AI-generated fashion models could bring more diversity to industry — or leave it with less

Chicago, Illinois — London-based model Alexsandrah has a twin, but not in the way you’d expect: Her counterpart is made of pixels instead of flesh and blood.

The virtual twin was generated by artificial intelligence and has already appeared as a stand-in for the real-life Alexsandrah in a photo shoot. Alexsandrah, who goes by her first name professionally, in turn receives credit and compensation whenever the AI version of herself gets used — just like a human model.

Alexsandrah says she and her alter-ego mirror each other “even down to the baby hairs.” And it is yet another example of how AI is transforming creative industries — and the way humans may or may not be compensated.

Proponents say the growing use of AI in fashion modeling showcases diversity in all shapes and sizes, allowing consumers to make more tailored purchase decisions that in turn reduces fashion waste from product returns. And digital modeling saves money for companies and creates opportunities for people who want to work with the technology.

But critics raise concerns that digital models may push human models — and other professionals like makeup artists and photographers — out of a job. Unsuspecting consumers could also be fooled into thinking AI models are real, and companies could claim credit for fulfilling diversity commitments without employing actual humans.

“Fashion is exclusive, with limited opportunities for people of color to break in,” said Sara Ziff, a former fashion model and founder of the Model Alliance, a nonprofit aiming to advance workers’ rights in the fashion industry. “I think the use of AI to distort racial representation and marginalize actual models of color reveals this troubling gap between the industry’s declared intentions and their real actions.”  

Women of color in particular have long faced higher barriers to entry in modeling and AI could upend some of the gains they’ve made. Data suggests that women are more likely to work in occupations in which the technology could be applied and are more at risk of displacement than men.

In March 2023, iconic denim brand Levi Strauss & Co. announced that it would be testing AI-generated models produced by Amsterdam-based company Lalaland.ai to add a wider range of body types and underrepresented demographics on its website. But after receiving widespread backlash, Levi clarified that it was not pulling back on its plans for live photo shoots, the use of live models or its commitment to working with diverse models.

“We do not see this (AI) pilot as a means to advance diversity or as a substitute for the real action that must be taken to deliver on our diversity, equity and inclusion goals and it should not have been portrayed as such,” Levi said in its statement at the time.

The company last month said that it has no plans to scale the AI program.

The Associated Press reached out to several other retailers to ask whether they use AI fashion models. Target, Kohl’s and fast-fashion giant Shein declined to comment; Temu did not respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, spokespeople for Nieman Marcus, H&M, Walmart and Macy’s said their respective companies do not use AI models, although Walmart clarified that “suppliers may have a different approach to photography they provide for their products, but we don’t have that information.”

Nonetheless, companies that generate AI models are finding a demand for the technology, including Lalaland.ai, which was co-founded by Michael Musandu after he was feeling frustrated by the absence of clothing models who looked like him.

“One model does not represent everyone that’s actually shopping and buying a product,” he said. “As a person of color, I felt this painfully myself.”

Musandu says his product is meant to supplement traditional photo shoots, not replace them. Instead of seeing one model, shoppers could see nine to 12 models using different size filters, which would enrich their shopping experience and help reduce product returns and fashion waste.

The technology is actually creating new jobs, since Lalaland.ai pays humans to train its algorithms, Musandu said.

And if brands “are serious about inclusion efforts, they will continue to hire these models of color,” he added.

London-based model Alexsandrah, who is Black, says her digital counterpart has helped her distinguish herself in the fashion industry. In fact, the real-life Alexsandrah has even stood in for a Black computer-generated model named Shudu, created by Cameron Wilson, a former fashion photographer turned CEO of The Diigitals, a U.K.-based digital modeling agency.

Wilson, who is white and uses they/them pronouns, designed Shudu in 2017, described on Instagram as the “The World’s First Digital Supermodel.” But critics at the time accused Wilson of cultural appropriation and digital Blackface.

