Lately, I’ve been talking about it in the context of fashion.  It’s undeniable that AI will have an increasingly greater impact on the fashion world in the coming years.  The question everyone asks is,”is that a good thing?” Like in other creative fields I work with, people are concerned that AI could squelch creativity or limit it altogether.  After all, its key value is automation. What happens to the human being behind all of this? Does all creativity just end? Will creative industries like fashion just fade away or change into something empty of artistic expression? One particular entrepreneur engaged in the fashion tech space argued that soon AI will scan our behaviors, predict what we’d like into an ideal outfit and then we’d scan the looks into a 3D printer which will print out our clothing at home.  No more need for fashion design and no more need for fashion retailers.

I don’t quite agree.  

I was asked to comment about this topic and few other fashion and strategy related issues in an interview with Geoffrey Colon, a marketing disruptor and innovator from Microsoft.  He hosts a podcast, “Disruptive FM” and interviews various people from across the globe every year at the Cannes Lions Festival.  His Cannes video is called “Fashion Boutique.” Geoffrey didn’t waste any time with me under the hot sun and homed into the interplay of AI and fashion.   No question AI will be able to get a faster, maybe even more, nuanced read of our habits, preferences and activities than a human being could.  And with that speed and nuance, it can create styles that every individual would likely find appealing. 

But there is still a need for the human being to oversee and correct or pivot the findings of AI.  Certain cultural norms or expectations may underpin our fashion sense that can’t be picked up through behavior alone.  Certain permutations and combinations may seem to look nice via an algorithm but appear “off” as the end result. Technology is our friend.  It does the tedious work for us so we can then build off of it and spend more time playing and evolving fashion.

Prior to my podcast I was mining my friend and fashion tech guru, Amanda Parkes for insight on this matter since she speaks on stages all over the world on this and related topics.  She highlighted a few fashion companies taking hold of AI like H&M and Myntra which uses machine learning to design full collections in record speeds. But there’s human beings along the way, tapping their sense of creativity to enhance machine learning to be that much more nuanced.  AI isn’t killing fashion or creativity; it’s allowing us to do it more quickly and in different ways.

AI will give us greater personalization than ever before, we we all love that (think the craze over Nike ID).  Could the hyper personalization we crave and receive from AI further discount the need for human side of fashion?  After all, we are getting exactly what suits us, right? Of course we seek clothing that benefits our specific lifestyles and needs.  But there’s the other side of fashion. The side that surprises, enlightens and inspires us.  It’s the side that opens our eyes to something we never even REALIZED we needed. AI can bring us closer to that, but it’s human beings who can take it to the next level.

As Dr. Anastassia Lauterbach, tech entrepreneur and author, said so adroitly: “The word intelligence in AI is highly confusing and causes funny discussions. Today there is nothing absolutely intelligent in Machine learning applications. Everything happens by design, and this design is done by humans – preferably in diverse teams. Humans decide what criteria get emphasized in a model. Machine learning scales what ever good or bad gets into the datasets and algorithms. Every profession needs to adjust to a world where some coding will be as normal as cooking today. Yes, you can eat in restaurants every day and let others cook for you. But it is maybe nice to be capable to produce something on your own. Same is true with AI in any industry. If you choose technology illiteracy, you can lament the death of creativity. Or you can use your great knowledge and add new skills, partner with technologists who are capable to listen, and do the work. AI is not a conscious agent. It is a tool…it can be used in a smart way, and support your ideas. The Intelligence on what and how remains yours.”

The opportunity is in front of us: retreat from AI or harness it to take creativity to newer and maybe even greater heights.

For the full video, click here (My piece starts around the 10 minute mark).

Fashion & Sex: How #Metoo is Changing It, But Is It For The Better?

A few weeks back you may have a seen a short video between my friends, Rachael McCrary and Marci Weisler about our reactions to the #metoo movement.  One of the areas discussed was our attire.  How should women dress?  Are we asking to be seen as sex objects if we wear something alluring or are we displaying our sense of empowerment?  This isn’t a new debate but it’s just that much more heightened due to the times.  Rachael and I believe its the latter.  This should be of no surprise if you know me, my blog posts, and how I tend to dress; and no surprise given Rachael’s role as a CEO of lingerie company, Jewel Toned.

