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How YOOX NET-A-PORTER Is Using Artificial Intelligence To Revive Artisan Craft Posted on : Nov 12 - 2020

My recent claim that fashion needs more imagination when it comes to using artificial intelligence has been unexpectedly answered by a project combining e-commerce data and artisanship. Not an obvious pairing, but the brainchild of passionate 'dataphile' YOOX NET-A-PORTER GROUP Chairman and CEO, Federico Marchetti, and HRH The Prince of Wales, whose appreciation and support of artisanal craftsmanship (and dedication to safeguarding its future) is decades-long. Marchetti and the YOOX NET-A-PORTER team worked with The Prince’s Foundation to create a unique year-long apprenticeship to cultivate the next generation of luxury fashion artisans, informed and guided by customer shopping data and AI analysis of millions of images of historically successful products. The aim? To breathe life into artisanship as a viable and attractive career option, underpinned by data that empowers it to deliver the right product, for the right customer on the right sales platform, crucially sustaining the artisans’ craft methods and their livelihood.

The Modern Artisan project brought together six designers from Milan’s Politecnico Di Milano Fashion in Process (FiP) research laboratory and four apprentices undergoing certified training in small batch production and hand-craft skills at The Prince’s Foundation, Dumfries House, Scotland. Together they created a men's and womenswear collection informed by data presented to them by the YOOX NET-A-PORTER buying team. This data included five years of images of comparable luxury product types sold across YOOX, NET-A-PORTER, MR PORTER, and THE OUTNET. “Imagine 20 years of pictures—we’re talking about millions of pictures of fashion,” said Federico Marchetti during a Zoom interview. Add to this the group’s 4.3 million active customers and it amounts to a data set that can illustrate long-term trends and evergreen styles, colors, details, and silhouettes ideal for hand-crafted luxury items made to last a lifetime.

The project began with the artisans creating design mood boards inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci, followed by workshops addressing customer segmentation and the differentiation between the four YOOX NET-A-PORTER brands, followed by data, shape, and color analysis. This is where the use of the AI tool (which the group use for their Mr P. and 8 By YOOX brands internally) came into play, offering insights into the ‘recipe of fashion successes’ along with a reduction in sizing and production volume errors that can befall non-data-informed products. “(We showed) pictures of bestsellers to the artisans, (who) could navigate them via an AI tool and fine-tune the designs,” said Marchetti. The artisans then worked together to design the garments in Italy and manufacture them in Scotland at Dumfries House and legendary knitwear manufacturer, Johnstons of Elgin in Hawick.

This project may herald a new era of artisans as designers, armed with data and AI tools to make smart design decisions and carve out viable businesses. This approach, however, sits in contrast to the prevailing approach of fashion designers and brands to follow designers’ sensibilities and creative tendencies in favor of data-driven design and decision making. This remains true even in an industry where taking a bet on new products, independent of data insights, can mean overstock and lead to heavy discounting, potentially contributing to costly deadstock and landfill waste.  Perhaps this project illustrates the scope for convergence of the two approaches. View More