Wilson took the experience as a lesson and transformed The Diigitals to make sure Shudu — who has been booked by Louis Vuitton and BMW — didn’t take away opportunities but instead opened possibilities for women of color. Alexsandrah, for instance, has modeled in-person as Shudu for Vogue Australia, and writer Ama Badu came up with Shudu’s backstory and portrays her voice for interviews.

Alexsandrah said she is “extremely proud” of her work with The Diigitals, which created her own AI twin: “It’s something that even when we are no longer here, the future generations can look back at and be like, ‘These are the pioneers.'”

But for Yve Edmond, a New York City area-based model who works with major retailers to check the fit of clothing before it’s sold to consumers, the rise of AI in fashion modeling feels more insidious.

Edmond worries modeling agencies and companies are taking advantage of models, who are generally independent contractors afforded few labor protections in the U.S., by using their photos to train AI systems without their consent or compensation.

She described one incident in which a client asked to photograph Edmond moving her arms, squatting and walking for “research” purposes. Edmond refused and later felt swindled — her modeling agency had told her she was being booked for a fitting, not to build an avatar.

“This is a complete violation,” she said. “It was really disappointing for me.”

But absent AI regulations, it’s up to companies to be transparent and ethical about deploying AI technology. And Ziff, the founder of the Model Alliance, likens the current lack of legal protections for fashion workers to “the Wild West.”

That’s why the Model Alliance is pushing for legislation like the one being considered in New York state, in which a provision of the Fashion Workers Act would require management companies and brands to obtain models’ clear written consent to create or use a model’s digital replica; specify the amount and duration of compensation, and prohibit altering or manipulating models’ digital replica without consent.

Alexsandrah says that with ethical use and the right legal regulations, AI might open up doors for more models of color like herself. She has let her clients know that she has an AI replica, and she funnels any inquires for its use through Wilson, who she describes as “somebody that I know, love, trust and is my friend.” Wilson says they make sure any compensation for Alexsandrah’s AI is comparable to what she would make in-person.

Edmond, however, is more of a purist: “We have this amazing Earth that we’re living on. And you have a person of every shade, every height, every size. Why not find that person and compensate that person?”

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Зеленський про участь Заходу у відбитті атаки на Ізраїль: «не можна заплющувати очі на російські ракети»

«На жаль, допомога Україні досі обмежена, а російська держава досі має доступ до критичних компонентів, які необхідні для виробництва ракет і дронів»

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Polish abortion opponents march against steps to liberalize strict law  

WARSAW — Thousands of Polish opponents of abortion marched Sunday in Warsaw to protest recent steps by the new government to liberalize the predominantly Catholic nation’s strict laws and allow termination of pregnancy until the 12th week.

Many participants in the downtown march were pushing prams with children, while others were carrying white-and-red national flags or posters representing a fetus in the womb.

Poland’s Catholic Church has called for Sunday to be a day of prayer “in defense of conceived life” and has supported the march, organized by an anti-abortion movement.

“In the face of promotion of abortion in recent months, the march will be a rare occasion to show our support for the protection of human life from conception to natural death,” a federation of anti-abortion movements said in a statement.

They were referring to an ongoing public debate surrounding the steps that the 4-month-old government of Prime Minster Donald Tusk is taking to relax the strict law brought in by its conservative predecessor.

Last week, Poland’s parliament, which is dominated by the liberal and pro-European Union ruling coalition voted to approve further detailed work on four proposals to lift the near ban on abortions.

The procedure, which could take weeks or even months, is expected to be eventually rejected by conservative President Andrzej Duda, whose term runs for another year.

Last month Duda vetoed a draft law that would have made the morning-after pill available over the counter from the age of 15.

A nation of some 38 million, Poland is seeking ways to boost the birth rate, which is currently at 1.2 per woman — among the lowest in the European Union. Poland’s society is aging and shrinking, facts that the previous right-wing government used among its arguments for toughening the abortion law.