But now this question is also being discussed by the fashion and its surrounding industries, i.e., publishing.  In a recent Financial Times article, “Lets Talk about Sex,” Lou Stoppard reflects on the fear of fashion designers and magazine brands to display sexuality in their designs and photo shoots. The story cites the trends by fashion brands to cover up, develop more unisex items and create “reserved” looks in response to today’s climate.  Likewise, style magazines are forcing themselves to rethink their often-hyper sexual imagery.  The article aptly kicks off with these words:”There is little joy of sex in the fashion industry right now.  In fact, the industry seems seems almost scared of it.”

As a mother of boys and a girl, I’m not disappointed that the media industry is challenging itself to portray women in a more empowering light.  But must we avoid sexuality all together?  Of course not all brands are avoiding it.  As the article points out, designers such as Christopher Kane are still developing alluring designs.  His words sum it up for me: “No one should be taken advantage of, but sex is not a bad thing, either.  Abuse is a bad thing.”  EXACTLY!  Demonizing sex or avoiding it isn’t the solution.  If we assume sex or being sexy is bad, we will not only inhibit women from trying to look as alluring as they choose but also will link sex with abuse.   By making such a tight connection between sex and abuse, we may be encouraging the abuser to further use sex as a way to exert his/her power over and anger towards others.   If we regarded sex and looking sexy as a beautiful thing and as a wonderful way to commune with others (assuming its consensual), we will begin to stop using it in an abusive manner.  Call me crazy, but I liken it to our relationship to food.   We need food.  And it’s wonderful!  Of course we should treat our bodies with respect and not over do it.  Nor should we stuff crap down our throats.  Both of those are harmful.  But to demonize food is harmful too.  But when we have a screwy relationship to food –when we feel both consumed by it and then ashamed when we eat it — we begin to hate it.  The result? We abuse it and abuse ourselves that much more.  We need to change this negative relationship …with food and sex.

Everyone has a different interpretation of sexy attire.  No matter what that is, I think we should all be free to embrace our own version of it.  As I’ve said in past posts and in our video conversation, eschewing sensuality or sexuality isn’t necessarily empowering.  For me is depressing.  Just as eschewing lovely foods or spirits.  Sexuality is part of our amazing lives.  We just have to respect it’s boundaries and honor it.

Look out for our next video chat in a the coming weeks!

The Beauty of Social Media isn’t Just Skin Deep

A street in Paris My my trip a few weeks ago

In past posts, I have referenced the anthropology-based work around various technology platforms I had the privilege to develop, including a study on Social Media.  A recent article, “Instagram posts can reveal depression better than anything patients tell their doctors,” brought the insights of this social study to fore for me.  It reminded me of the deep beauty that we can actually derive from social media.  I’m not referring to pretty pictures, though that has an important role in our lives.  I’m referring to the deeper, societal benefit Social gives us.

Yes, for many of us social media is a playful pastime.  We can post great bikini pics or vacation vistas.  We can air our grievances or, at our worst, use it to put others down.  Social media — not matter which sites we frequent or how we’re using them (including the posting of seemingly banal stuff) –serves as greater purpose: one that fundamental and, well, beautiful.

How?  Because of the very elements of social — it’s real time, and raw nature; and the relative anonymity or physical distance from others — we tend to be more real and vulnerable.  And, we will often say things and show things to MANY people that we would either keep to ourselves or only tell a few friends.  In doing so, we often use a sort of language, what we call “poetic language,” (imagery, gifs, emoji’s or slang) that’s full of nuance and emotion to truly convey what we feel.  For example, if you asked me how my day was over text a few years ago, the best I could offer was “good” or “GOOD” of “Way good.”  But now I can add some rainbows, a video clip and an emoji looking up towards heaven to show how amazing it was.

