Celebrating individuality – New Balance uses artificial intelligence to reward people who stand out from the crowd

  • Be the Exception’ – celebrating people who aren’t afraid to be different
  • Proprietary statistical algorithms analyse unique individuals
  • Is AI powering a revolution in fashion design?

Artificial intelligence technology has had a tremendous impact on a wide variety of industries in recent years, so it’s not at all surprising to see the fashion industry hop on the bandwagon as well. In fact, the fashion world has welcomed artificial intelligence with open arms, having found a number of useful applications for it. Among other things, fashion brands now frequently use AI to identify and predict future trends, using that information to shape their business strategy and beat competitors at their game.

However, the athletics apparel manufacturer New Balance wants to do something a little bit different. Rather than looking for emerging trends, the company actually wants to do the complete opposite; it wants to use AI to identify people who defy the norm.

Be the Exception’ – celebrating people who aren’t afraid to be different

While nowhere near as successful as the likes of Nike or Adidas, New Balance is a company that has a special place in the hearts of many consumers, characterised by a unique style that particularly appeals to those who like to go against the grain. The company recently launched a new marketing campaign called ‘Be the Exception’, which aims to celebrate people who aren’t afraid to be different and stand out from the crowd.

Happy crowd cheering people at concert
The company recently launched a new marketing campaign called ‘Be the Exception’, which aims to celebrate people who aren’t afraid to be different and stand out from the crowd.

As a part of this new campaign, New Balance joined forces with the marketing agency VML to launch a one-day activation called Real Time Exception Spotting during New York Fashion Week. For this occasion, a booth in Soho was equipped with cameras that scanned pedestrians as they walked down the street and an AI that looked for exceptions, people whose fashion choices made them stand out from those around them. Once an exception was identified, that person’s image was displayed on a large screen outside, and they were approached by a New Balance representative and presented with a pair of brand new Fresh Foam Cruz Nubuck shoes. “The idea is to celebrate people who go left when everybody else is going right,” says Allie Tsavdarides, New Balance’s director of global marketing. “And it’s a way to (hand out our) products to these people who already reflect what we stand for as a brand”.

Take a look at the AI in action:

Proprietary statistical algorithms analyse unique individuals

In the days leading up to Fashion Week, the company sent out a team of computer scientists to crawl the streets of New York with cameras in hand and collect data about current fashion trends. This data was then fed into a computer that uses a proprietary statistical algorithm powered by TensorFlow, Google’s open source machine learning framework, to look at what people are wearing and identify truly unique individuals with a style of their own. “During a week where there is incredible emphasis and excitement around new trends and fashion, New Balance wants to celebrate individuals who are expressing themselves in independent and distinctive ways,” adds Tsavdarides. “New Balance is built on a long heritage of defying convention and we love this opportunity to recognize those who are confidently demonstrating their unique style.”

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Is AI powering a revolution in fashion design?

The reason why New Balance entrusted this job to a computer rather than human judges is that it wanted the process to be 100 per cent objective and devoid of any bias. The computer looks at details like colour, shape, pattern, style, and accessories, and compares them against the collected data to identify those whose style defies current trends.

Human hand and AI hand touching fingers
The reason why New Balance entrusted this job to a computer rather than human judges is that it wanted the process to be 100 per cent objective and devoid of any bias

After New York, the company plans to repeat similar experiments in other cities, including Toronto, Stockholm, and Madrid. The data collected during the campaign will later be used to come up with creative marketing campaigns or design new products for future collections. “It’s an entirely new way to engage with customers,” says Craig Elimeliah, the executive director of creative technology at VML. “We’re in the earliest stages of experimenting with this technology. But if this works well, we might consider incorporating it in stores or in other ways we haven’t even imagined yet.” Of course, one might argue that if you take something unique and use it to mass-produce a certain product, it automatically ceases to be unique, but we can leave that debate for another time.

As is usually the case when there are cameras and data collection involved, some privacy concerns have been raised, but the company claims that there’s no reason to worry. According to Elimeliah, they don’t use facial recognition technology or collect any personally identifiable information, just raw data about trends. “We’re not identifying actual people, just the trends in aggregate,” he says.

Artificial intelligence technology has incredible potential in the fashion industry. Whether it’s used to predict future trends or start new ones, AI can enable fashion brands to get ahead of their competition and increase their sales. The fashion world is about to experience its own AI-powered revolution, and those who fail to join the trend run the risk of being left behind.

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This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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