Christopher Wylie, the man known as the Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, has joined H&M as its director of research, where he will work on using data and analytics to drive sustainability.
Speaking on stage at the Business of Fashion’s VOICES conference in the UK this week, he said artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to reduce waste in the industry and drive efficiency through the supply chain.
“A lot of fashion companies look at the supply chain and the mechanics from production to distribution, but actually understanding consumers will help you optimize the supply chain because you will better understand what it is they want to buy or they don’t want to buy,” he explained.
That comes off the back of the fact that H&M reported it had a stockpile of $4 billion in unsold clothing earlier this year. Meanwhile, Burberry also came under fire over the summer for news it burnt $37.8 million in excess inventory last year.
But Wylie argued that turning to data is not only good for the environment, but also good for business.
“Investing in AI will allow you to not only better match your units of clothing to your customers, and therefore make more money, but be able to make more money with less units of clothing. So there’s an argument in profit and profitability to invest in AI, and also an argument in sustainability to invest in AI.” That means that being more sustainable is not only an environmental decision, but a business one, he noted.
Wiley will join the H&M Group on December 1 to bring these insights to the fast fashion giant, where he will work alongside Arti Zeighami, the company’s head of AI and advanced analytics.
“If we put this data on top of what we have, then we can be more precise. It means you can stop guessing what you can calculate. It helps you be [sharper] with decision-making,” Zeighami added.
“Tech is cool. There are amazing things you can do with data, it doesn’t have to be evil,” said Wylie.
That followed a keynote he gave earlier in the day in which he outlined the way in which Cambridge Analytica used data from fashion brands as a weapon to help elect President Trump in the US in 2016. Facebook ‘likes’ from brands including Wrangler and LL Bean were used as a primary input for the algorithms that then targeted people with pro-Trump messaging. He referred to this as repurposing technology originally designed for cyber warfare to influence politics.
Earlier this year, Wylie also gave an exclusive interview to Vogue Italia in which he spoke further about why the similarities between fashion and politics are stronger than people think.
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