Digital Shoes and Customised Shopping: Tomorrow’s Retail Has Arrived

By: Michael McQueen

The fashion industry’s history of highly homogenised models has been an object of wide criticism for years now.

Companies have made clear efforts to diversify the identities and appearances of the models representing their brands in order to more inclusive of the wider population.

Recent integration of AI within some of the world’s big fashion brands is seeing the diversification of models and the representation of customers become a much more viable reality. In partnership with AI company Lalaland.ai, Levi Strauss & Co is trialling a new approach to modelling their denim, using AI fashion models in place of humans.

These hyper-realistic AI models will represent every age, body type and skin tone, offering a far more inclusive image of the company. A diverse range of customers will see themselves represented in the brand and will be able to visualise themselves in Levi’s denim. A Levi’s spokesperson explains that humans will continue to be hired, but these AI models will be used in conjunction with them, offering a wider selection of models for different products.[1]

An Avatar to Represent Your Bodytype

One glance at Lalaland.ai’s technology and it’s clear that this represents the next phase of our shopping. In under 5 minutes, Lalaland is able to generate a customised AI avatar, specifically designed according to the user’s requested size, measurements, skin tone and even facial expression. Its website explains that this technology brings greater levels of efficiency to the fashion design process, enabling early testing and visualisation of clothing on models. Beyond the acceleration of the design process, the technology boasts the elimination of waste and the enhancement of creativity and innovation.[2]

This kind of AI-generated modelling comes off the back of several years of growth in metaverse-powered retail and AI-powered personalisation. In the world of cosmetics, South Korean beauty group AmorePacific last year launched an AI-driven cosmetic tool called The Lip Factory. Incorporating a mobile application called Colour Tailor, this new initiative allows customers to design and purchase their own bespoke lipstick colour. By examining the users’ facial features and complexion, the Colour Tailor algorithm generates a customized lipstick drawing from a broad spectrum of 2,000 colours.[3]

Other players in the beauty industry have also begun to recognise the power of artificial intelligence and rich data to personalise products. Skincare brand Atolla invested heavily in analytics technology which allows them to customize facial serums based on the oil, moisture, and pH levels in a particular shopper’s skin.[4]

Online Quizzes to Customise Your Shopping

In a similar fashion, haircare brand Prose leverages an online quiz to find out about a customer’s hair and scalp condition, their lifestyle and haircare preferences to make custom blends of shampoos and conditioners.[5]

In the fashion world, this tech-powered customization has involved the rapid proliferation of digital avatars and virtual stores among both fashion startups and giants, popular for their ability to offer highly specific personalisation, and blend the worlds of in-store and online shopping.

In February 2022, luggage retailer Tumi uncovered a virtual store which uses augmented reality in creating a 360-degree space, allowing customers to explore the environment and test augmented life-sized products in their home. With features on Instagram and WeChat, this move marks a new era in the shopping experience that is placed entirely in the virtual world.[6]

Charlotte Tilbury similarly opened a virtual store in November of last year, in which an avatar acts a guide for customers exploring the rooms and products. Customers can virtually try on makeup and access video tutorials.[7]

Digital Clothing for Avatars Themselves

While using virtual avatars and AI-powered algorithms represents the future of technology in retail, the world of the metaverse offers even more opportunities for businesses to diversify their products and markets. Rather than simply use avatars as substitutes for models and customers, the reality of retail in the metaverse means selling clothing to the avatars themselves.

This trend has been underway for a few years now with video game players initially displaying a surprising appetite for purchasing ‘character skins’ for their avatars. However, the market for personalized digital avatars has expanded beyond the gaming world and has been popularized by services and apps like Bitmoji, Memojis, Genies, and Loom.ai.[8]

In an indication of how mainstream avatar personalisation is becoming, the American heritage brand Ralph Lauren launched a range of digital clothing in August 2021 – a trend that has been dubbed Direct-to-Avatar (D2A) by industry analysts.[9]

For their part, Nike launched their own D2A range of digital products in November 2021. This will see the sportswear giant start selling digital versions of its sneakers, clothing, and other goods to dress customers’ avatars.[10]

With the most recent tech steadily working its way into the world of retail, we are set for a shopping experience in the future that looks radically different to the one we are used to. As with many other industries and experiences, this will mean the blending of physical and virtual worlds, and the highly specific personalisation enabled by artificial intelligence.


[1] Marcelline, M 2023, ‘Levi’s Will Use AI Models Alongside Human Ones’, PCMag, 27 March.

[2] 2023, Lalalland.ai

[3]  Magloff, L. 2021, ‘custom lipstick designed and dispensed via AI’, Springwise, 25 January

[4]  2021, ‘14 Trends Changing The Face Of The Beauty Industry In 2021,’ CB Insights, 25 May.

[5]  Ibid.

[6] Safian-Demers, E 2021, ‘Virtual retail,’ Wunderman Thompson, 4 March.

[7] Ibid.

[8] 2021, ‘The Metaverse mall and why it matters,’ CB Insights, 10 March.

[9] Deeley, R. 2021, ‘Ralph Lauren enters metaverse with Zepeto partnership,’ Business of Fashion, 25 August.

[10] Oshin, O. 2021, ‘Nike moving towards sales of digital sneakers,’ The Hill, 2 November.


Article supplied with thanks to Michael McQueen.

About the Author: Michael is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

Feature image: Photo by Marcus Loke on Unsplash 

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