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Levi's faces backlash over its initiative to use AI-generated, non-white models as 'means to advance diversity'
Image source: YouTube video, KRON-TV - Screenshot

Levi's faces backlash over its initiative to use AI-generated, non-white models as 'means to advance diversity'

The corporate jean peddler Levi Strauss & Co. recently announced a partnership with an AI company that would help it create computer-generated fashion models to "advance diversity" as part of a broader DEI initiative.

Levi's suggestion that simulacra of "diverse" persons rather than real human models on its site would result in "a more diverse and inclusive customer experience" was not well received.

The San Francisco-based corporation went into damage-control mode this week, noting in a statement Tuesday that the company does not see this plot "as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals."

Gay, anti-racist denim

Levi's has endeavored to paint itself as a progressive force in the world.

On its website, it claims the company "had the courage to reject racial segregation," takes the specter of anthropogenic climate change seriously, and has "been advocating for the rights of the LGBTQ community for nearly three decades."

Its site also notes that in 2019, Levi's involved itself in the political fight to afford boys access to girls bathrooms in Florida and was one of three companies in 2015 to publicly endorse the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of so-called gender identity.

Despite only scoring 49% on the Fashion Transparency Index, which ranks brands according to their level of public disclosure on human rights and environmental policies, practices, and impacts, Levi's has scored a perfect 100 on the LGBT lobby group Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index 16 years in a row.

AI-generated diversity

Levi's has recently turned to artificial intelligence for help with its virtue-signaling.

On March 22, the woke company announced a partnership with Lalaland.ai, a digital fashion studio that curates computer-generated models.

"Later this year, we are planning tests of this technology using AI-generated models to supplement human models, increasing the number and diversity of our models for our products in a sustainable way," read a company statement.

"Lalaland.ai uses advanced artificial intelligence to enable fashion brands and retailers to create hyper-realistic models of every body type, age, size and skin tone. With these body-inclusive avatars, the company aims to create a more inclusive, personal and sustainable shopping experience for fashion brands, retailers and customers."

Amy Gershkoff Bolles, Levi's global head of digital and emergency technology strategy, said, "We see fashion and technology as both an art and a science, and we’re thrilled to be partnering with Lalaland.ai, a company with such high-quality technology that can help us continue on our journey for a more diverse and inclusive customer experience."

Backlash

Critics were quick to note that simulated diversity was immaterial.

Former New York Times editor Tariro Mzezewa wrote, "So who’s going to tell this multibillion-dollar company that it can develop a diversity and inclusion strategy by just … hiring and paying actual models of different races and body types? The irony is not lost on us."

One blogger claimed the initiative "sounds like digital blackface."

Phil Fersht, CEO of HFS Research, tweeted, "So now we have AD... artificial diversity?"

The Verge reported that Levi's announcement also raised concerns about how real models of various ethnic backgrounds might be impacted, granted the company has sought to slash operating costs in recent years, laying off 800 employees and cutting hundreds of roles in 2020. These cuts helped the company save $100 million a year, reported USA Today.

The company said in a March 28 update, "Our recent announcement of a partnership with Lalaland.ai did not properly represent certain aspects of the program. For that, we take responsibility. We do not see this pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals and it should not have been portrayed as such."

According to the update, the company will not be scaling back plans for live photo shoots, the use of real human beings, or its "commitment to working with diverse models."

Levi's receiving backlash for new marketing plan that uses AI-generated modelsyoutu.be

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Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon

Joseph MacKinnon is a staff writer for Blaze News. He lives in a small town with his wife and son, moonlighting as an author of science fiction.
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