November 9, 2023

Claim of Digital Whitewashing Sparks Legal Drama In The Fashion World

Shereen Wu

Taiwanese American model Sheeren Wu has alleged that a fashion designer uploaded an AI-altered image of her to make her appear white.

What Happened?

Wu took to TikTok to explain the incident as Michael Costello, a designer who has worked with Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez, and Celine Dion, posted a photo of her to his Instagram.

The image was from a recent LA fashion show, where she states she walked for Costello.

However, Wu explained that although it was the black ballgown she walked the runway in, her face had been changed to a white woman.

Wu, a 21-year-old independent model, added that she did not get paid for the show, which took place during Art Hearts at LA Fashion Week.

However, she explained that not getting paid isn’t the issue as long as her face gets out there.

“I expected to be paid in exposure,” said Wu in her TikTok video.

“But I didn’t get exposure because this is an edited photo.”

According to The Guardian, in a deleted statement posted to Instagram, Costello denied altering the photo and said the image was fan art sent to him by an unspecified source, but he took responsibility for sharing it.

“I didn’t think before resharing it on my Instagram Stories as I was on an emotional rollercoaster, resharing all that I was tagged in,” the statement read.

In the now-deleted Instagram post, Costello said, in light of the false allegations presented in Wu’s videos, his brand was “moving forward with legal proceedings.”

According to his post, he did not produce the show and only knew that Wu was not compensated for her time until he saw her TikTok.

“After finding out through her videos that she wasn’t paid, I offered Shereen compensation for her time and talents,” Costello wrote.

AI and Models

Recently, co-founder of Flair AI, Mickey Friedman, announced the company would generate thousands of composable humans in various poses to sell the target company’s beauty products.

Friedman said they are helping to “speak to the audience’s diversity and reflect the target market.”

The announcement sparked mixed reactions from audiences, with one LinkedIn User commenting, “Pondering on the ethics of this: using images from real, diverse, human model to train AI. To allow a business to APPEAR to support diversity, without genuinely doing so.”

Susan Scafifi, academic director of Fordham’s Fashion Law Institute, said this evolution is part of changing a real model’s ethnicity with AI.

“The modified image of Shereen spotlights the possibility that an AI program that has absorbed mainstream beauty preferences may erase the race of a model altogether, turning back the clock on the fashion industry’s progress toward diversity on the runway,” Scafidi said.

Feature Image Credit: India.Com

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.