Model Alliance Founder Pushes for Fashion Workers Act Amid AI Model Expansion

Last month, the industry reacted angrily to Levi’s announcement that it would test virtual clothing models made by artificial intelligence. Although diversity issues received most of the attention during the uproar, the company’s plans also brought up other issues that have long been present in the sector.

For online shoppers, Levi’s worked with, an AI design firm, to display a variety of people sporting Levi’s attire. The usage of AI-generated models, however, rapidly raised questions about diversity and the possibility of professional models losing their employment.

Detractors of the partnership argued that the company was risking the employment of traditional models in order to address representational issues in a cost-effective manner. They contend that when you hire a professional model, you must pay an agency, employ a stylist, apply makeup, and provide food for them while they are on location. Levi’s was therefore taking this action to save money.

A representative for Levi’s clarified that the AI models will not replace but rather enhance its usage of real models during photoshoots in order to refute claims that the company was lowering costs in connection with the AI modeling effort.

On the other hand, when prompted, Lalaland declined to comment. Concerns about technology taking jobs from people are not new nor specific to the fashion industry. However, as the use of AI in the fashion industry expands, some employees are growing more worried about its effects.

Over 100 models are represented by Yanii Models, run by Yanii Gough, and many of them are eager to resume their regular schedules as the fashion industry recovers from pandemic-related setbacks.

A second issue raised by the usage of AI-generated models is the lack of diversity in the fashion business. Models with various skin tones, body types, and sizes might be created using AI technology. Nevertheless, the models are developed using algorithms, which may be biased by the data used to train them, especially if that data is not diverse.

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Fashion Excitement and Concern

To avoid reinforcing harmful stereotypes, fashion companies must ensure that the data used to train AI models is diverse and inclusive. This will help ensure that AI-generated models accurately reflect the diversity of the population.

As the fashion industry continues to explore AI’s potential, it must also grapple with the impact on workers. While AI-generated models may offer cost savings and flexibility, they also have the potential to displace human labor, particularly for low-paid and precarious workers.

In conclusion, the fashion industry must consider the impact of AI on workers and ensure that it does not contribute to the exploitation of low-paid and precarious workers. It must also ensure that the use of AI does not reinforce harmful stereotypes and actively work to promote diversity and inclusivity. Only then can the industry truly harness the potential of AI while ensuring that it benefits everyone involved.

While Levi’s has denied any intention to replace photoshoots with live models, worries about technology displacing human labor are nothing new. AI has been used in fashion for years, but its expansion in the industry is raising alarms among workers. 

Model Yanii Gough said many are still “dying to get back to consistency” as the industry emerges from pandemic-related disruptions. She and others also worry about models’ images being used without their permission via AI.

The rise of AI modeling firms allows clients to simply send an email to the agency with specific requests, and someone will find the appropriate person or synthetic model. 

The world’s first digital supermodel, Shudu, created in 2017 by The Diigitals, an AI modeling agency, has booked gigs with high-end brands such as BMW and Louis Vuitton. However, Shudu and The Diigitals have drawn criticism for the agency’s founder, Cameron-James Wilson, who is white, creating a Black female digital model.

Another AI startup, Deep Agency, allows users to create a virtual photoshoot with synthetic models or an AI version of a real person. Models are worried that AI will take over from fit models who typically try on clothes to assess sizing and silhouettes for designers and manufacturers. 

Increasing numbers of fit models are contacting Sara Ziff’s nonprofit advocacy group, the Model Alliance, to express concerns about companies hiring them for body scans that can be used for product development without their knowledge or compensation.

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AI Models in the Industry

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) in the fashion industry has been a hot topic in recent years, with both excitement and concern among industry players. On one hand, AI can help brands and designers create more personalized and efficient shopping experiences for consumers. On the other hand, there are worries about the displacement of human labor and the ethical implications of using AI-generated images.

Levi’s recent proposal to test out virtual clothing models generated by AI drew swift backlash from critics, who accused the retailer of trying to inexpensively address issues of representation and potentially pushing professional models out of their jobs. While Levi’s denied any intentions to save costs with the project, concerns about technology displacing human labor are not new and are far from distinct to the fashion industry.

The use of AI models is already expanding in the space, with companies like Lalaland and Deep Agency allowing users to create virtual photoshoots with synthetic or AI versions of real people. However, there are worries that models’ images could be used without their permission via AI, with some complaining that companies are hiring them to conduct body scans that can form the basis for product development without their knowledge or compensation.

According to Sara Ziff, the founder of the Model Alliance, the current law provides inadequate protection for models’ labor rights because it is unclear if they have the right to form unions. To address this issue, Ziff is pushing for the proposed Fashion Workers Act in New York, which would require agencies to provide more information about the extent of the work and the corresponding compensation.

Meanwhile, AI models have become so realistic that many consumers cannot distinguish them from images of humans. Influencer Ashley France, who criticized Levi’s partnership with Lalaland, said that she hopes regulators will step in and impose regulations similar to those for advertising, dietary supplements, and photoshopped images.

Fashion brands and AI design studios have defended their efforts as supplemental, with Lalaland’s founders stating that they created the company to sustainably increase representation in fashion. However, as the use of AI in fashion continues to expand, it is necessary for industry players to address concerns around displacement of human labor, labor protections, and ethical implications.

Photo: Grazia

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