Currently, abortions are only allowed in cases of rape or incest or if the woman’s life or health is at risk. According to the Health Ministry, 161 abortions were performed in Polish hospitals in 2022. However, abortion advocates estimate that some 120,000 women in Poland have abortions each year, mostly by secretly obtaining pills from abroad.

Women attempting to abort themselves are not penalized, but anyone assisting them can face up to three years in prison. Reproductive rights advocates say the result is that doctors turn women away even in permitted cases for fear of legal consequences for themselves.

One of the four proposals being processed in parliament would decriminalize assisting a woman to have an abortion. Another one, put forward by a party whose leaders are openly Catholic, would keep a ban in most cases but would allow abortions in cases of fetal defects — a right that was eliminated by a 2020 court ruling. The two others aim to permit abortion through the 12th week.

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Germany’s Scholz arrives in China on a visit marked by trade tensions, Ukraine conflict

BEIJING — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in China on Sunday on a visit focused on the increasingly tense economic relationship between the sides and differences over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Scholz’s first destination was the industrial hub of Chongqing, where he and his delegation of ministers and business leaders were to visit a partially German-funded company and other sites in the vast city, which is a production base for China’s auto and other industries.

Scholz is also scheduled to visit the financial hub of Shanghai during his three-day visit, before traveling to the capital, Beijing, to meet with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang.

German companies such as BMW and Volkswagen are highly reliant on the Chinese market, even as Beijing’s support for Russia creates frictions with the West.

Germany’s economy has benefited from China’s demand for investment and manufactured items from cars to chemicals, but those ties have frayed amid increasing competition from Chinese companies and tightened regulations. Political interference has also been blamed for a sharp drop in foreign investment.

German companies have argued they face unfair market barriers in China and the government has pushed for a policy of “de-risking” to reduce reliance on the Chinese market and suppliers.

Despite that, China remained Germany’s top trading partner for the eighth straight year in 2023, with 254.1 billion euros ($271 billion) in goods and services exchanged between the sides, slightly more than what Germany traded with the U.S.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV showed Scholz descending from his plane in Chonqing and leaving in a motorcade, but did not carry any comments made to the welcoming delegation.

Prior to his arrival, Scholz posted on social platform X that he had discussed the “massive” Russian air attacks on civilian energy infrastructure with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Saturday and declared that Berlin will “stand unbreakably by Ukraine’s side.”

China has refused to criticize Russian aggression. It has maintained trade relations with President Vladimir Putin’s government and aligned its foreign policy with Moscow in opposition to the U.S.-led liberal political order, while touting its authoritarian one-party system as a superior alternative.

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Archeologists find frescoes of Trojan War figures in Pompeii

rome, italy — Archaeologists excavating new sites in Pompeii have uncovered a sumptuous banquet hall decorated with intricately frescoed mythological characters inspired by the Trojan War, officials said Thursday. 

The hall, which features a mosaic floor, was uncovered as part of a project to shore up the areas dividing the excavated and unexcavated parts of Pompeii, the ancient city near Naples that was destroyed in A.D. 79 when Mount Vesuvius erupted. 

The banquet hall was used for refined entertaining and features black walls, a technique that prevented the smoke from oil lamps from being seen, said Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Pompeii archaeological park. 

The figures painted against that black backdrop include Helen of Troy and Apollo. Experts said the reference to mythological figures was designed to entertain guests and provide conversation starters. 

The room, which is about 15 meters (16.4 yards) long and 6 meters (6.56 yards) wide, opens onto a courtyard near a staircase leading to the first floor of the home, the park said in a press release. 

Excavations in Pompeii have recently focused on areas of the city where the middle classes and servants lived, while previous ones have concentrated on the elaborately frescoed villas of Pompeii’s upper classes. 

