Photo courtesy of Ashley Barby


Toronto’s Ashley Barby On Founding FashionTech, Merging Industries, And How She Does It All

Being young and trying to make your way into the fashion industry can be tough. We’ve been there. So, on Wednesday, January 22, we’re partnering with Ryerson Fashion Zone and FashionTech Toronto on an event called Fashion Futures. Though tickets are sold out, you can find more details on the event here

Before Fashion Futures takes place, we were lucky enough to spend a few minutes chatting with Ashley Barby, founder and producer of FashionTech Toronto and COO of Specsy. We admire Barby for her leadership, work ethic, and creating the FashionTech community all while completing her MBA at Ryerson University (!!). Here we talk to her about the beginnings of FashionTech, what she believes the future holds for the fashion and tech industries, and so much more.

Photo courtesy of Ashley Barby

SC: How did you become interested in both fashion and tech?

AB: I started my career in fashion with a degree in textiles and clothing, then I landed my first professional job out of university with Holt Renfrew. However, about five years ago I started to take interest in Toronto’s emerging tech sector and the opportunities it represents. This natural interest in fashion and tech startups eventually led me to Specsy, which creates 3D printed custom optical frames and operates at the intersection of fashion and technology.


SC: How did you come up with the idea to create FashionTech Toronto?

AB: About three years ago, I attended a fashion technology conference in New York with Specsy and realized that there was similar emerging fashion technology in Toronto. It was just a matter of creating a place for that community to connect. From there, FashionTech Toronto was born.


SC: What are the main challenges you see facing fashion companies today and how can technology help solve them?

AB: I think fashion and retail companies have struggled to anticipate how technology will change consumer behavior. This has left traditional fashion retailers one step behind when it comes to incorporating new technologies and responding to new shopping habits. I don’t think that incorporating technology for technology’s sake is the answer, but using strategies to assess how specific technologies like machine learning, augmented reality, and 3D printing will change consumer behaviour over the next three to five, to 10 years might be. We need to proactively incorporate these types of technology into business practices today instead of responding down the road.

Photo courtesy of Ashley Barby

SC: What are the key factors of a fashion or beauty start up’s success?

AB: I think the most successful fashion and beauty startups have been able to connect with and listen to their customers directly instead of attempting to dictate trends to them. We’ve seen social media and the internet democratize fashion and beauty over the past decade with the rise of YouTube stars, Instagram influencers and street style photographers. And the most successful companies have been able to tap into this democratized approach and apply it to retail, style, and fashion.


SC: Which three companies do you have your eye on in the fashion/tech space?

AB: That’s a tough one… especially since it’s such a broad and quickly changing industry. But, a few companies with potential to continue scaling at a global level and deliver unique services are Tulip Retail and Sheertex, (both out of Toronto), and Stitch Fix.


SC: You balance a lot. What are some of your productivity hacks?

AB: Luckily, I love organizing. I even try to keep my junk drawer organized! I also rely on a few apps to keep my life organized.  Trello is my go-to for organizing my thoughts, to-do lists and projects. I use OneNote to keep household information streamlined and easily accessible in one place as well. I use the reminders app on my iPhone to schedule daily recurring reminders for every small, mundane task in my life too. Also, I find this helps to clear the cognitive overhead of remembering daily tasks and hopefully, it’ll help me form new habits.

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