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).

Get a Glimpse into Future Fashion/Beauty Tech Trends From CES Veteran, Robin Raskin

Welcome back to our series of wearable tech podcasts. Apologies for the slight respite these past few weeks, I was braving it at SXSW. But now I’m back and super excited to share the brilliant insights from our extensive conversation with Robin Raskin, Founder and CEO, Living in Digital Times.

I asked her to tell us about the cool, new beauty and fashion tech that she experienced at CES (Computer Electronics Show), which occurred right before our gathering at the National Retail Federation Big Show. She immediately throws out two fun ones: hi-tech kegel exerciser and remote controlled underwear—wowza!  After a few laughs we dove into a number of high level observations, and they were fascinating.  Overall, everything is connected to the internet now; everything is talking to each other.  “It’s a turning point, explains Robin, “everything becomes collaborative, everything — everyone one — has to work together.”  Here’s how that’s making it’s way into fashion/beauty tech:
1. Renaissance of Retail: People are going back to stores, but they are going to have an experience — think virtual mirrors, ordering on one’s own, getting personalized products on the spot. Thanks to advances in AI we can better anticipate and appeal to people’s needs right there and then. Retailers are learning from the likes of Disney theme parks and Carnival Cruises in their approaches to personalized, customized and intelligent solutions.  As a result of all this new tech, stores will become more customer/front-end focused.  So much will be automated so that sales people can spend less time in the back and can now service customers with much more time and depth.
2. More creative & personalized designs: 3D printed garments; clothing and accessories with LED lights; better fitting shoes and clothing, and the list goes.  (Think back to our prior podcasts, and our conversations with Thesis Couture‘s hi-tech shoes, Thursdayfinest‘s 3D printed ties, scarves and hats as examples.)
3. Smart garments = the new wave: From the point of origin, to the manufacturing process to the wearer’s experience, garments will be trackable allowing for any glitches to be recognized and fixed anywhere along their lifecycle.  Of course this also heralds advances in health, as we can monitor everything from people’s exercise levels, to dental hygiene to future stroke potential.   A big shout out to my buddy, Heidi Lehmann (she was in our second podcast too) and her company Kenzen which develops smart clothing to monitor our health and track our physiology.  As Robin put it: “we won’t need parents nagging us anymore…our clothes and jewelry will do all of it instead, lol!”
4. Self-promotion of artists and fashion/jewelry designers  Thanks to technology artists won’t need to rely on stores, galleries or traditional media to promote them.  This means more access to potential buyers and less costly approaches to making us aware of their talents.

As a final treat, I asked Robin what she saw as the next new cool beauty or fashion tech trend.  She cited her favorite thus far which is a coat that gets warm during cold temperatures but then cools off as our bodies or the outside air temperatures rise.  So cool no? (no pun intended, LOL)

As all of our podcasts have shown, we have hit a new and exciting era in fashion and beauty.  No doubt we will have a bit to navigate through all of this, and we’ll have to determine what our limits are.  Do we want to exchange our personal data for the exciting benefits of smart garments? Are we ready to explore totally new categories, e.g., jewelry or tech devices?  Can we imagine wearing clothing or accessories that express our emotions?

My feeling?

Hell yes!  Bring it on.

Some of these advances will fade, some will morph and some will take the world by storm.  I can’t wait for it all!

To hear more brilliance from Robin, please click on the podcast below

And if you want to see us gab live, have a look at our periscope video for the podcast booth.  Please skip ahead to 52 minutes in.

https://www.periscope.tv/w/1vOxwgqqgLbxB

Data, Intimacy & Wearables: A New Take on “We are What We Wear” And How We Feel About It

The beautiful, scary, amazing and conflicting role of data is a conversation that has only gotten hotter over the years.  And now with our clothes and jewelry offering access to intelligence about us like never before, the conversation has gotten that much more dynamic.

Welcome to our fifth podcast about fashion-tech from the NRF Big Show event.  For this discussion, I was, again, accompanied by my friend and ESPN Exec, James Eshricht.  And, again, I had the fortune of hosting a few amazing guests who are shaking the business paradigm and bringing it to new, exciting places.