The excavations that yielded the new banquet hall are designed to improve the hydrogeological structure of the entire park, to make it more sustainable as the region copes with climate extremes — heavy rainfall and intense heat — that are threatening the UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

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Germany making it easier for people to legally change their name, gender

BERLIN — German lawmakers on Friday approved legislation that will make it easier for transgender, intersex and nonbinary people to change their name and gender in official records.

The “self-determination law,” one of several social reforms that Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s liberal-leaning coalition government pledged when it took office in late 2021, is set to take effect on November 1.

Germany, the European Union’s most populous nation, follows several other countries in making the change. Parliament’s lower house, the Bundestag, approved it by 374 votes to 251 with 11 abstentions.

The German legislation will allow adults to change their first name and legal gender at registry offices without further formalities. They will have to notify the office three months before making the change.

The existing “transsexual law,” which dates back four decades, requires individuals who want to change gender on official documents to first obtain assessments from two experts “sufficiently familiar with the particular problems of transsexualism” and then a court decision.

Since that law was drawn up, Germany’s top court has struck down other provisions that required transgender people to get divorced and sterilized, and to undergo gender-transition surgery.

“For over 40 years, the ‘transsexual law’ has caused a lot of suffering … and only because people want to be recognized as they are,” Sven Lehmann, the government’s commissioner for queer issues, told lawmakers. “And today we are finally putting an end to this.”

The new legislation focuses on individuals’ legal identities. It does not involve any revisions to Germany’s rules for gender-transition surgery.

The new rules will allow minors 14 years and older to change their name and legal gender with approval from their parents or guardians; if they don’t agree, teenagers could ask a family court to overrule them.

In the case of children younger than 14, parents or guardians would have to make registry office applications on their behalf.

After a formal change of name and gender takes effect, no further changes would be allowed for a year. The new legislation provides for operators of, for example, gyms and changing rooms for women to continue to decide who has access.

Nyke Slawik, a transgender woman elected to parliament in 2021 for the Greens, one of the governing parties, recounted her experience of going through the current system a decade ago. She said she had had enough of being asked “is that your brother’s ID?” when she had to identify herself.

“Two years, many conversations with experts and one district court process later, it was done — the name change went through, and I was nearly 2,000 euros ($2,150) poorer,” she told lawmakers. “As trans people, we repeatedly experience our dignity being made a matter for negotiation.”

The mainstream conservative opposition faulted the legislation for what it described as a lack of safeguards against abuse and a lack of protection for young people. Conservative lawmaker Susanne Hierl complained that the government is “ignoring the justified concerns of many women and girls.”

“You want to satisfy a loud but very small group and, in doing so, are dividing society,” Hierl said.

Martin Reichardt of the far-right Alternative for Germany blasted what he called “ideological nonsense.”

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said in a statement that “there are numerous precautions against possibilities of abuse, however improbable they may be.” He insisted that the new law takes into account the interests of the whole of society and said “much less will change with this law than some say.”

Among others, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Spain already have similar legislation.

In the U.K., the Scottish parliament in 2022 passed a bill that would allow people aged 16 or older to change the gender designation on identity documents by self-declaration. That was vetoed by the British government, a decision that Scotland’s highest civil court upheld in December.

In other socially liberal reforms, Scholz’s government has legalized the possession of limited amounts of cannabis; eased the rules on gaining German citizenship and ended restrictions on holding dual citizenship; and ended a ban on doctors “advertising” abortion services. Same-sex marriage was already legalized in 2017.

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Diplomat tapped as Latvia’s new FM as incumbent quits amid scandal

HELSINKI — The head of Latvia’s government tapped an experienced diplomat to become the Baltic nation’s new foreign minister after the incumbent stepped down earlier this week amid a criminal probe over alleged misuse of government funds. 

The ruling center-right New Unity party decided to back the nomination of Baiba Braze, 57, who is currently the ambassador for special tasks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, after Prime Minister Evika Silina’s endorsement, Latvian news agency LETA reported Saturday. 

