Artificial intelligence is determining trends in fashion

The latest artificial intelligence technology means that brands will soon know what you want to wear - even before you do


If the term ‘Artificial Intelligence’ (AI) conjures up visions of a dystopian future and robots taking over the world, you certainly aren’t alone. But the latest AI technology now being utilised by major retailers is decidedly more Black Mirror than The Terminator. And for the style hunters among us, there’s no reason to be afraid.

While brands have previously sold us products based on human predictions and what we’ve bought in the past, the advent of new technology means they’ll soon be able to tell us what we want to buy – before we even know ourselves.

How? At this precise moment, an online platform is carefully analysing the social media posts of hundreds of thousands of ‘influencers,’ generating data that will be used to detect fashion and lifestyle trends as they unfold. It monitors activity over extended periods of time, methodically separating what’s likely to be a short-lived fad from what’s going to develop into a fully-fledged trend. According to its creators, the technology is so effective that it can root out a trend up to 24 months before it goes mainstream.

The Trending Store in Westfield
The Trending Store in Westfield

Westfield Stratford used this tech to open the world’s first ‘AI-powered fashion boutique of the future’. The Trending Store opened as a trial pop-up in July, marrying the smart trending intel of online shopping and fashion influence with the human interaction of traditional shopping. Inside, style hunters were able to purchase 100 of the most current on-trend products available IRL - all inside one neat retail space.

To the make the shop’s pioneering concept a reality, Westfield worked with trend forecasting platform Nextatlas prior to its launch, identifying the most covetable emerging trends. In the development stages for the past five years, its AI machine learning technology combines both verbal and visual social media content side by side - meaning it not only scans thousands of images and hashtags every second of the day, but also takes into account users’ reactions to posts. The result, its creators claim, is a pretty accurate snapshot of what consumers want to see on retail shelves when they go shopping.

Today, fashion trends develop in a different way than they did previously, so it’s unsurprising that the methods used to forecast them has moved on too. While trend analysts have been able to decipher developing trends using human intelligence for decades, this new tech is able to gather and unravel consumer opinion in a completely new way. The Trending Store has taken this one step further by allowing shoppers to find the hottest products all in one place - effectively merging the real world with online to create a futuristic shopping experience.

“New technology means they’ll soon be able to tell us what we want to buy - before we even know ourselves.”

Is this the future of fashion retail? Myf Ryan from Westfield’s parent company Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield certainly thinks so: “Through our How We Shop Research platform, we know that shoppers increasingly want to experience both online and offline retail in one seamless journey,” she explains. “We believe The Trending Store represents the way we will all be shopping in the future.”

Of course, the store isn’t the first retailer to successfully merge the virtual world with the physical one. Zara opened its new London flagship – also in Westfield Stratford – this spring, combining a traditional retail environment with a futuristic robot-manned warehouse. Shoppers can now place an order through the retailer’s online store and it will be ready for collection within seconds. Its speedy service is made possible thanks to a dynamic robot, which has the capacity to handle hundreds of packages simultaneously. It moves through a small warehouse picking and packing orders swiftly behind the scenes. If you think it sounds like the makings of sci-fi fiction, that’s because it probably is.

So, what’s next for fashion retail? Robots styling up our outfits, or machines that can design our clothes? Netflix, we hope you’re taking note.

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Main image credits: Photography by Richard Miles FASHION; Hair by Mark Leeson; Make-up by Lans Nguyen-Grealis; Styling by M&R; Products by Revlon Professional

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