We kicked off this session with the brilliant and highly fashionable co-founder of Trendalytics, Karen Moon, and her colleague, Amos Chiou.  And then we had the privilege of hosting Julie Rodgers Vargas, director, Digital Solutions at Avery Dennison and Andy Hobsbawm, co-founder & CMO, EVRYTHNG (Yep there’s no vowels…I didn’t forget to spell check :)).

Trendalytics is the “moneyball for fashion,” according to Karen.  Thanks to the company’s sexy combination of data scientists, engineers and retail experts, Trendalytics can forecast fashion trends based, not on the age-old source of historical data, but on a slew of sources including user searches on Google, social buzz and e-com data.  This means they can truly be ahead of the curve.  I couldn’t agree more!  As you can imagine, I’m constantly surrounded by data.  And I love it.  But just because data is so valuable, doesn’t mean it’s not all created equal.  We have to take into account the source.  Historical data is much less foretelling, and, frankly less “human” than data from people’s own search behavior, conversations and activities.  The company is only 2 years old but working with a host of retailers.  Like so many of our guests, Karen and Amos spoke to the key value of understanding the end-user, i.e., the human element.

Speaking of data, James and I had a quick but captivating conversation with the folks of EVRYTHNG, a company that combines hardware, software and real time data in the form of our clothing. “Clothing is the ultimate wearbable”, they said.  (The reason for no vowels?  The company provides “only the essentials,” according to Andy.)  As you interact with these clothing items, “rules in the cloud trigger analytics” which then give you back something like, let you in to a VIP event with a special invitation, or gifts, and the list goes on.

While I’m a big fan of data, I was a bit weirded out by this notion.  After all our clothing is so intimate.  As the technology develops, how much of our intimate feelings, experiences, bodily function do we want to emit?   I couldn’t hold myself back, I had to push this with the EVRYTHNG folks.  Their answer?  You can choose what you want to share of yourself.  Of course, we all realize that this is a new world, and we’re still navigating it.  There is indeed a value exchange.  When we give data, we get something in return.  It’s only a matter of time when we figure out the comfortable boundaries of that exchange.  But there’s no question that the train has left the station and we have to figure out what that means for us.

In a sense we’ve always been using data to understand one another.  It may not have been in such large quantities or at such speeds.  And int he case of “wearables”, we have learned something about someone through their clothing for ages.  When someone wears something of high quality, with particular fabrics from distant origins, we are hit with a number of pieces of data.  We know that person cares about his/her appearance, is affluent, and has a sense of the aesthetic.   So are times really changing or are we just collecting, analyzing and sharing data in new ways?

Personally, I’m more excited than not about what’s to come and how we can make everything (or evrthng :)) — even our clothing and jewelry –be even greater sources of awe and inspiration for us.  And the more we understand this world, the better we can turn it into something valuable vs bizarre.

Please click on these two podcasts to hear more:

Interview with Trendalytics

Interview with Evrthng

And if you want to see us chat, have fun watching this Periscope version.  Please start at 25 minutes into the podcast.

Podcast #4: Fashion Tech Rock Stars Show Their Amazing Wares and Share What Inspires Them

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I’m really excited about bringing to you all our fourth podcast in our fashion-tech series of conversations from the NRF Big Show.  For this discussion I had the honor of co-hosting with my hilarious and highly accomplished friend and ESPN exec, James Eschricht.  We had a few amazing, brilliant and beautiful guests joining us in the fun, including Veronika Harbick, founder of Thursday Finest; Christina D’Avignon, founder and CEO of Ringly, and Betsy Fore, Founder and CEO of Wondermento.

This rapid-fire series of conversations were all about product, product, product.  Like the earlier conversations, there was a lot of talk about aesthetics being key to the experience.  In other words, if one of these fashion tech products doesn’t make me drool because it looks so damn good, it’s not worth it.  That’s why Veronica focuses on customization.  Thursday Finest is a 3D knitting company (check out the blue knit scarf worn by James in the Periscope video below — that’s one of their creations).  The company produces the whole garment, i.e., no need for self-assembly.  BUT you can choose the style and even order “granular” sizing (that’s a totally new term for me!).  One of their best items?  The knit tie.  Yep, it’s back, and for all you fashion-forward guys, knit ties are super IN.

