Toronto Finding its Place as Global Fashion Tech Hub [Feature]

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FashionTech Toronto started when Ashley Barby was looking for a place to connect with other people and companies in Toronto’s fashion technology industry.

Today, as Founder & Producer of the organization, Barby is helping spearhead and facilitate the expansion of the fashion technology industry in Toronto and in Canada.

“Toronto is Canada’s capital of fashion and technology and we’ve also found that the retail in the fashion industry is really suffering and that’s due to technology,” said Barby.

“As the COO of fashion-tech company Specsy, I suspected there were other growing companies in this industry, but I couldn’t find a place to connect with them,” she said.

“I headed to a fashion technology conference in New York to find peers in the space and was pleasantly surprised to find that a large contingent of attendees were also from Toronto.This confirmed my belief that Toronto is quickly emerging as a global leader in the fashion-tech industry. As they say, if you can’t find it, build it, so that’s exactly what I did and FashionTech Toronto was born.”

FashionTech was founded in January 2018.

“As I was going to a lot of different conferences and talking to other people, I started to realize that there are a lot of emerging companies here in Toronto that are starting to address these retail and fashion based problems with tech-based solutions,” explained Barby.

“So I thought that was a very interesting idea. And also being kind of in a fashion tech space, I was interested in connecting with other people in this industry so I started these events as a way to connect with other people in the community, give a little bit of a platform so people can share ideas of best practices and really ultimately promote Toronto as this hub for this tech-based, fashion retail products that are just starting to come onto the market and solve some of these problems that retailers in fashion are experiencing.”

The organization’s core focus is a quarterly speaker series where once a quarter people come together to listen to three or four speakers and a couple of startup demos talk about new product and share what’s coming out in the industry, looking at cutting-edge leading innovation in the space.

“It’s really just learning about these new companies and creating that platform and speaker series,” said Barby.

The next FashionTech event is January 22 from 6 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at the Design Exchange, 234 Bay Street.

“We also are an information platform. We provide information – job listings, news and articles – about what’s happening in this industry. We share it with our community base and ultimately into the future I’d like to see our FashionTech events expand into new markets and for Toronto to fit into this global ecosystem of fashion tech communities and companies,” said Barby.

She said fashion technology is pretty broad but it’s really about the impact of technology on fashion – accessories, manufacturing, design, retail.


Barby has an extensive background in fashion. She worked with Holt Renfrew in Edmonton and then was transferred to Toronto. She ended up in the tech sector and then co-founded Specsy, a tech company that provides a platform to design and manufacture custom frames for glasses.

“Toronto is Canada’s fashion and tech hub. So having those two industries together and having the cross pollination between the employees and the people between those industries makes it a natural fit,” said Barby.

“We’re very much at the beginning phase of fashion retail really embracing technology to improve business processes and to kind of solve some of those problems that we’re seeing retailers experience. As an industry we have a long ways to go in terms of embracing technologies . . . I would like to see FashionTech Toronto eventually evolve into a global enterprise that’s very much the ambassador and the platform for this emerging industry.”

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training.

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