Viral fashion company Selkie is being slammed for using AI art


Viral clothing brand Selkie is under fire for using AI art in its new clothing collection. For a company that built its reputation on ethical manufacturing and imaginative design, turning to machine-generated art isn’t a great look.

This week Selkie revealed its 2024 Valentine’s Day collection “Home Is Where the Heart Is,” showing off a few of the new pieces in an Instagram post. Unfortunately, fans quickly realised something was amiss. Selkie’s new collection includes several illustrations of animals, which are used on sweaters as well as a repeated patterns on dresses. However, keen-eyed observers noticed that one of the pictures featured a puppy with more toes than is typical of a dog.

When questioned, Selkie confirmed that founder Kimberley Gordon created the images in its Valentine’s Day collection using “vintage art, AI, and computer painting,” which was also confirmed by its website’s product listings. Though Selkie acknowledged that the technology is “controversial,” the company stated that Gordon “loves the future of ai” and “believes it is something awesome to experiment with and an incredible tool for students, graphic designers, artists small businesses and alike!”

This statement went down like a lead balloon. Disappointed fans overwhelmingly derided Selkie’s use of generative AI, lambasting the company for turning to ethically dubious technology rather than commissioning real human artists — especially when it sells its polyester dresses for hundreds of dollars. 

“If you have indeed done the research you claim to have on AI, then you also understand that it’s a technology that requires the theft and exploitation of workers to function,” artist Lauryn Ipsum wrote in the post’s most liked comment. “Is theft and exploitation something you want attached to your brand?”

Selkie has since limited comments on its Valentine’s Day Instagram posts. Nevertheless, criticism about its use of AI continues to pour in from all sides, dominating conversations about the brand on Facebook, Twitter/X, and TikTok as well.

The revelation of Selkie’s generative AI use appears to have significantly damaged its carefully curated fairytale fantasy image. Many people noted that while they were initially drawn to Selkie due to its ethical reputation, they no longer felt comfortable buying from the brand in light of its AI use. Even aside from such concerns, several commenters considered that Selkie’s use of generative AI has cheapened its brand.

Yet despite the overwhelmingly negative reaction, Selkie has stood by its decision to use AI, stating that Gordon is an artist who has “utilized many different techniques in Selkie designs over the years.”

“As an artist who enjoys technology, and seeing AI already being used by other brands in different ways, it felt important to learn this new medium and how it may or may not work for Selkie as a brand, and herself as an artist,” Selkie wrote in an Instagram comment on their original post.

“Though the conversation around AI is constantly evolving — even from when this collection was designed a year ago, this is part of discovery, growth, and making sure that if this is the future of fashion, Selkie is ahead of the curve, not behind it. We are eager to see how this collection is received, and we will utilize customer feedback from this collection in determining how we may or may not utilize AI in the future.”

If Selkie does indeed take on feedback, we can hope we won’t see any more AI-generated design elements from the brand going forward. Even so, customers have expressed misgivings about trusting Selkie in the future.

Three sweaters from Selkie's 2024 Valentine's Day collection. Each features a print of either cats or dogs, created using "a mix of digital hand painting, AI technology, and vintage art."

Credit: Selkie

This distrust hasn’t been alleviated by Gordon’s reported defence of Selkie’s AI use in several since-deleted comments from her personal Instagram account. While Selkie’s founder appeared to acknowledge that generative AI is commonly built on stolen art, she stated that she didn’t think using the technology was unjust, and attempted to justify it by stating that her own work has also been stolen in the past.

“There are a few reasons I stand behind it, the first being that I am a woman with a small business and the AI train is not going to stop because I’m not on it,” Gordon allegedly wrote in screenshots shared on social media. “It is only going to grow and I think it’s smart to move with the future and technology. The second reason is because AI uses billions of images to create an image, my own art is included in that! I’ve been making art public and having it stolen for 15 years and I have to overcome that. As a woman artist utilizing this tool in its own way is my rebellion against AI. I use it because it’s mine, and it is yours, too.”

It isn’t clear exactly which AI model Selkie used to generate its images. Mashable has reached out to Selkie for comment.

“We all use phones mined with cobalt by children, we pick and choose our justices in this crazy world,” Gordon purportedly further stated. She did not appear to address the fact that it is much more feasible to ethically source a painting of puppies than it is to ethically source a smartphone, or that one is far more vital for basic functioning in modern society than the other.

Selkie’s puff dress went viral a few years ago, selling the magical escapist daydream many of us were craving at the time. Sadly, all dreams end, and in this case it seems like a pretty rude awakening.

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