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Commonly used in trend forecasting, garment manufacturing, and the overall design process, artificial intelligence is the backbone of the modern fashion industry. However, fashion houses are commoditizing AI technology to create a new sector of the industry: Digital Fashion. 

Traditionally accustomed to an in-person shopping experience, fashion brands have been forced to implement the use of technology into their customer experience in order to keep up with the digital age. Due to the concerns of in-person shopping during COVID-19, brands are given the opportunity to implement a virtual reality (VR) retail experience that will give the consumer a 3D e-commerce option to replicate their presence in the physical store. Brands such as Ulta, Tommy Hilfiger, Farfetch, North Face, and Levi’s have already begun to shift their marketing strategies to serve this new sector of the industry.

In February 2020, Dior took VR a step further by launching a virtual recreation of the brand’s Champs-Élysées store in Paris, allowing customers to virtually browse the store’s fragrances, soaps, candles, and lotions from the Maison Christian Dior collection. During the digital shopping experience, the customers have the ability to zoom in and purchase products through the brand’s online shop. Selling a vast selection of beauty and fashion items, Dior has been actively working on diversifying its target markets by expanding the brand’s e-commerce presence.

Not only does the implementation of AI technology creates a more detailed online user experience, but it also drives up sales. Neha Singh, the founder, and CEO of the VR e-commerce startup Obsess stated that the company’s VR stores have a 70% higher conversion rate than traditional grid e-commerce (this statistic describes the percentage of website visitors who purchased something from an online store in a set period of time). Singh also noted that Dior’s main motivation for launching their new platform was to appeal to younger generations and share its Paris store with “a wide audience” that does not have the chance to see it in-person.  

VR gives brands the opportunity to improve customer experience with more creative freedom and fewer budget constraints compared to in-person shopping. This new form of e-commerce is promising, as the use of Augmented Reality (AR) and VR in retail will reach $1.6 billion by 2025, according to Goldman Sachs. If this trend continues, we will likely see VR flourish for the foreseeable future, and possibly even become ‘the new normal’ of online shopping. 

While AI technology has found a way to provide a virtual experience wherein we buy physical items, it has also come to be the actual thing we purchase. Digital fashion brands such as Carlings, Dress-X, and Fabricant have all utilized AI technology to produce digital-only clothing. Digital-only clothing is clothing that is designed and produced using computer technologies and 3D-software. If a consumer chooses to buy the item of clothing, they will be required to submit a photo of themselves and another software will digitally edit the garment onto the customer. This new wave of design stems from concerns in the industry regarding the promotion of fast-fashion through social media since these garments intended to be an ethical substitute for such. 

Fast fashion is cheap and trendy; but is also one of the most untransparent, unethical, and unsustainable sectors of the fashion industry. According to the 2020 Fashion Transparency Index, “Fast fashion brands like Fashion Nova, Boohoo, Revolve, Pretty Little Thing and Forever 21 all score less than 10% on the Fashion Transparency Index.” As sustainability and ethicality grow as pressing issues in the industry, digital clothing brands such as Carling pledge to maintain social and ethical responsibility through various company policies. The company’s website also states that “we will never stop striving to be better and making sure our products are made in a responsible way.”

Digital clothing is also a preventive measure towards waste and eliminates any negative externalities of manufacturing, transportation, sales, and consumer action. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in 2017, “more than $500 billion of value is lost every year due to clothing underutilization and the lack of recycling.” The massive waste is partly due to the widespread mentality of purchase, post, discard.

In 2018, the Scandinavian retail brand Carlings found the solution for these issues when they released their first digital clothing collection titled “Neo-Ex.” The collection works by having the customer send in a photo that would then be digitally tailored with the garment that they purchased. This specific collection consisted of 19 pieces that could be suitable for any gender, at any size; thus allowing for a greater potential market demand since the collection is not tailored to one category of consumers. 

Although digital-only clothing is relatively new, the concept has been around for a while. Video games like Glu Mobile’s Covet Fashion, created in 2013, allow users to style models in digital clothing. More recently in 2019, the app DREST combines the features of a styling game with e-commerce. CGI versions of models are available to model luxury clothing, and if the users decide to purchase their creations, they will be taken directly to the Farfetch website. High-end brands such as Gucci have recently designed digital versions of their Fall 2020 collection for DREST. Gucci’s CMO Robert Treifus noted that “virtual items have value because of their own scarcity, and because they can be sold and shared,” proving that digital clothing may become just as promising as e-commerce.

In the past 20 years, technology has changed the way society lives, acts, and thinks. With digital fashion in its infancy, the constant evolution of technology provides the potential for AI to become the new look of the fashion industry. 

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