Can Tech Clean up the Fashion Industry?

Artificial intelligence and automation are often seen as the star Horsemen in the impending employment apocalypse, but a recent story at Elle posits that technology could actually benefit most parties — even factory workers — while creating a safer, more sustainable industry overall.

As it stands now, there’s no corner of the industry that AI won’t eventually worm its way into — from predictions to production to design, artificial intelligence and robotics have endless applications. And since consumers have been, by and large, unwilling to change their purchasing habits, more efficient processes could help to offset the damage they (we) continue to do.

“As demand for fast fashion shows no signs of slowing — global clothing manufacturing expected to reach sales of $1.65 trillion by 2020 — the industry has been racing to put in place new technology that might save lives and ease our conscience,” the story says.

One company is using AI to predict what will sell and what won’t, which could minimize “the giant waste output of fast fashion… [by] ceasing production on styles that won’t sell,” while others are working on AI and robotics tech that would “have the ability to control everything from sewing, cutting and mixing chemicals,” essentially automating a sweatshop in the process, saving workers from conditions that have proved catastrophic in the past.

And though production jobs will undoubtedly be lost in the transition, the story claims that with proper oversight from both the corporate sector and the government, the transition from labor-intensive manufacturing to robotics-intensive manufacturing could be smooth if the approach “enables workers to be trained and supported” in new roles.

“So it’s with great irony that the success of embracing our robot overlords in pursuit of safer, smarter and more efficient clothing factories, depends on corporations and government treating their current workers like humans rather than machines.”

“Ultimately, a truly sustainable and ethical future for fashion requires a seismic cultural shift in how humans work together.”

You can read more about it at Elle.

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