Model Shereen Wu Controversy Sheds Light on AI’s Role in Fashion

With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and digital manipulation, it’s becoming increasingly clear that this new frontier has its ethical challenges. A recent incident involving Taiwanese American model Shereen Wu and designer Michael Costello highlights the complex issues surrounding AI, race, and ethics in the fashion world.

Shereen Wu, a 21-year-old independent model, recently found herself at the center of a social media storm when she discovered that a photo from a runway show she had walked for Michael Costello had been digitally altered. In the photo, Wu’s face had been changed to make her appear as a white woman. The incident unfolded on TikTok, where Wu’s video addressing the matter garnered 1.8 million views within a week.

In response to the allegations, Michael Costello initially denied altering the photo, claiming it was “fan art” sent to him by an unspecified source. He admitted to sharing it without much thought but deleted the statement less than 24 hours later. Costello’s subsequent Instagram post contradicted some aspects of Wu’s story, such as her not being compensated for her time. He also mentioned receiving death threats and explained that the show was a tribute to his recently deceased aunt.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this controversy is the role of AI in altering the runway photo. Wu believes that someone, potentially using AI, created the white face that covered hers. Costello echoed this theory in his Instagram post. While the origin of the altered photo remains unknown, it raises concerns about how AI can perpetuate racial biases in the fashion industry.

The controversy surrounding Shereen Wu’s altered photo underscores the fashion industry’s challenges in adopting AI technology. AI has the potential to perpetuate racist and sexist stereotypes, as seen in other industries. For instance, the decision by Levi’s to use computer-generated models on its website drew criticism from those who argued that hiring human models would be a more inclusive choice.

For Shereen Wu, the incident was not just a matter of altered imagery but a violation of her identity and creativity. She described it as “dehumanizing” and “terrifying” to have her work twisted into something unrecognizable.

Wu’s experience has not been an isolated incident. Models have faced image manipulation and misuse issues for years, a problem that the Model Alliance, an advocacy group for fashion workers, has been addressing.