Runway Renegade

by Leanne Delap

photography by mike ford

It’s no secret the fashion industry is often perceived as snobby. But the days of a privileged few determining what we all should buy are numbered. 

Or so believes Jodi Goodfellow (BFA ’99), a fashion tech startup innovator who is the founder and executive director of Startup Fashion Week (SFW).

Her Toronto-based platform brings together creative, educational and mentoring opportunities for fashion and tech startups from coast to coast trying to break into the industry. 

“My goal is to disrupt the system,” says Goodfellow. “I only went to Toronto Fashion Week once. It struck me as confusing and impenetrable.” 

Launched in 2014, SFW is a week of conferences, forums and meetups, all culminating in a runway show featuring designers of anything from winter coats to 3D-printed jewelry, maternity wear and bespoke tailoring. In other words, introducing new labels that normally wouldn’t find any traction in a “traditional” fashion week. 

New wave garments like LED dresses, jackets and capes often light up the SFW runway, drawing attention to the growing field of wearable technology. Goodfellow is a big supporter of what she calls the future of fashion. 

Over the past six years, she has helped more than 30 fashion tech startups get exposure, including Tap2Tag, a Canadian company that makes bracelets capable of storing medical information, allowing paramedics, doctors and first responders to easily access patients’ profiles through their smartphones.  

Goodfellow has also thrown her support behind Ashley Chloe, maker of wireless earbuds for women, and, more recently, Inlighten, a new wearable tech startup whose light-emitting fabric can be customized through a smartphone app. 

These techno-fabrics and more will form the focus of SFW’s annual events taking place in Toronto each October and in Montreal in July. 

With the goal of expanding her concept across Canada, Goodfellow is presently planning an inaugural one-day splash scheduled for Vancouver in August. 

Her supporters are as enthusiastic as she is. 

City of Toronto Economic Development Officer Nina Gesa sees the intersection of design and tech as the way of the future and encourages SFW in its efforts to incubate entrepreneurs. She is especially impressed with Goodfellow’s track record of jobs created, attention to diversity and growth in this new space. 

“SFW is now in three major Canadian cities, which is a huge achievement by any measure,” Gesa says. “Breaking into the fashion industry is tough, but Jodi doesn’t let that stop her or her clients – she perseveres and pushes boundaries and has created a valued brand in SFW.”

Given her success, it might be surprising to know that Goodfellow came into fashion technology through the back door. 

For the past 19 years, she has worked as a high-school arts teacher who has used her nights, weekends and indeed every spare second to helping fashion startups make it to the next level. 

“I was learning as I went,” she says, “but my classroom skills translate very well. I’m pretty good at logistics, from running proms, staging art showcases and arts nights.”

And Goodfellow knows the pitfalls of entrepreneurship intimately. Back in 2010, she had her own million-dollar idea, a “Kijiji-like” app called Fashion Forward for selling unused clothes online. 

“I thought it would be easy and I would get rich quick,” she laughs. She didn’t. But she did see the power in networking, and realized her superpower was hosting the events that would help make startup dreams come true for others.

“There’s often a lot of fakeness in the fashion world,” she says, “and often I felt that some people in the industry wanted to see me fail.” Yet she has persevered.

Success, she says, “does not come from five minutes of fame and glory.” It comes from making connections.   ■

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