'Something fishy is going on': 'AI-driven' fashion brand says it's a sustainable 'Zara meets Netflix,' but some influencers are doubtful
In March, Glossy reported that the future intersection between generative artificial intelligence (AI) and fashion brands was coming. AI would revolutionize next-level personalization of products for shoppers and visual merchandising for brands.
“Its uses are already valuable and vast,” Glossy wrote about AI, “spanning marketing, engineering and immersive experiences.”
The clothing brand Finesse, which was founded by Ramin Ahmari in 2019, aims to be at the forefront of this evolution.
“I call it Zara meets Netflix,” Ahmari told Crunchbase News in 2021. “Finesse is all about using data to reduce the tons of waste in fashion.”
Aerin Creer hadn’t heard about Finesse until pretty recently. A model, Creer has built up a substantial following on social media for her fashion sense and style and is used to followers tagging her in posts and asking about up-and-coming brands.
“It was kind of taking social media by storm,” Creer told In The Know about her first impression of Finesse. “They claim they only make ‘what you guys vote on.’ But who are ‘you guys’? Who are the test subjects?”
Finesse advertises itself as “the first AI-driven fashion house” to use fans’ weekly votes to “determine what to produce and exactly how much to produce of that style.” The goal, according to Finesse, is to avoid overproduction and eliminate waste by “hyper-optimizing the fashion supply chain.”
A representative of Finesse told In The Know that its customers are voting “continuously on our website” and “once a week on social media (Thursdays are voting days!).”
“During those votes, consumers decide what makes it into the final production pipeline and also give us additional feedback on what they would like us to change about the garments presented,” the spokesperson said. “We only produce what our consumers have voted for.”
Creer has been sewing for the past 13 years. Her grandmother was a seamstress, and Creer, to keep up with the demand of showcasing new looks on her account, as well as to combat the struggle of tailoring clothes to fit her petite frame, was inspired to start working with garments herself.
“I understand the fundamentals of dressmaking: what it takes, how long it takes to actually make certain designs,” she said. “Also, having been a model, I’ve made so many close friendships with successful business owners, and I get to see the back end of what it actually looks like.”
Creer decided to look further at Finesse. The pricing was far too inexpensive in her opinion. She also found it notable that the website advertises clothing without models (the Instagram account, however, does include some models and influencers wearing the clothes).
Even though Finesse claims to design or make clothing only after it’s voted on, Creer said that a 3D rendering can’t replace a proper clothing sample.
“Clothing always needs a sample,” she said. “It’s like a rough draft.”
In response, Finesse told In The Know that it first creates samples with 3D rendering as a way to be more sustainable.
“Traditional fashion houses create a myriad of physical samples at each step and, by doing so, create tons of fabric waste,” a representative wrote. “Our 3D process is not only more sustainable but also more time-efficient.”
After looking into the site, Creer decided to tweet a warning to her followers about being more skeptical of Finesse.
“It’s an AI fashion brand that claims there’s no waste,” Creer tweeted. “But I know from making clothings that the dress cannot cost $46 unless something fishy is going on!”
Finesse told In The Know that each garment is produced by Turkish and Chinese manufacturers “with whom we have long-standing relationships” and “who report to us on ethical working conditions [and] ensuring fair wages.”
Finesse also added that since the brand “leverages proprietary machine learning models coupled with consumer voting data to predict both trends and demanded quantities,” production is “hyper-accurate” and saves money by not overproducing clothes.
“The claims that these garments cannot cost $46 or otherwise have to leverage child labor or come at a sacrifice are categorically false,” the representative said.
Creer then went to TikTok and searched for the brand. She found and screenshotted several videos that showcased influencers trying on Finesse hauls who ultimately weren’t impressed by the fit of the garments and, in some cases, accused the products of not matching the original website photos.
The reviews when I looked It up, it’s just a drop shipping company posing as a futuristic fashion haus. All they do is use “what you vote for” to determine which trend they’ll steal, buy It from AliExpress and up the price to give the allusion of a luxury experience https://t.co/XMd1yaFV0M pic.twitter.com/PsSSpmz4SL
— Aerin Creer (@FromAerin) April 12, 2023
“It’s just a drop shipping company posing as a futuristic fashion haus,” Creer alleged in a follow-up tweet. “All they do is use ‘what you vote for’ to determine which trend they’ll steal.”
