Levi’s has responded to backlash after announcing it will begin using artificial intelligence to generate models of more diverse body types and skin tones to increase representation of its product models.
The denim company said in a press release last week that its partnership with Lalaland.ai – which specialises in AI-generated fashion models – will begin to “supplement human models” later this year in an effort to “create a more inclusive, personal and sustainable shopping experience for fashion brands, retailers and customers”.
However, many critics wondered why Levi’s wouldn’t simply hire real models, rather than generate fake ones to promote diversity, calling the decision “lazy”, “problematic”, and “racist”.
In a new statement on 28 March, Levi’s said its decision to use AI-generated models was not a “means to advance diversity” or a “substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals” following the backlash.
Levi’s said: “We are not scaling back our plans for live photo shoots, the use of live models, or our commitment to working with diverse models. Authentic storytelling has always been part of how we’ve connected with our fans, and human models and collaborators are core to that experience.
“The Lalaland.ai partnership may deliver some business efficiencies that provide consumers with a better sense of what a given product looks like but should not have been conflated with the company’s diversity, equity and inclusion commitment or strategy.”
Levi’s global head of digital and emerging technology strategy Dr Amy Gershkoff Bolles also reassured that the company does “not see AI-generated models as a sole solution” to increase diversity, equity and inclusion among its product models. However, Levi’s maintained that the new technology will enable customers to see more models that look like themselves, “creating a more personal and inclusive shopping experience”.
Taking to social media, one critic said Levi’s partnership with AI-technology to generate “fake non-white people” instead of paying “real non-white models” for their work “deprives people of opportunities” and “helps companies perpetuate racism”.
“There are hundreds, THOUSANDS of diverse models out there who can model for your brand,” said someone else. “@LEVIS this is lazy and not the answer to being and understanding the importance of diversity in your campaigns.”
“This is soo damn problematic and not the answer,” another wrote.
Others warned that using AI technology to generate BIPOC models could be seen as a form of digital Blackface – when non-Black people co-opt the images or voices of Black individuals or imagery to convey emotions or express comic relief.
Lalaland.ai, an Amsterdam-based company founded in 2019, says on its website that it aims to “diversify the fashion industry and challenge the status quo when it comes to inclusivity, sustainability and innovation”. They have also worked with Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. According to Business Insider, Lalaland.ai is a Black-owned AI company.
Levi’s is not the first company to begin the move towards artificial intelligence technology in its branding and marketing. Earlier this month, Coca-Cola used tools such as GPT-4 and Dall-E to generate original artwork based on text for its next ad campaign. Mattel has begun using AI technology to come up with new ideas for its Hot Wheels toy cars, while used car reseller CarMax recently partnered with AI company UVeye to assess used vehicles and generate condition reports of cars that are sold at auctions.
The Independent has contacted Levi Strauss & Co and Lalaland.ai for comment.