Move over metaverse, AI is here. Eighteen months ago, the metaverse looked poised to take the luxury sector by storm. Today, brands are turning the page in search of a sustainable ROI. For French startup IMKI, investing in AI-generated creative solutions is the way forward, as it pointed out at a conference in Paris last week.
"The revolution today is our ability to steer and to interact with AI: it’s all about the art of the prompt," noted Frédéric Rose, CEO at IMKI, a French startup offering bespoke generative AI solutions for the culture and luxury sectors—with a specific expertise in fashion. At a conference in Paris late June, IMKI outlined how brands can best apply artificial intelligence to multiply their potential throughout a product’s life cycle.
The basis for any efficient AI strategy, advises Rose, is to build up a clean, quality dataset. "Luxury houses have a monumental heritage, and AI is the tool to integrate it all: archives, sketches, illustrations, but also more technical data linked to patterns, fabrics, yarn, manufacturing processes… The idea is for your AI database to become as specialized as possible. Integrate your savoir-faire. Every single piece should be digitized and properly named so that the database is a veritable mirror of the brand DNA," Rose explains. In keeping with the luxury sector’s tradition of confidentiality, IMKI discourages brands from engaging in communication campaigns around their work with AI. The idea instead is to create a "sanctuary" for a brand’s heritage.
AI, but with protected data
The risk in compiling such a complete archive is, of course, a data leak. The tool must be ultra-secure, meaning that open platforms are not an option. IMKI strongly advises against using ChatGpt and Midjourney as the information fed into the platforms becomes available to enrich other users’ work. "Protect your creations, protect your expertise. You can’t risk a leak with your brand’s entire history," notes Rose. Apart from creating a bespoke database—a service that IMKI provides—Stable Diffusion is an option allowing brands to protect their data.
It's not news that AI can be a major timesaver: designing a product the "old-fashioned way" can take two to four months, with AI, the process can be reduced to a single day. Does this mean that AI will, in time, replace the designer entirely? IMKI believes not. "AI needs the right prompts—be they visual or text-based—which calls for knowledge and expertise. AI takes a brief and identifies the elements that are the closest match. The more knowledge one ‘feeds’ it, the more the creative process is accelerated, so human input remains essential." He adds that AI is also inefficient in terms of detecting future trends and that the designer is essential in fine-tuning and modifying AI-generated images, which can then be fed back into the database, making for a final product that marries the skills of both human and machine.
AI as a sustainability lever?
Beyond design, AI is set to have a major impact on rationalization, notably in fashion. In the pre-AI scenario, a fashion brand designed and produced collections multiple times a year that it presented, either on the runway or in the showroom, to retail partners who would decide what to stock. The clothing was manufactured, shipped (often across the world) to the retail store and sold (or not sold) to the end consumer. "With AI, this model could very well become obsolete, making for a much lighter supply chain. This has a knock-on effect on margins, not to mention environmental footprint: fewer pieces manufactured, less stock and less waste," affirmed IMKI Fashion & Luxury Development Director Nicolas Flaud. Brands can also involve their consumers in product creation with AI: "By testing product concepts on consumers in the early stages, brands could avoid a lot of potential errors and perhaps identify their bestsellers much further upstream in the process."
Artificial intelligence has a cost, but one that IMKI believes is a necessary investment if brands want to stay ahead of the game. "Luxury brands are still waiting for a ROI from NFTs and the metaverse. We are in a time of transformation, and while the cost of AI is high, the potential return on investment is as well," adds Flaud. What about those players who remain reticent about onboarding the technology? "Either luxury houses appropriate AI today or in a few months an influencer will do it for them," he warns, adding that the decision to integrate the technology is a strategic one that should come from top management.