"Corporate digital blackface": Levi Strauss slammed for plans to use AI-generated models to boost "diversity"

Apr 4 2023, 7:37 pm

The clothing brand Levi Strauss & Co. has announced that it will partner with LaLaLand.ai, an AI-powered digital model studio, to increase the “number and diversity” of models on its e-commerce website. And it’s not going over well.

In a press release, the popular denim brand revealed plans to test the use of AI-generated models later this year “to supplement human models” in a “sustainable way.”

LaLaLand.ai uses artificial intelligence to generate hyper-realistic images of models “of every body type, age, size and skin tone.”

People are not impressed with this business proposal between Levi Strauss and LaLaLand.ai and are calling it problematic. Some point out that it could potentially take away job opportunities from BIPOC models.

Others consider it to be “digital blackface” in action.

If you aren’t familiar with the term “digital blackface,” Merriam-Webster dictionary describes it as “the use by white people of digital depictions of Black or brown people or skin tones, especially for the purpose of self-representation or self-expression.”

But Levi Strauss & Co. is not alone in turning to AI-generated fashion models. LaLaLand.ai say they are working with several fashion houses, including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.

It is no wonder that brands are keen to use AI technology to save time and money. LaLaLand.ai claims the process is “90% fast than photoshoots.”

With fashion shoots generated in a matter of minutes, will digital renderings eventually replace the modelling industry altogether?

According to Dr. Amy Gershkoff Bolles, the global head of digital and emerging technology strategy at Levi Strauss & Co., the answer is no.

“AI will likely never fully replace human models for us,” Bolles claimed in a statement.

In response to the backlash, Levi Strauss & Co. said it takes responsibility for its collaboration announcement “not properly representing certain aspects of the program.”

“We do not see this pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals,” it wrote in the updated press release.

The company said they would not be scaling back on plans for photoshoots with live, human fashion models and that the use of AI will not affect the brand’s commitment to working with diverse models.

But with no plans to withdraw the proposal of AI model testing, it’s safe to say not everyone is convinced, especially since the company explicitly said their goal was to supplement human models.

What do you think about the morality of using AI-generated models, especially under the guise of boosting diversity? Sound off in the comments below.

Harry LinleyHarry Linley

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