It’s these elements that compel us to share and be open to “hearing” back — whether that’s about the best restaurant in a foreign city or if a woman should leave her abusive boyfriend (true story on Reddit).  And this exchange of ideas, insights and challenges helps us learn about our worlds and our place in it.  We call this “Self-Making through Others.”   What does this mean?  We are less and less motivated by individual self-help and more by interdependence!

So when I saw this article about being able to detect depression in others thanks to Instagram images, I thought:”this is yet another wonderful example of Self-making through Others.”  The article explains how we can help alert others’ to their pain and maybe suggest ways to help them thanks to their Instagram photos.   According to EPJ Data Science, a pair of researchers, Chris Danforth of the University of Vermont and Andrew Reece of Harvard University, were able to analyze Instagram posts based on previously known markers of depression.   The article points out: “Depressed people tend to prefer grayer, darker colors, and to show less evidence of social activity (which the researchers thought might be evidenced by the absence of faces in posted images).”  And depressed people tend not to use filters.

Imagine if you and your social network realized one of your friend’s is experiencing deep, emotional pain and you could help him or her?  Wouldn’t you want to?  Thanks to social media, in this case Instagram, we can.   I realize social media can also contribute to peoples’ pain, for example, when the body-shamers rear their heads.  But as our research indicated, most of what we share and chat about is positive, helpful and insightful; not negative.  And now, thanks to this research, we can be more aware of others’ emotional states, and help them through their situations.

Social media is certainly light and fun, and and we should enjoy that.  But let’s not just sit back an admire people’s images or scroll past them.  Let’s pay closer attention to what others share.  Let’s uplift those even higher who are celebrating their lives and embrace those who are crying out for help.  And we will all be better for it.

 

 

Weekend Observations: Dress Up Like Them & Elevate Your Souls

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Like many working mothers out there, I sometimes cut corners when it comes to my appearance.  In an effort to multi-task, rush from activity to activity or get an extra 2 minutes of sleep, I’ll go about without make-up, ignore the wrinkles on my shirts, or succumb to wearing jeans versus trousers.
There are those times, however, when I reflect on my lack of effort and think that I’m projecting a less than powerful figure.  In some ways my relaxed attire shows others that I’m a relaxed gal, which isn’t the worst thing given how intense I can be.  Nevertheless there is a sense of pride one feels when s/he is dressed to the nines.  Of course the clothes can’t “wear” us. We must feel at ease in our duds to truly present a confident image.
To compel me further to place more attention on my appearance is this awesome advertisement by Guinness called The Sapeurs.   The Sapeurs are part of the Society of Elegant Persons of the Congo.    They are blue-collar workers who put great effort into looking ,not just nice, but smashing.  While they “may not choose what they do, they can choose who they are”, one member states in the ad.  Dressing up isn’t just a fun past time, it a way to elevate their souls.  They “believe in the uplifting, redeeming, beautifying effect of dressing well.” according to this Ad Week article.  The Guinness ad gives us a glimpse of these admirable men and encourages us to watch the documentary about this group.
I was also intrigued by this story because it featured men, not women.  We tend to think clothing and caring for our appearance is of interest primarily to women.  Well, think again.
While sprucing up a bit lets others know we care, it also makes ourselves know we care.  And that’s the most important.  I may not ever be as elegant as the Sapeurs, no matter how often I iron my outfits.  But I certainly  hope that  by putting more effort into how I look I can project even just a smidgen of their confidence, boldness and aliveness.
Looking forward to dressing  up for work this week 🙂
 

Weekend Observations: Dress Up Like Them & Elevate Your Souls

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 10.32.45 AM

Like many working mothers out there, I sometimes cut corners when it comes to my appearance.  In an effort to multi-task, rush from activity to activity or get an extra 2 minutes of sleep, I’ll go about without make-up, ignore the wrinkles on my shirts, or succumb to wearing jeans versus trousers.

