Jeff Woodrow

BA '02 Fine Arts

Woodrow creates a global community

Jeff Woodrow.Jeff’s story is unique. I say unique because it is something we all think about, but never get the nerve to do. Except in this case, Jeff did it. He quit his job and pursued his dream. That simple; that complex.

From his passion for T-shirt design and social change, he went on to create the Joy T-shirt project. It is an online T-shirt company that features hundreds of hand-drawn portraits of people from all over the world.

Participants select a face of someone they don’t know. Each shirt features a face printed over the heart, and comes with a little bio telling you about that person. You wear someone you don’t know and then someone on the other side of the world wears you, thus creating a global network of people wearing one another on their hearts.

Since starting the Joy T-shirt project a year and a half ago, it has grown from 12 faces to over 300 – with 60 drawings still to do! The Arts Alumni Office caught up with Jeff at his studio in Toronto between designs…

Why did you choose Waterloo and what are some of your fondest memories?

My decision was really made for me on my tour of campus. I’m originally from Bradford, which is a small farming town, so in coming to Waterloo, it seemed like my whole world was opening up. It was a pleasant experience for me. I was interested in design and animation, and when I toured the fine arts department and learned that they were going to be introducing a 3D animation course, I really liked the direction they were headed. I also liked the tour of residence of St. Jerome’s. It felt welcoming and gave me a sense of community - not to mention the plateful of burritos they served!

I remember the fine arts department being a very inspirational, creative space. I enjoyed being surrounded by other artists. It wasn’t hard to find the motivation to do your work; it was never a burden. I also enjoyed the city of Waterloo and going downtown. I remember in fourth year going to the Princess Theatre, and seeing a variety of concerts and shows.  Campus recreation was also a big part of my life, playing volleyball and basketball with the guys on my floor who also played sports. In fact, I just met up with them last week! 

Tell us about the day you decided to leave the security of your job to start your own company, Joy Apparel?

I was working at a trendy animation studio in Toronto, creating 2D animations, commercials, and music videos. I was grinding out the work and all of my creative energy was going into someone else’s project.  It wasn’t fulfilling, and I needed a change. I wanted something that helps make the world a better place. I’m young and creative and just didn’t feel like I was supposed to be there, so I decided to leave. 

Tell us about Joy Apparel and how your degree helped you in your career?

The drawings and style of faces that I created for the animation in my fourth-year fine arts project are very similar to the work that I do today.  In fact, one of the faces in that animation is available on the t-shirts today. Overall, it seems like all the different paths I have taken have led me to this place. I’ve always been fascinated by people's stories, culture and traditions. I believe education is important, but experience is important too. 

Joy Apparel is my passion. I believe if you are passionate about what you’re doing then it must be right. It’s about social change and progress, it’s about art, people’s stories and how we are all connected. There are many issues facing the world today, so we all need to work together.  Everyone is the same and everyone is equal. Wear somebody on a t-shirt and think about that person.

University of Waterloo

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