Help me AI, what should I wear?

Technology Trends
Picture the scene - it’s Monday and you emerge from the shower, slightly less bleary eyed than 10 minutes ago when your alarm went off.

You plod over to your wardrobe to find todays outfit but, much to your dismay, you find it to be empty. Or at least, it might as well be because even amongst all that cloth and fabric, you have ’nothing’ to wear. After what feels like an eternity of staring blankly into space, you pull out a variation of basically the same outfit you wear every day, a uniform that you’ve unconsciously created out of convenience. Another day goes by where you’ve neglected a whole selection of gorgeous pieces that you love but don’t have the time to pair with the perfect partner. Oh, and by the way, you’re also now late for work. Does this sound familiar?  

If you’re anything like me, this scenario isn’t just familiar, it’s daily. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was something that could suggest outfits from your wardrobe for you? Or even recommend something new to go with that sassy sequin skirt you’ve never worn? You’re probably thinking I need a stylist but I’m not convinced. The traditional stylist has never met you before, costs a fortune, makes you follow them around a store then try on clothes you hate, all because you’re too polite to tell them otherwise. They also tend to focus on helping you add to your wardrobe, rather than maximising what’s already in it. And you definitely can’t keep a stylist locked in your wardrobe, that's probably illegal.  

But what if my stylist didn’t have to be an actual person? What if my stylist could be with me all the time, maybe living in my phone? I’m thinking of a personal, digital stylist that knows me, my wardrobe and my likes intimately. Is that too much to ask?  

Apparently not! That’s if the growing capability of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is anything to go by. What’s that, you say? Well, it's basically the future. Using a few fancy algorithms, AI can quickly analyse massive datasets to find customer trends, make accurate predictions and even perform certain tasks. But the really cool thing is that, as more data is available, the algorithms can ‘learn’ so that the AI becomes smarter and better at its ‘job’. Come to think of it, AI can even learn to become better at certain tasks than we are. Take Google’s AlphaGo program, for example - last year, it beat the human champion at Go, a strategy game considered to be harder than chess. And just last week, a poker robot called Libratus - previously outsmarted by humans only two years ago - has been thrashing professionals in a tournament in Texas. No biggie!  

So how is this translating into the fashion world? Funnily enough, AI has actually been in the retail industry for a while in the form of ‘chatbots’ - those friendly, human-like but actually machine-based customer services tools, previously on retailer websites but increasingly emerging on platforms such as Facebook Messenger. They’ve been used by big names like Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger but, to be honest, they’ve been pretty basic, focused more on generic, mass market campaigns.  

That’s not what I want! I’m an individual and I want service tailored to me and me alone, rather than every Tom, Dick and Sally. The internet has enabled plenty of retailers to create more seamless shopping experiences, but it’s also made shopping pretty impersonal too. We’re expected to trawl through pages and pages of items and then silently make a purchase, with no idea if we’ve actually bought what we set out to. I believe that AI can change this and it seems I’m not alone. Research reveals that 64% of millennials in the UK expect that, as technology develops, brands will use AI to accurately predict what they want, even before they know it. And the best thing is that, not only can AI process vast amounts of data to make these predictions, but it can also remember your responses and preferences in a way that is impossible for humans to do so these services can only get better. Now, this is more like it!  

The good news is that there are already a few frontrunners paving the way towards my need. Take, Thread, a personal styling service for men, as an example. Thread have built a platform that combines human stylists with machine-learning algorithms to recommend clothes from different retailers to their customers. Their human stylists have an initial consultation with new clients but, after that, their algorithms trawl through trillions of datasets from retailers, customer ratings and item combinations to recommend personalised outfits. In a similar vein, The North Face have partnered with IBM Watson to offer ‘guided’ online shopping, where an AI asks shoppers questions in order to deliver tailored recommendations.  

These developments are pretty damn exciting already and this is only the beginning of AI’s fashion journey. So I’m thinking that it’s only a matter of time before I get my personal, digital stylist, right? No more hour long delays when I’m getting ready because I have nothing to wear - I think my boyfriend will be pretty happy about that too! 

Natalie Pearce

Consultant