Made By Humans : A Tale of Two Radical Futures?

What Federico Marchetti’s late announcement teaches us on the future of Fashion & Luxury

in brief

While elevated creation may sound like nothing new, due to the many companies applying it nowadays, such bet on the future might spell the very end of a very important immaterial component of Fashion and Luxury products: the disappearance of the country-of-origin labelling.

Speaking at the Wired Smarter conference in London yesterday, Federico Marchetti, founder and CEO of Yoox Net-A-Porter announced the launch of an AI driven label that will conceive pieces by combining customer-generated data, blended with the creativity of its design team. The move follows that of its menswear, in-season business Mr Porter to create Mr P., a line of year-round basics topped up with seasonal pieces, created on the back of data gleaned from customers.

While the name and date of launch of this new line remain undisclosed (same thing for its price positioning), such bet sounds like nothing new. Of course, Yoox will not be the first to develop such offering that takes a step toward Elevated Creation, reminding us of the (possibly ?) soon to become power house The Stitch Fix, the recent experiments between IBM’s Watson & Tommy Hilfiger or the strategic partnership between Microsoft and the London College of Fashion which may greatly inspire future creative talents.

Yet, the most interesting fact from this conference lies more in Marchetti’s take on the innovation rather than in the annoucement, insisting that the business didn’t want to design a line that lacks the human interaction at every level (meaning fully automated and AI driven), preferring a combination of man and machine.

Pleading for a reasoned use of technologies and innovations of all-kind, to avoid the dehumanization of the luxury and fashion value chain, this desire of balance between man and machine didn’t prevent him from pointing at what’s staring at us right in the face in this possible future: as machines play more of a role in the design and manufacture of clothing, labels such as Made In Italy could be replaced by Made By Humans.

Currently, many processes from the YNAP supply chain are already automated, in which packages are already automatically selected and conditioned downstream, with workers interacting with consumer orders at the very last stage of the process. The same goes for the personal shopper offering of Yoox, which is already managed by an artificial intelligence fed with personal stylists advices that are then deployed at a global level. Considering all these successful integration of innovations throughout the business, it’s really easy to imagine how things could go further, taking a whole new turn for the better or the worst.

“[…]  it will probably be easier to let a machine do everything in the future. It’s a choice to stop ourselves from allowing technology to replace what we truly value,” Federico Marchetti, Founder and CEO of the YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP

Indeed, the Made by Humans hypothesis holds some truths, considering the growing influence of machines in our daily lives, yet, the question here might be to ask ourselves if such future is desirable. We may be at the crossroads of the fight between efficiency of machines and the rethoric of the human hand, and what may be at stake could possibly be the very identity of our clothes and fashion houses. Such shift seem to spell the near-end of country-of-origin labelling system, which is associated with specific sets of values, traditions and know-hows.

For instance, the Made in Italy label is deeply linked to its history, art, centuries-old architecture, culture and elegance, landscapes and – of course – his charismatic inhabitants. So what if it were replaced by a simple mention of Humans? Does it spell the disappearing of something that is considered an important landmark of our era and singularity? Or, on a brighter side, could this bring things to a whole new level, replacing the country-of-origins labelling systems with one based on the very houses and/or individuals (designers, craftsmen,…) who conceive our clothes in the future, further acknowledging and enhancing the unparalleled character of these creations and/or the scarcity of their know-hows?

Whatever future lies ahead, its consequences on intellectual property in the long run are up to the present choices of Fashion and Luxury houses. Strategic ones that will ultimately define whether it will turn into an utopia or dystopia for the perceived-value of not only the human hand, but its creative genius as well.

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