FashionTech Toronto, Winter 2019

Have you heard about FashionTech Toronto yet? Recently, I had the pleasure of attending one of the platform’s events at the Design Exhange in the heart of downtown. Although I had no expectations prior to the event, I certainly left with the bar set high. FashionTech TO has been one of my favourite events to date.

Ashley Barby, Founder of FashionTech TO & COO of Specsy

Ashley Barby giving the closing remarks at January’s event.
Monica Sokolowski, Finance & Logistics at Specsy, explaining the mechanics of 3-D printing eyewear.

After searching for Canada’s answer to a network for the fashion-technology crowd, founder Ashley Barby came to the unfortunate-but-true realization that many Canadians in creative fields do: it doesn’t exist yet. So, armed with the knowledge that Canada is becoming a powerful player in this rapidly emerging field, she decided to create her own.

Enter FashionTech Toronto.

Ms. Barby is no stranger to either of these industries. Having previously worked for brands like Holt Renfrew, she has since slid over to the more technological side of fashion as acting COO of Specsy, an eyewear company specializing in 3-D custom printing. As a veteran of both, finding a space for people to share new technologies, and their application in the fashion and retail space, was paramount.

Toronto’s Growing Fashion-Tech Scene

Christine Carlton, CEO & Founder of The September.

The events typically feature a speaker series followed by startup demos, and finish with a networking component. One thing that I immediately noticed was how engaged the crowd was – and just how many people were there. Clearly, Ms. Barby wasn’t the only one looking for a fashion-tech space.

In the image above, you can see speaker Christine Carlton delivering a talk on the impact of e-commerce on the fashion world. Her company, The September, retails women’s designer shoes and has been growing at an expansive rate since its launch in 2013. Thanks to the internet, she is able to run her business with minimal inventory, and with an ability to hyper-focus on the customer service aspect of the brand – an element that has led to a very loyal customer base.

Smart Glasses By North

Marie Stipancik, Design Strategist at North, hanging out with me in her smart glasses (and amazing pink suit!).
Sporting the North smart glasses during my tutorial.

For my first demo of the evening, I met up with the team from North, a smart eyewear company, previously known as Thalmic Labs. Not unlike Google glasses, with these smart lenses you can check your texts, emails, the weather and even answer a call – all while maintaining a direct (or mostly direct) gaze with whatever or whomever is in front of you.

You simply put on a (albeit, slightly less attractive) ring, complete with a control joystick, add the glasses and start shuffling through what you now see on your right lens of what would typically be on your phone. On top of these abilities, the frames are actually really nice. The team informed me that it took many attempts to reach a viable product that met their high design standards with the functional components of the technology.

The North team, including speaker Marie Stipancik, were great to speak with, and their passion for their product was obvious. If you ever see them at an event, definitely stop by their table!

Google Cloud Computing & Data Mining

Far left: Anoojan Vijayasri, Customer Engineer at Google Cloud and first speaker of the night. Centre: Christine Carlton.

During a chat with the first speaker in the series, Anoojan Vijayasri, a Customer Engineer at Google Cloud, I learned that we, as a society, have collected more information in the past 20 years then over the entirety of our existence. There is so much data being collected that no one is certain of its use as of yet. Or if there even is a use for all of it!

One of the bigger takeaways of Mr. Vijayasri’s talks was about some of the positive affects that can be brought about by the proper application of data mining. Over the past few years, we’ve been inundated by all of the reasons for why data mining is terrible for us, how it affects our privacy and how we are being marketed to. But, being marketed to with data can be better than you might think. Store owners, whether it be in retail or food, can use this data to make smarter purchasing decisions, better visual choices, and more, that ultimately result in less waste, less overstock, and happier customers.

Retail Apps

Learning about Tulip’s retail app from this lovely associate.
Me wishing I’d had this app during my days in retail…

One of the final booths I stopped by was for Tulip, a company that created a mobile app for the retail industry, intended “to empower store workers to elevate service and personalize customer engagement.” It betters the shoppers experience while also increasing sales and is already being used by Saks Fifth Avenue, Tory Burch and Mejuri, to name a few.

This type of app is really starting to pick up in retail, and the Tulip demonstration gave me a much deeper understanding of the emerging trends in this sector.

The Sustainability Angle

From a sustainability aspect, fashion-technology is vital. Some of the examples from this event are proof of that: that with technology, companies can make better decisions which lead to less waste, smarter use of energy sources, and creates (hopefully) less but better quality items. It’s an industry that provides solutions where there are few, and thankfully, its innovations are increasing at rapid pace.

So, if you’re in Toronto for the next quarterly event and have an interest in either fashion or tech – or both! – I would highly recommend you check it out. To learn more about FashionTech Toronto or to find out about their next event, check here.

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