Artificial Intelligence, which often is associated with complicated computing for high-end machines, is now coming of age to empower creative industries, such as fashion and design.

Zarine Bajaj, a 36-year-old entrepreneur from Delhi, is using cutting-edge technology such as Artificial Intelligence to build solutions for fashion designers. The objective is to assist indie fashion designers to manage the complicated business side of their work.

Zarine Bajaj, founder of Findow.
Zarine Bajaj, founder of Findow.

Zarine’s startup Findow provides interactive and intelligent boutique solutions purposefully built to address the requirements of fashion designers, luxury and retail brands. The technology side of the platform aims to simplify critical elements such as purchasing, monetisation, customer management, store analytics, contextual selling capability of brands and to help them leverage technology in their daily work and not get put off with the intricacies and bulkiness of existing systems and thus resort to inefficient manual techniques.

The startup is now looking expand the portfolio by building a virtual store commerce which will allow customers to access live virtual racks remotely of stores across the town and also empower walk-in customers with a self checkout app.

Zarine, however, is not alone in the endeavour to utilise the AI in the creative industry. The biggest push to the AI-fashion integration came last year when the e-commerce giant Amazon developed an AI fashion designer. The algorithm “learns about a particular style of fashion from images, and can then generate new items in similar styles from scratch", according to a report.

Earlier this year, IBM partnered with Tommy Hilfiger and The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) Infor Design and Tech Lab to demonstrate how AI can help personalise the experience for individuals as well as make things easier for designers.

But most of these developments are taking place in the West. Zarine is hopeful the Indian designers will also be able to leverage the technology in the near future.

“Indian designer duo Falguni and Shane Peacock are using IBM’s cognitive tool Watson to map the future of Bollywood fashion by combining analysis of over 600,000 images of fashion runway shows and Indian couture," she said.

“In 2018, we expect to see more examples of how companies can deploy AI to redefine interactions and engagement with their customers. Customer relationship management is one of the next frontiers for AI, with early adopters focusing on improving customer insights through enriched data, opportunity stage recommendations, and dynamic pricing capabilities," she said.

Livspace, a Bengaluru-based startup, is experimenting with Artificial Intelligence for interior designers. Using the technology, designers can personalise a design for individual needs. Describing itself as “Uber for interior designers", Livspace uses home design automation platform, Canvas, to create space and modular unit in 3D/virtual reality.

“With an average order value of 10–15 lakh, any interior designer outside the Livspace ecosystem would be able to convert only three to four projects a year. Add the fragmented nature of the interiors market, coordination with labour, handling multiple vendors and contractors, project timelines get stretched for months on end," said the company in a note.

“For instance, Pragna Krishna, a design partner from our Bangalore community converted 10 Livspace projects last year alone. Prior to her association with Livspace, she used to convert three to four projects each year. Having worked as an independent designer, she credits her conversion speed to our technology platform, Canvas," it added.

But, why Artificial Intelligence?

For designers, AI and other cutting edge technology means ensuring a deliverable in much lesser time. Consumers, on the other hand, can expect better product availability and near-perfect personalisation.

“AI can assist design teams by enhancing and reducing overall lead times, and expand their creative discovery by analysing and remembering insights from thousands of images and videos using computer vision. These designers can also more easily find how they can integrate trending colors, key patterns, and styles. It’s about reducing a time-consuming, resource intensive, manual process, or blowing up that research element by providing access to much wider sources than ever before," said Zarine.

“In fashion, AI has the ability to help brands and retailers with predictive forecasting, capacity planning and merchandising. This means that consumers can enjoy the benefits of better product availability and faster, more accurate deliveries."

Livspace co-founder Ramakant Sharma said that about 90% of the designers’ work on their platform is algorithm driven. The platform is broadly divided into three elements — visualization of design, automation of design, and communication with customer and designer.

“Let’s say there’s no AI. People believed that design was very abstract. And the process was tedious where customers meet the designer, they discuss something abstract, and they meet again after the design and discuss. This was actually a very lengthy and costly process. It used to take six to seven weeks to finalise a design. And that might need a lot of manual work from designers. This is also very error-prone, say, a designer forgets the right colour combination," he pointed out.

“All the design tools like Autocad and CAD even before AI were an effort to make the entire process faster and error-free. Design automation has reduced workload for designers significantly," he added.

The Road Ahead

New startups and designers across the segments in India are yet to familiarise and empower themselves with the technologies like AI.

Zarine pointed out that the biggest challenge for fashion would be finding “the people who are able to work with the technology and implement it."

“In spite of the massive development and use of AI in India, there continues to exist steep barriers in this field. These include the lack of indigenous infrastructure, skill development, education and training in the field of AI, and restricted access to data. The functioning and complete development of AI depends on these key issues which need to be addressed while moving towards a successful AI environment. This can be ensured with the support of the government and the private sector with both ensuring adequate training and education in AI, re-skilling of existing labour or workforce and maintaining transparent data sets which act as fuel for AI systems," she said.

“Making data sets more accessible will not only ensure better functioning of AI systems but will also promote and encourage small scale startups to benefit from such esoteric resources which might otherwise prove to be an expensive affair. Also, compared to other key economies that look to leverage the use of AI, there is an absence of sustained funding in India, which will play a key role in the rate at which this sector grows," she noted.

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