Drop-shipping is a tactic used by a store or brand that does not keep products in stock, but instead, buys them from a third party and then sends it out. The overhead costs are low, and this allows the store or brand to offer a wider range of products without much financial risk. Creer accused Finesse of buying items from a fast-fashion online retail service based in China, increasing the price and then shipping the merchandise to Finesse customers.
Finesse denied the accusation that it is a drop-shipping company.
“We think a reason why people might confuse us with a drop shipping company is that some of our packages are sent directly from our warehouse in China,” the Finesse spokesperson speculated. In addition to China, Finesse said they have warehouses in the U.K. and U.S. as well.
Creer says she is also alarmed by a larger conversation happening among fashion creators on TikTok — that cheap clothing is easily disposable.
“What was really scary about it is that everybody was saying, ‘Well, it’s just $50, so it’s OK,'” Creer said about the creators she found. “That’s how you have a closet full of clothes with nothing to wear because you have all this crappy stuff that ultimately doesn’t flatter your body.”
As is the case with a lot of fast-fashion companies, there’s a mindset, especially with trend cycles moving so quickly, that buying a lot of cheap clothes for $300 is better than buying one high-quality item for $300. This is how fast-fashion companies can get away with shipping poor-quality products: You paid so little for it, what does it matter? Is it even worth returning?
“If you have enough to spend on four items from Finesse, which is $200, then you could definitely wait to get [a well-fitting] dress in your size,” Creer argued, referring to people who have the finances to spend $200 on a shopping haul.
Not just a well-fitting dress, but even the original dress, according to Creer; she also alleged that Finesse might be inspired by designs from some smaller-name brands, which made the pricing even more frustrating to her.
“For like $150 more, you could get the dress that you want, and it will last forever,” she said.
In The Know asked Finesse about similarities between dresses advertised on the site and dresses being sold by other brands. One example, there is Finesse’s Nellie Midi Dress, which retails for $34, compared with Réalisation Par’s the Alba for $250.
“Finesse is driven by consumer tastes, consumer votes and widespread public trends and interests that, at times, converge,” the Finesse representative said in response to the comparison between the two dresses. “Finesse’s prints and patterns are owned by Finesse and developed by Finesse in conjunction with our data.”
What’s evident from some TikTok reviewers is that a lot of shoppers decided to buy from Finesse because they trust it’s better than shopping at Shein — the prices are higher, and Finesse calls itself “sustainable AF” on its site.
“I’m someone who finds thrifting and slow fashion really important,” one model, Anna Hirata, told her 17,000 TikTok followers. “Finesse has this mission that they supposedly produce less waste by using AI, and they also seem to be really inclusive.”
Finesse does highlight that it produces clothes from XS to 3X. While size-inclusive fashion has become more important than it ever has been in the industry, many plus-size shoppers can still only find their sizes at fast-fashion options.
“One of the main issues right now that we have with fast fashion is that they do provide extended sizing that other common fashion houses just ignore,” Creer agreed. “A lot of the times with fast fashion, it is those extended sizes that put them over the edge and get clientele that are not being catered to by more mainstream brands.”
Hirata was not impressed by what she had purchased. She bought three items for $100 and wanted to return two of them, and she wasn’t exactly thrilled with the one she was keeping either.
One item she was returning was a pair of pants she bought from Finesse that she originally thought was a pair of printed jeans.
“I know for a fact that the fabric these pants are made from probably cost this company around two f***ing dollars,” she said. “The cheapest-feeling $42 pants I’ve ever f***ing bought.”
In a comment, Hirata joked that the purported denim was “exactly the same as my shower curtains.”
“I also hope that it swings the other way,” Creer said about fashion trends, “and we slowly move back to making our stuff in thrift and thrifting for the actual sake of finding good-quality clothes and not just the cheapest thing that you can find or a name brand that you think is flashy.”
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