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CGI models set the stage for a sustainable future…or do they?

Actualizado: 20 jul 2020


Computer-generated models are not a thing of 2020. Three years ago, white photographer Cameron-James Wilson created what he referred to as “the world’s first digital supermodel” for his modelling agency, The Diigitals. This supermodel goes by the name of Shudu and was inspired by his Princess of South Africa barbie doll. She presents perfectly symmetrical facial features, flawless skin, and her verified Instagram account is currently at 203k followers. 

However, even if CGI models were not invented this year, the conversation is still very much alive. Recently, the official Twitter account for HF Twitter’s Fashion Week posed the following question

And, as expected, it sparked alike reactions. These are only some of them:  “I feel like they are Sims and they are unnecessary” via @silkyivory. See tweet here. “It sets unrealistic beauty standards and takes away job opportunities for real models” via @yslsbs. See tweet here. “There may be a risk of increasing body dysmorphia in consumers whilst hiding behind the excuse of if being technology and thus ‘not real’” via @sheaintsaira. See tweet here. It goes without saying that the fashion and the beauty industries are nowhere near as diverse as they should be in 2020. The lack of representation and equality is too worrying to even think about adding a new element to the equation. Not to mention that the modelling industry is already unreachable to many – imagine if they could create a digital person with the features they desire. Beauty standards are already unrealistic: things could only get worse.  At first glance, CGI models seem to do everything but good to the fashion industry. Or do they? Vogue Italia surprised us in January 2020 when they launched a very special issue: they replaced photographs with illustrations in an effort to be more sustainable. Instead of planning photo shoots, they used the beautiful illustrations of seven artists in order to reduce the environmental impact of producing a fashion magazine.  Let’s reflect on this initiative for a moment. Imagine you are in charge of planning a professional photo shoot for a fashion magazine. What would you do? What would you need? Transportation for the photographers and models, the lights, make-up, clothes, or the props used (some may be of single use) are only a few of the many things you would need. The amount of resources required to carry it out is simply not sustainable. In the case of Vogue Italia’s January 2020 issue, all they needed were drawing tools (which can be vegan and sustainable) and/or a digital drawing software, which unquestionably leave a much less alarming carbon footprint on the environment. CGI models are doing the same. They are created with computer software and 3D art, and thus they erase all kinds of costs a conventional photoshoot would have.   Are CGI models, then, exactly what the sustainability movement needs? A way of creating customised fashion content with endless possibilities and without harming the planet? The modelling industry has just recently taken a more diverse and inclusive approach, and yet we are not where we would have to be by this point. It is crucial to remember that sustainability goes beyond polluting or not. Or at least it should. In my head, the perfect sustainable fashion industry must respect all planetary boundaries and human rights, as well as it must give priority to other equally important values: inclusivity, representation, heritage or culture.  The public needs to feel represented by what they see on their screens: gender, skin, size or age. CGI models cannot tick these boxes because, realistically, they do not represent anyone. They cannot fully represent any gender or culture because they were born and custom-made inside a computer.  To paraphrase Benjamin Simmenauer, fashion goes beyond clothes – it is a form of art, and as such, it must speak to the hearts of those who are lucky enough to enjoy it and appreciate it. Looking at the empty eyes of a digitally made model is not going to appeal to anyone’s feelings.  There are infinite ways in which the fashion industry can become more sustainable. Taking away the human factor is not one of them.  References: Cover image of the article: The New Yorker: Creative Review:  

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