Ringly, a smart jewelry accessories brand — namely rings and bracelets — creates all their items with semi-precious stones so every product is unique.  Again,  the good have to look special, not just act it.  As Christina, the CEO of Ringly, states: “So many of these types of products look gadgety and unisex, but that’s not the way men and women shop…I have to want to wear it even if it did nothing.”  Even Wondermento gets this!  The brand’s founder, Betsy, has created smart jewelry for pets.  She showed off one of the products that’s like a “Fitbit” for dogs called Wonderwoof — oh, and it’s one of Oprah’s faves, BTW.  This product let’s you track your dog and her exercise progress, and find other doggie friends.  She can even compete for top dog status!  My favorite line of our conversation: “I often get asked: ‘can I put this on my boyfriend?'”  LOL

What’s super clear about these products, as the guests noted themselves, is that they are really defining a new category.  They are, certainly, high-tech devices but also works of beauty.  Many of them sell in top-end department stores and there’ often a debate by the retailers about which section of the store to sell them in.  Should they been the jewelry section, tech section, watch section, you get it. How cool is it to be creating a whole new category, charting new courses, and having a ton of fun while doing it?!

But what eclipsed all the cool products, was Veronika’s uplifting and gracious story of gratitude.  As an immigrant from Russia to the U.S., she realizes how fortunate she is to be in the U.S., and in New York in particular.  She recognizes the value of hard work her but also appreciates the American spirit that buoys her.  Her words: “People are really rooting for you.”  While many of us complain about the U.S. being a country “divided,” let’s still remember this country is also a place where we can rise from being an immigrant to an amazing tech star, and do it with a spirit of encouragement and comradery around us.

Please click on the image to enjoy each of our three podcasts below.

Interview with Thursday Finest, Veronika Harbick

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Interview with Ringly’s, Christina D’Avignon

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Interview with Betsy Fore

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And if you want to get a glimpse of our amazing guests and their fantastic products, click on our periscope video starting from the beginning until minute 25 or so.  I have to confess the sound is very faint but you at least you can feast your eyes on some cool stuff!

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Fashion Tech: A Dichotomy or Beautiful Pairing? Two Amazing Experts Tell It Like It Is

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Last week I kicked off my series of posts dedicated to the amazing people I interviewed on my fashion/beauty tech podcast at the NRF Big Show.  This week I’m excited to share with you the fantastic discussion I had with tech genius and fashionista, Amanda Parkes; and entrepreneur, tech boss, founder of SWSI: Smart Women Smart Ideas, and producer of Fashion Geeks & Queen Boss, Heidi E Lehmann  (phew, lots of accomplishments, eh?).

We chatted about the beginnings of wearable tech, why women are at the forefront of the industry, and how fashion tech brands will win in this market.  One of my favorite discussions focused on the role of women in tech, and how fashion tech is actually a great way to bring young girls into the fields of engineering and technology.  This conversation reminded me of a post I wrote a few years back about how to get girls interested in STEM.  I suggested that we have an opportunity to attract girls with tech if we introduced them to it, not just through typical “boy” spaces, i.e., video games, but, rather, through the world of beauty (Want More Women in STEM? Start with Beauty).

Amanda told us a story about an article she read in a tech journal bashing wearable/fashion tech as something frivolous and unworthy of attention.  She was so incensed that she wrote an op-ed demonstrating how vital fashion is for the economy, and in no way a lesser form of tech endeavor.  After all, each of us wears something everyday, right?  We all benefit from or contribute to the world of fashion in more ways than we know.  So true!  For better or for worse, it’s been the business of fashion that has fueled and dramatically changed the economy over the centuries — think silk trade, textile manufacturing, cotton crops, to name a few.  Of course you can’t help but think that there’s a degree of sexism at play.  Well, if fashion tech is is seen as too “fem” then BRING IT ON!  Let’s get our girls excited about tech, whether that means creating cosmetics or their own clothing designs.

For full 25 minute conversation, have fun listening to the audio podcast.

https://soundcloud.com/kathleen-kiley/show-2-beautyskew-mixdown-1

And if you want to see it via our Periscope livestream, here ya go…please mind the background sound:

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