There are those times, however, when I reflect on my lack of effort and think that I’m projecting a less than powerful figure.  In some ways my relaxed attire shows others that I’m a relaxed gal, which isn’t the worst thing given how intense I can be.  Nevertheless there is a sense of pride one feels when s/he is dressed to the nines.  Of course the clothes can’t “wear” us. We must feel at ease in our duds to truly present a confident image.

To compel me further to place more attention on my appearance is this awesome advertisement by Guinness called The Sapeurs.   The Sapeurs are part of the Society of Elegant Persons of the Congo.    They are blue-collar workers who put great effort into looking ,not just nice, but smashing.  While they “may not choose what they do, they can choose who they are”, one member states in the ad.  Dressing up isn’t just a fun past time, it a way to elevate their souls.  They “believe in the uplifting, redeeming, beautifying effect of dressing well.” according to this Ad Week article.  The Guinness ad gives us a glimpse of these admirable men and encourages us to watch the documentary about this group.

I was also intrigued by this story because it featured men, not women.  We tend to think clothing and caring for our appearance is of interest primarily to women.  Well, think again.

While sprucing up a bit lets others know we care, it also makes ourselves know we care.  And that’s the most important.  I may not ever be as elegant as the Sapeurs, no matter how often I iron my outfits.  But I certainly  hope that  by putting more effort into how I look I can project even just a smidgen of their confidence, boldness and aliveness.

Looking forward to dressing  up for work this week 🙂

 

Could Beauty & Fashion Be the Keys to Saudi Women's Independence?

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Thank goodness for my husband’s intellectual pursuits.  If it were up to me, I would be watching stupid TV and reading People magazine all day.  Unlike me, my husband watches Charlie Rose and reads the The New Yorker.  And since I hang out with him (that would be expected, right? :)), I sometimes pick up what ever he’s reading.  In this case the New Yorker issue from weeks December 23rd & 30th (a double whammy). In it was a fascinating article, “Shopgirls” by Katherine Zoepf, about Saudi women and a first inkling of their independence.
In June 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decreed that women could, no, should, replace men in shops where female customers are seeking intimate items.  First the law referred to lingerie shops and then the law extended to other typical feminine spaces like apparel and cosmetics, and even into supermarket checkout counters.  For women who have not gone to college (and there are many), this is their first opening to a sort of financial independence.
To us Westerners, that should feel like a “no duh”, especially in a country with such rigid rules restricting contact between the sexes.  Wouldn’t you rather be told your true bra size from a woman than a man?! Ironically, there are many protesting such laws because they fear women (that is, the shop girls) will be in that much more contact with men.
The article certainly highlights the intimidation and family pressure many people receive once starting to work.  It ain’t easy.  But it also shows how much more confident and happy these shop girls are.  Instead of living secluded lives at home or maybe in the malls shopping, these women can learn a skill, broaden their social network and secure themselves against financial ruin (the divorce rate is high in Saudi Arabia and often women lose custody of their children because they can’t afford to care for them).
While so many of us independent, well-educated Western women love make-up and a cute bra or two, we would probably think the last place women would gain a sense of freedom and independence would be at a Victoria’s Secret shop or at the Macy’s make-up counter.  But in Saudi Arabia, these places may not only be wonderful, liberating places for women, but may actually prove to be the spark to set in motion so much more change.
Hear, hear for lingerie!  Oh, yeah, and Happy New Year!

Could Beauty & Fashion Be the Keys to Saudi Women’s Independence?

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.48.35 AM

Thank goodness for my husband’s intellectual pursuits.  If it were up to me, I would be watching stupid TV and reading People magazine all day.  Unlike me, my husband watches Charlie Rose and reads the The New Yorker.  And since I hang out with him (that would be expected, right? :)), I sometimes pick up what ever he’s reading.  In this case the New Yorker issue from weeks December 23rd & 30th (a double whammy). In it was a fascinating article, “Shopgirls” by Katherine Zoepf, about Saudi women and a first inkling of their independence.

In June 2011, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia decreed that women could, no, should, replace men in shops where female customers are seeking intimate items.  First the law referred to lingerie shops and then the law extended to other typical feminine spaces like apparel and cosmetics, and even into supermarket checkout counters.  For women who have not gone to college (and there are many), this is their first opening to a sort of financial independence.