Latvian Television LTV said Braze’s candidacy will be officially announced Monday and lawmakers at the Saiema, Latvia’s 100-seat Parliament, are set to vote on a motion of confidence in her on Thursday. 

Among other posts, Braze has previously served as Latvia’s ambassador to Britain and to The Netherlands and held the post of NATO’s deputy secretary general for public diplomacy in 2020-2023. 

Krisjanis Karins, Latvia’s former top diplomat and an ex-prime minister, announced his intention to resign this month on March 28. His decision came in the wake of a criminal probe over the use of expensive private charter flights by Karins′ office during his time as prime minister between 2019-2023. 

There are no indications that Karins himself faces charges as part of the probe into the scandal that erupted last year and caused public outrage among Latvians. Silina took Latvia’s top government job in September when Karins became foreign minister of the nation of 1.9 million, a European Union and NATO member state. 

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Vatican complains after French court rules in favor of dismissed nun

ROME — The Holy See has formally protested to France after a French court ruled that a former high-ranking Vatican official was liable for what the court determined to be the wrongful dismissal of a nun from a religious order.

According to French media, the Lorient tribunal on April 3 ruled in favor of the nun, Sabine de la Valette, known at the time as Mother Marie Ferreol. She was forced to resign from her religious order, the Dominicans of the Holy Spirit, after a Vatican investigation.

In a statement Saturday, the Vatican said that it had received no notification of any such verdict, but that the ruling nevertheless represented a “grave violation” of the right to religious freedom.

The Vatican confirmed that Pope Francis had tasked Cardinal Marc Ouellet, at the time the head of the Vatican’s bishops’ office, with conducting an investigation that ended with the Holy See taking a series of canonical measures against Valette, including her expulsion after 34 years as a nun in the order.

The statement also cited potential diplomatic issues, given Ouellet’s immunity as a cardinal and official of a foreign government. The Holy See is recognized internationally as a sovereign state.

According to French Catholic daily La Croix, the Lorient court found the nun’s expulsion was without merit and ordered Ouellet, the religious order and other defendants to pay over 200,000 euros ($213,000) in material and moral damages, as well as fines. The defendants are appealing, La Croix said.

The Vatican frequently conducts such internal investigations into religious orders or dioceses, which can be sparked by complaints of financial mismanagement, sexual or other types of abuses, or governance problems. It considers the measures it takes to be exclusively internal to the life of the Catholic Church.

As a result, the Lorient court decision represented an unusual intrusion of secular justice in internal church matters, prompting the diplomatic complaint from the Holy See.

The French justice system seems increasingly willing to take on even high-ranking church officials in court, much more so than in Italy, and especially concerning allegations related to clergy sexual misconduct and cover-up.

In 2020, for example, a French appeals court threw out a lower court ruling that had convicted Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of covering up the sexual abuse of minors in his flock.

That same year, a Paris court convicted a retired Vatican ambassador to France of sexually assaulting five men in 2018 and 2019 and handed him a suspended eight-month prison sentence. The Vatican had lifted the immunity of the ambassador, Monsignor Luigi Ventura, which allowed the trial to go ahead.

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1 Dead, 10 injured in cable car accident in southern Turkey

ISTANBUL — One person died and 10 others injured Friday in the southern Turkish province of Antalya after a cable car cabin collided with a broken pole, the interior ministry said Saturday. 

Twenty-four cabins were stranded in the air at 5:23 p.m. Friday. Sixteen hours later, more than 60 people were still stranded in the remaining nine cabins in the air, the ministry said; 112 people had been rescued. 

None of the people waiting to be rescued had critical injuries or were in poor health, Disaster and Emergency Management Authority Chairman Okay Memis told reporters at the scene, adding that they aimed to complete rescue work before sunset. 

In a statement on social media platform X, the interior ministry said seven helicopters and more than 500 rescue workers were carrying out rescue efforts. 

