Levi’s will begin testing AI-generated clothing models later this year in a bid to diversify the iconic denim company’s online shopping experience. The planned experiment was revealed last week alongside Levi’s partnership with Lalaland.ai, a digital fashion studio that creates realistic AI-generated fashion models.
The original announcement was met with a backlash causing Levi’s to clarify its use of AI to promote diversity a few days later.
Currently, most products advertised on the Levi’s app or website can only be viewed on a single clothing model. The AI clothing models created by this partnership could be more body-inclusive, allowing customers to view what an article of clothing would look like on a multitude of models spanning a wide range of body types, ages, sizes, and skin tones. In theory, that should help consumers who are frustrated when clothing items aren’t modeled on a body that resembles their own.
Levi’s claims using AI-generated models to promote diversity is more “sustainable”
That sounds great on paper, but the original announcement left several questions unanswered. Levi’s didn’t say which platforms the AI models will be available on or if the models themselves would be user-customizable. The company also claimed this will be more “sustainable” but doesn’t explain how.
It also raised the question of how many real models would be impacted by the experiment. Levi’s has been trying to slash operating costs and save money in recent years, laying off 800 employees in 2022 and 700 roles in 2020. Originally, Levi’s said that it didn’t see AI-generated models as “a sole solution” to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion and that it wasn’t looking to replace real models with the technology — instead claiming the AI-generated models would “supplement human models” to create a more “personal” shopping experience for its customers.
“While AI will likely never fully replace human models for us, we are excited for the potential capabilities this may afford us for the consumer experience,” said Amy Gershkoff Bolles, global head of digital and emerging technology strategy at Levi Strauss & Co.
“We do not see this pilot as a means to advance diversity”
Levi’s has since responded to concerns regarding its plans for AI and its promotion as a tool for diversity:
Our recent announcement of a partnership with Lalaland.ai did not properly represent certain aspects of the program. For that, we take responsibility. We do not see this pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals and it should not have been portrayed as such.
We realize there is understandable sensitivity around AI-related technologies, and we want to clarify that this pilot is something we are on track to experiment with later this year in the hopes of strengthening the consumer experience. Today, industry standards for a photoshoot will generally be limited to one or two models per product. Lalaland.ai’s technology, and AI more broadly, can potentially assist us by allowing us to publish more images of our products on a range of body types more quickly.
Levi’s affirmed within its new statement that the company doesn’t plan to scale back its use of real models or live photoshoots. It also acknowledged that its partnership with Lalaland “should not have been conflated” with the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments.
Other companies have alternatively adopted augmented reality (AR) technology to help consumers visualize how clothing would look on their own bodies. Last September, Walmart introduced its Be Your Own Model experience that allows users to virtually try on clothing using their own photographs and AR tech. Amazon Fashion also partnered with Snap last year, providing Snapchat users with the ability to virtually model branded glasses and sunglasses using AR filters.
Update March 29th, 7:55AM ET: This article has been updated with a new statement from Levi’s addressing concerns with its plan to test AI-generated models.