To us Westerners, that should feel like a “no duh”, especially in a country with such rigid rules restricting contact between the sexes.  Wouldn’t you rather be told your true bra size from a woman than a man?! Ironically, there are many protesting such laws because they fear women (that is, the shop girls) will be in that much more contact with men.

The article certainly highlights the intimidation and family pressure many people receive once starting to work.  It ain’t easy.  But it also shows how much more confident and happy these shop girls are.  Instead of living secluded lives at home or maybe in the malls shopping, these women can learn a skill, broaden their social network and secure themselves against financial ruin (the divorce rate is high in Saudi Arabia and often women lose custody of their children because they can’t afford to care for them).

While so many of us independent, well-educated Western women love make-up and a cute bra or two, we would probably think the last place women would gain a sense of freedom and independence would be at a Victoria’s Secret shop or at the Macy’s make-up counter.  But in Saudi Arabia, these places may not only be wonderful, liberating places for women, but may actually prove to be the spark to set in motion so much more change.

Hear, hear for lingerie!  Oh, yeah, and Happy New Year!

Weekend Observations: Stereotyping Gets a Nice Kick in the Ass


When Cheryl Sandberg’s Lean In became the rage, I have to admit, I ignored it.  It wasn’t that I don’t believe in sisterhood, or that women shouldn’t thrive in the workplace.  I think I felt I didn’t need her encouragement. Nevertheless, I couldn’t claim to be a student of culture and not read her book (especially since my mother had a free copy, and kept on citing it).  So I read it.  And, like I expected, I didn’t walk away forever changed.  I did appreciate her “voice” and style, however, and thought a bit more about my own voice in my writing and speeches as a result.
Net net, I appreciated Lean In but didn’t feel I had been too hampered by the sexism around me.  I don’t love it, mind you.  But it hasn’t been a huge barrier to my success.  And I don’t let it stop me.  One of my female colleagues put it so well when she said, “I’m not scared of the boys, the boys are scared of me!”  I couldn’t agree more. But I do have to admit, we, women, still face stereotyping — by men and women alike.   So when Pantene, a beauty brand, decided to challenge these stereotypes head on in the Philipines, I was moved.
The spot is very simple.  It shows scene after scene of a man and then a woman doing the same things while being perceived very differently as they do them.  While successful men are often seen as persuasive, authoritative, and dashing; successful women are often seen as bossy, pushy and showy.  I’ve certainly faced this type of stereotyping, no matter what industry I’ve played in.  And the comments hurt … a lot.  Over the years I’ve tried my best to not let the stereotyping get me down. Of course I do my best to connect with my colleagues and clients so that they see beyond the stereotypes.  But, one can only do so much.
So of course I love this ad.  But I appreciate this ad not just because it puts the issues front in center — in the Philippines no less — but because it’s a BEAUTY BRAND doing it.  You’d probably expect an ad like this coming from a non-for-profit organization.  But it came from a category that one could argue fuels stereotyping by making women feel compelled to look beautiful (vs tap their smarts).  Yet this beauty brand recognizes that beauty can add to our confidence, which then encourages us to ignore or even actively work to destroy those barriers.
Go Pantene!

Pic of the Week: The Beauty of Raw Advertising

IMG_20131014_171553I’m walking to work yesterday and looked up to see this raw, simple ad for yoga.  I just love how it fits right into the landscape.  It is not only simple, and straightforward, like the buildings that surround it, but this ad communicates a quiet confidence that represents all of Chelsea, NYC.  The net result? Striking.

Pic of the Week: Self-Perception vs Reality

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Despite my expectations of Dove abandoning its Campaign for Real Beauty, the brand actually reinforced it’s mission with this video: Dove Real Beauty Sketches.
The video is a profound viewing experience, and shows how unrealistic and harmful our self-perceptions truly are.  Sketch artists draw how women describe themselves and then compare their results with drawings that the artists developed based on others’ description of these same women.  Watch what happens…pretty cool.