Levi’s is partnering with an AI company on computer-generated fashion models to “supplement human models.” The company frames the move as part of a “digital transformation journey” of diversity, equity, inclusion and sustainability. Although that sounds noble on the surface, Levi’s is essentially hiring a robot to generate the appearance of diversity while ridding itself of the burden of paying human beings who represent the qualities it wants to be associated with its brand.
Levi Strauss is partnering with Amsterdam-based digital model studio Lalaland.ai for the initiative. Founded in 2019, the company’s mission is “to see more representation in the fashion industry” and “create an inclusive, sustainable, and diverse design chain.” It aims to let customers see what various fashion items would look like on a person who looks like them via “hyper-realistic” models “of every body type, age, size and skin tone.”
Levi’s announcement echoes that branding, saying the partnership is about “increasing the number and diversity of our models for our products in a sustainable way.” The company continues, “We see fashion and technology as both an art and a science, and we’re thrilled to be partnering with Lalaland.ai, a company with such high-quality technology that can help us continue on our journey for a more diverse and inclusive customer experience.”
Levi’s claims, “AI will likely never fully replace human models for us” (note the qualifying “likely”). But I can’t help but see this as the first step in a dystopian slow walk toward automating the industry. As AI-generated “photography,” art and writing grow ever more convincing, we would be naive to take corporations at face value when they insist moves like this are about PR-friendly principles like celebrating diversity and looking out for the environment. At the very least, it’s awfully convenient that those high-minded motives also let them mass-produce something that previously required hiring people.
Correction, 3/29/23 8:15AM ET: This article originally stated that Levi Strauss began a process to cut about 800 jobs in 2022. That information was published in 2014, not 2022. We apologize for the error.