Here’s how AI and data analytics changing the apparel retail game

by Nitish Varshney

05-February-2019  |  8 mins read

AI and data analytics
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Global fashion retail is a whopping US $ 2.4 trillion worth in market and it’s growing with an average of 5.5 per cent each year, since a decade now. However understanding customers’ ever-changing demands and to speed up time to market have been an arduous tasks even for a big apparel retailer over the years. But the situation is taking a positive turn due to rise in technology in the retail sector.

Of all technologies which are changing retail landscape, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the topmost with proven results probably because, with the world fast heading towards digital transformation, consumers (who constitute a main part of the retail business) too have gone through a major transformation and become a technologically liberated model. Other reasons too could have been crucial enough for the apparel retail industry to pick up the baton for transformation and jump into the sprint…

Fashion brands and retailers across the world are using Artificial Intelligence and Data Analytics to figure out the designs of the future. German retailer Zalando, Amazon, H&M, Tommy Hilfiger, Levis and even the Indian e-commerce juggernaut Myntra have adopted AI to boost up their retail processes.

Data collected from all the platforms with the help of AI are empowering brands to utilize this data to predict what customers will want to wear next. In addition to using data to understand customer needs and their shopping behaviour, AI and Data Analytics is also being used to forecast a product’s ‘shelf-time’ on the website, and advise the customer if a product is going to sell out soon. This, in turn, helps retailers and manufacturers alike estimate production and dispatch within a given market.

Let’s take a look at how above-mentioned brands are using AI…

1. Google, the tech giant, has partnered with in an experimental project to explore the potential of algorithms in fashion design. Dubbed as ‘Project Muje’, the programme uses a neural network trained with the design preferences (colour, texture, and style) of more than 600 fashion trendsetters along with the features data from the Google Fashion Trend Report, in addition to styles on Zalando. The user with the help of Project Muje will be able to create virtual 3D fashion designs on their own.

2. Amazon is another company that is laying its hands on product design by using the concept of artificial intelligence. Company’s research team at Lab126 has developed an algorithm that is capable of learning about a particular fashion style using images. Through a cutting-edge tool known as a Generative Adversarial Network (GAN), the algorithm can generate unique images in similar styles from scratch.

In another development, Amazon is in the process of developing a machine learning algorithm that will be able to decide whether a particular ensemble can be considered as stylish or not. By analysing a few labels attached to images, the software can provide users with feedback or recommendations for adjustments.

However, AI powered designs need improvement before brands can rely on these algorithms. The outcomes of Google’s Project Muse were just unwearable scrawls and scribbles, while some reports on the Amazon Lab126 initiative called the design results “crude.” But surely, these are helping designers make designs in a quick span.

3. US-based Tommy Hilfiger has joined hands with IBM and the Fashion Institute of Technology for a project that will use IBM AI. These AI tools will help in deciphering real-time fashion industry trends, customer sentiment around Tommy Hilfiger products and runway images and resurfacing themes in trending patterns, silhouettes, colors, and styles. This information can then be used by designers to produce next collection.

4. H&M, like most of the retailers, conventionally relied on teams of designers to figure out what consumers want to buy. Now H&M, in collaboration with StitchFix, is using algorithms to analyse store receipts, returns and loyalty card data to better align supply and demand, with the goal of reducing markdowns.

5. Myntra has set an example by using AI to launch two fast-fashion brands: ‘Moda Rapido’ and ‘Here and Now’, whose designs are completely computer-generated. Myntra is using its own AI-based ‘Rapid Technology to analyse the latest trend, colour and other such attributes to create designs. These are now all being done by the machines within no time and the process that took weeks has now been reduced to few hours and therefore it has made the production cycle short.

Technology providers for AI and Data Analytics:

1. A startup in USA, Stitch Fix is gaining popularity for its AI-driven personalized ensembles for its customers. The company uses algorithms to fetch out outfits based on the consumers’ favourite colours, patterns, and textiles. These algorithms identify trends and suggest new designs as well based on the information provided by the customers. After the algorithms, human stylists take over to look over the final selection and offers styling suggestions.

2. There are independent design platforms which are also available that allow people to make their own designs. One such platform is CLO that makes it easy to tweak designs on the fly. This means brands can already use real-time AI insights to modify fashions right up to the minute they hit production.

3. True Fit, data-driven personalization platform for footwear and apparel retailers, uses big data and machine learning for exact-fit clothing and shoe recommendations. With over 56 million registered users, the platform uses transaction data to determine customer preferences that “better personalize all touch points of the consumer journey” for brands. Increasingly, consumer preferences will guide every aspect of the design and production process.

4. Stylumia claims to use AI and computer vision across images, use behaviour data, textual descriptions on social media and implicit signals mined from retail sites.

5. IBM Watson is especially dedicated to fashion industry which is collaborating with designers for their AI-based apparel projects. Watson identifies the top fashion trend from social mentions, Instagram pics and clusters where a particular style is trending. Falguni and Shane Peacock and Gaurav Gupta got appreciation for their collection made using IBM Watson AI technology.

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