Is Data Killing Artistic Vision?

It is no surprise that technology has changed the world as we know it. From the way smartphones rule our existence to social media creating communities we never knew were possible. We are living in a tech-devoted world. And fashion is far from exempt. Just look at the storefronts and runways, Instagram feeds and magazine spreads. The looks in the world of fashion have grown similar no matter the campaign, designer or store. And it’s not just one big coincidence. It’s due to data.

Consumer data is extremely vital for designers in terms of knowing what their audience wants. But how do you balance the artistic process with the understanding of what consumers want? This has caused something called the creative paradox theory where there is a contradiction between creativity and standardisation with designers wanting to adhere to established practices whilst still looking to improve upon how work is conducted. Designers are now struggling with where they draw the line between creating what inspires them and creating what is going to sell.

Brands can buy the statistics, figures, the habits, the yays or nays and the preferences of the consumer. This is due to globalisation, which is where distant countries are inter-related and connected together by trade communication and cultural experiences. Globalisation has inspired fashion innovations and more importantly sharing fashion trends through the Internet and social media, which accelerate fashion change. Brands are now creating whatever the online shopping data tells them what is cool. This alienates even the most famous designers who have to design what the merchandiser it telling them to design As a result, we lose motivation to create something edgy and unseen because we are just catering to the mass market. But where is the fun in that?

Data analytics are not new to the industry. What has changed is the way in which numbers are dictating creative decisions. Data was once simply just supplying information with regards to how much of an item a brand should produce or what colour is trending. Brands can now gain access to the minutiae of every decision their customers are making through forecasting. This is a creative and analytical process, which involves the analysis and synthesis of information from inside and out of the fashion industry. Think extensive data collection related to consumers and past sales. Beyond the likes and feedback, where does artistic integrity stand? Of course it is important to value the customers wants. They are, after all, the ones purchasing items. But is there such a thing as being too focused on the consumer and the data?


An example of this in action is global retailer, Zara. They moved beyond data and take feedback straight from customers in the store. This was highlighted in 2015 when Zara customers began to ask for pink scarves whilst shopping. Just weeks later, Zara made it happen and pink scarves were dispatched and went on to sell out in their stores. The customer asked and the customer got. This has now become the norm for many retailers.

Taking all of this into account, it is clear there is a complex relationship between data and artistic vision. However, some researchers argue that creativity in fashion is not being lost but rather is changing. Instead of creating a revolutionary product that has never been seen before, creativity is being used to adapt existing fashion products. This puts the emphasis on the process of bringing the product to the consumer. This process of adaptation is being called the ‘synthesis of current paradigms’ that pushes the fashion industry forward in a predetermined direction.

This type of creativity has been used to create revolutionary technology in the fashion industry. Tommy Hilfiger announced a partnership with IBM and the Fashion Institute of Technology. They are using IBM Research AI tools to decipher real-time fashion trends and ongoing customer sentiment around every Tommy Hilfiger product and runway image and resurfacing themes in patterns, silhouettes, colours and styles. This highlights that as science gets smarter and is able to make recommendations on what is most likely to sell, traditional approaches are facing irrelevance. The video below explains how student designers are using artificial intelligence to reference trending colors, silhouettes, and patterns in new designs that may resonate with shoppers before it hits the runway.

Human creativity isn’t algorithmic, it is abstract and illogical, but we can use these new techniques and technologies to overcome the limitations of our mind.

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