The Silence of the Looms 

While AI can take care of the designing, one question remains – what will happen to the traditional weavers and artisans?
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In the world of fashion, AI has been making its presence felt, with designers leveraging it to create stunning outfits that push the boundaries of creativity. One such example is celebrity fashion designer Gaurav Gupta’s AI-based LED-embedded saree, which was created using IBM’s WATSON, the precursor to modern NLP models. 

This saree was worn by actor Archie Punjabi to a Vogue event, and since then, several designers have worked to create similar outfits. However, there is a looming concern that the use of AI may also lead to a decrease in individuality and creativity in fashion.

While AI was used for anticipating market trends and analysing customer preferences more accurately, current capabilities are also taking over the roles of designers. One question remains – what will happen to the traditional weavers and artisans? 

Traditional Weaving at Stake

While the convergence of AI and fashion has brought about exciting new possibilities, it also poses a potential threat to the indigenous weavers whose livelihood depends on this. Although there have been a lot of discussions of how AI models can not replace the unique craftsmanship of traditional weavers and artisans, what are the alternatives to displacing these highly skilled yet poor people

The number of handloom weavers in India has already declined drastically over the years, from 43.31 lakh in 1995-96 to 26 lakh in 2019-2020, which is a staggering 38% decrease. These weavers, who create some of the world’s most exquisite fabrics and designs, earn an average salary of only Rs 10,000 – Rs 11,000 per month while the big brains behind AI are the biggest money makers.

The looming threat of AI in the textile industry cannot be ignored. Automating weaving tasks such as fabric cutting, pattern designing, and loom control, could result in a significant reduction in the number of weavers needed, potentially leading to widespread job loss. 

Additionally, the ability of AI to analyse large amounts of data and predict trends may result in homogenous fashion designs that lack the unique touches and personal flair of human creativity, just for the sake of cost reduction. 

With the use of AI technology to create intricate and reproducible designs, the future of the hand-woven textile industry looks uncertain, with the very existence of this art form hanging in the balance. With the advancements in these generative technologies, it becomes essential to find alternate solutions that do not displace highly skilled and vulnerable artisans. 

AI is Already Impacting Other Sectors

AI has already had a significant effect on various occupations. According to a Goldman Sachs report, about 18% of positions worldwide may be automated by AI, resulting in the loss of over 300 million jobs. This was witnessed when IBM disclosed that it would cease employing 7,800 individuals whose jobs could be performed by AI.

It is clear that as AI continues to automate jobs, it is not only causing concerns about job displacement but also widening the economic disparity between those who create and those who benefit from the technology.

Godfather of AI Geoffrey Hinton, recently left Google, citing the dangers of AI and apprehensions about AI killing jobs. Even the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is protesting against the use of AI in scripting. 

Read more: Indian Fashion Brands Arrive Fashionably Late to the Tech Party

The intersection of AI in fashion may seem like a technological advancement for some, but in a country like India, where poverty is rampant and 60% of the population lives on less than $3.10 a day, it could have devastating consequences. It is crucial to strike a balance between innovation and preservation of traditional art forms while supporting vulnerable communities. 

Sustainability, but at What Cost? 

According to McKinsey’s analysis, the apparel, fashion, and luxury industries can expect a boost in operating profits in the range of $150 billion (at a minimum) to $275 billion (at a maximum) over the next three to five years, thanks to the implementation of generative AI technology.

The fashion industry already contributes to 10% of the world’s annual carbon emissions, surpassing the combined emissions of international flights and maritime shipping. Fashion’s emissions of harmful greenhouse gases are projected to grow by more than 50% by 2030, and possibly even more with the implementation of computation-heavy AI into it.

Apart from putting all the blame on AI, the main culprit driving this is fast fashion. Clothes have gone on to become disposable items rather than durable products. In 2000, around 50 billion new garments were produced, but this number has doubled to 100 billion in just 20 years. Today, people buy 60% more clothes than they did at the turn of the century, but these clothes are only kept for half as long. The fashion industry’s greenhouse gas emissions are projected to increase by more than 50% by 2030.

However, sustainable fashion is expensive because it requires significant effort and costs to adopt sustainable practices. The fashion industry is unsustainable due to the use of harmful chemicals, synthetic fibres, and the generation of waste. Sustainable clothing requires responsible sourcing, production, and consumer education. However, these practices increase the cost, making sustainable clothing, a favourite of the rich. 

So now when generative AI comes into the picture, trends can be predicted, creating 3D models of clothing and the carbon footprint is reduced, making it a little more sustainable. But that increases the price dynamically, making it unaffordable. So only the rich can afford them. Gucci, Lacoste, ASOS, Prada have been experimenting with AI for a while now. 

But the layer of population that would opt for luxury goods is still low, intensifying the already dire economic situation, leading to even greater inequality and suffering. 

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Shritama Saha
Shritama is a technology journalist who is keen to learn about AI and analytics play. A graduate in mass communication, she is passionate to explore the influence of data science on fashion, drug development, films, and art.

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