A video released by the interior ministry showed rescue personnel tied to safety ropes climbing into cabins. 

According to the information on its website, the cable car has 36 cabins with a capacity of six people each. It takes an average of nine minutes to go uphill to the Tunektepe facility, which has panoramic views of the city of Antalya.

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У Міноборони розповіли, коли законопроєкт про демобілізацію можуть внести у Раду

«Готувати цей законопроєкт будуть спільно з Міністерством оборони України, а також представниками Генштабу. Він уже в роботі, і протягом найближчих місяців з’явиться версія, яка потім потрапить до парламенту»

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Russian city calls for mass evacuations as floodwaters rise

ORENBURG, Russia — Authorities in the Russian city of Orenburg called on thousands of residents to evacuate immediately on Friday due to rapidly rising flood waters after major rivers burst their banks due to a historic deluge of melting snow.

Water was also rising sharply in another Russian region — Kurgan — and in neighboring Kazakhstan. Authorities said 100,000 people had been evacuated so far, as rapidly warming temperatures melted heavy snow and ice.

The deluge of melt water has forced more than 120,000 people from their homes in Russia’s Ural Mountains, Siberia and Kazakhstan as major rivers such as the Ural, which flows through Kazakhstan into the Caspian, overwhelmed embankments.

Regional authorities called for the mass evacuation of parts of Orenburg, a city of over half a million people about 1,200 kilometers east of Moscow.

“There’s a siren going off in the city. This is not a drill. There’s a mass evacuation in progress!” Sergei Salmin, the city’s mayor, said on the Telegram messenger app.

Russian news agencies later quoted officials in Orenburg as saying that more than 13,000 residents had been evacuated throughout the region, more than a quarter of them children.

The agency reports quoted Mayor Salmin as saying residents were turning out to help erect dykes to keep high-rise apartment blocks from being flooded. Dump trucks loaded with clay were dispatched to areas at risk.

Emergency workers said water levels in the Ural river were more than 2 meters above what they regarded as a dangerous level. Water lapped at the windows of brick and timber houses in the city, and pet dogs perched on rooftops.

Salmin called on residents to gather their documents, medicine and essential items and to abandon their homes.

Personal losses

People living in flooded homes lamented the loss of their belongings.

“Judging by the water levels, all the furniture, some household appliances and interior decorating materials are ruined,” local resident Vyacheslav told Reuters as he sat in an idling motorboat and gazed over his shoulder at his two-story brick home, partially submerged in muddy water. “It’s a colossal amount of money.”

Alexei Kudinov, Orenburg’s deputy mayor, had said earlier that over 360 houses and nearly 1,000 plots of land had been flooded overnight. He said the deluge was expected to reach its peak on Friday and start subsiding in two days’ time.

Orenburg Governor Denis Pasler told President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that 11,972 homes had been flooded and if waters rose further 19,412 more people would be in danger.

The village of Kaminskoye in the Kurgan region was also being evacuated Friday morning after the water level there rose 1.4 meters overnight, Kurgan’s regional governor Vadim Shumkov said on the Telegram messaging app.

Kaminskoye is a settlement along the Tobol river which also flows through the regional center Kurgan, a city of 300,000 people. Shumkov said a deluge could reach Kurgan in the coming days.

“We can only hope the floodplain stretches wide and the ground absorbs as much water as possible in its way,” he said, adding that a dam was being reinforced in Kurgan.

Kurgan is home to a key part of Russia’s military-industrial complex — a giant factory that produces infantry fighting vehicles for the army which are in high demand in Ukraine where the Russian military is on the offensive in some areas.

There were no reports that the factory, Kurganmashzavod, had so far been affected.

Rising water levels are also threatening southern parts of Western Siberia, the largest hydrocarbon basin in the world, and in areas near the Volga, Europe’s biggest river.

Water levels in some other Russian regions are expected to peak within the next two weeks.

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