Vogue CS in English
Why wearing Tibi makes you feel your best
Denisa Palsha30. 10. 2019
One of the most-attended fashion shows each NYFW is Tibi. What lies beneath the label, sought after by accomplished, modern women? Chic feminine clothing with a new innovative twist each collection, paired with high functionality and versatility. Wearing Tibi makes women feel empowered and taking a peek behind the scenes reveals a powerful success story.
The tale of a New York advertising executive (from a small island off the coast of Georgia) who pursued her dream of becoming a designer during the peak of her business career without a design degree. No wonder her colleague, a Wall Street executive (from Liberec, Czech Republic) couldn’t resist her charm. After the two married, it was just a matter of time before their partnership also became official professionally, and he became CEO of the company. Talk about an inspiring couple! Amy and Frank Smilovic are the dynamite duo behind Tibi’s success, fueled by Amy’s creative direction and Frank’s business “know-how.”
After fashion month, I sat down with them in their state-of-the-art design studio to talk about the Tibi story, the Spring/Summer 2020 collection, and to celebrate their resort line that just launched this month.
Amy, what made you start a brand and switch industries?
Was there a ‘creative bulb’ moment?Indeed! I used to go to this woman’s studio in New York. Her concept was to produce six styles of clothing. One could choose any fabric, and she would make a selected style for you. I thought, from a business perspective, what a good idea. But the styles were average and the fabric was not great. I was always entrepreneurial, and I felt this was what I wanted to do. When my husband received an offer to move to Hong Kong, I knew it was the right moment.
So you started in China, on your own?
On the first day! I was ready. On the day we moved (in 1997), I found someone who made four styles for me. I found a supplier in Hong Kong, bought fabrics, and we started. Then within a few days, I had built a collection. I also met another American woman, who told me she found boutiques with great fabrics that I may like. We started to work together. We flew to Indonesia and had fabrics made. Her grandmother’s name was Tibi. I had so much fun with the creative process, designing our own fabrics, doing everything from scratch! We took off. From there it was a lot of learning and hard work. But when I moved back to the US (in 2000), I already had a fully functioning business and a brand selling in many countries around the world, including the US. I am grateful for the experience. I learned so many lessons in China. I was doing everything myself! When I moved to the US, I had only 2 employees, yet we were making a great profit. So, I grew the team.
You don’t hear a story like this every day! What do you think made your transition to fashion and design so successful?
I know what I am good at. What is that?Having a strong point of view, being very clear, communicating, and galvanizing other people around me, to get behind me. In having a brand, it is very important that you communicate a clear message.
Frank, what do you think was a key to Amy’s success?
Amy has artistic genes, her father was an artist. But when I met her, she was already a great salesperson with a marketing background. Coming from business, she had an appreciation that you can’t just design creative stuff that doesn’t sell, which I think is really important.
I love that while everyone tries to get bigger, you were able to downsize the company in recent years, and maintain more of a family feel to it.
Yes, I think that each year (that we have been doing it), I feel more comfortable with my life. I don’t need to hit the number and feel good about it, I can go on vacation but I don’t need to buy an island. I put a lot of value on independence. And creativity at Tibi comes first. I work with artists and many want to work with us because they have a lot of creative freedom here. So, by making the company smaller, I feel we are more creative than we have ever been. This inspires me. And the fact that we have so much freedom makes life great!
Let’s talk about the collection. Who is a Tibi girl?
At Tibi, we like innovation. Our collection is designed and meant to be worn to make women feel modern and to push themselves into trying something new! Because for me, when I push myself – wearing a new shape or something with new details - it makes me feel alive! We have our chunky knits, easy dresses and power suits - all with new elements.
What are some of your new pieces this season?
In our Spring/Summer 2020 collection we have a new silhouette of pants with pleating on the bottom that gives a rounded shape. Our excessively padded shoulders create a special shoulder shape. Also, on a skinny sweater, we cut the back out which makes it newer. We have a few new cut-out styles in the collection. The resort collection, which we just launched, is all about femininity, “ladylike-ness”.
What’s important to you in any collection?
I have a busy lifestyle, as do my friends. They are running businesses, living full lives. So, what I want in clothing is a lot of functionality. People need clothes for the everyday a lot more; they end up getting average clothing for functional life, only having a few special pieces of clothing for evening life. I want to do great clothing for everyday life, and I want it to be versatile, also for evening life. For example, our style of pants in the latest collection can be worn with flat sandals and a Coca-Cola T shirt on the weekend, or you can take a great blouse, pair it with high heels and go to a special event. You can wear it all year round. It’s seasonless, as is our skirt with a high boot and a maxi sweater. I want comfortable, relaxed clothing.
Tell me about your creative process?
We work with many artists and collaborate with contributing designers. I am in charge of setting the color palate and tone for each collection. We then use color to speak with each other, and we try to understand how we want to feel. We start designing from there. And I always set new, innovative elements.
How do you make sure that you got it right?
We create four collections a year (Spring/Summer, Resort, Pre-Fall and Fall/Winter) and for us it is important to have a constant ongoing dialogue with our audience through social media, to keep showing people what we made and to continue hearing from them. Even my own Instagram channel has been a great place for me to be very clear about my point of view.
You have been on the market for over two decades. What changes in fashion have influenced you the most as a brand?
The biggest evolution for us was the impact of social media. Before the social media era, it was hard to get your story out. Then all of a sudden we start having Leandra (Medine), who is an extremely smart business person and mom, as well as other social medial stars who are the “real deal” in the industry, wear our clothing, talk about it and get the message out! So, all of a sudden with these “real women” wearing Tibi and speaking about what they chose and why, it was a game changer. I started to listen to them and have them come to speak to us. Through this exchange I realized we have different needs and different customers. It was clear to me that I was going to start with these women who have a common mindset of beauty, functionality, modernity and effortlessness, and I will focus on them.
Did influencers change what you do?
They didn’t change it. But I love to see how they wear it. It’s an important checkpoint when you see Linda Tol rocking your pieces. They come in all ages, and I run through them mentally asking myself, could I see Linda wearing this, and how would Pernille Teisbaek wear that. And it’s nice to see that you have a tribe of women and men that love your clothing so much.
You make shoes and handbags as well…
On the shoes side, I am very involved. My designer is in Paris and we produce in Italy. We are in constant conversation, sketching, communicating back and forth. She comes to New York and I go to Paris a few times a year. Apropos, every time I am in Paris, I would also have a drink, or coffee with my key influencers, to bounce off ideas. That’s what I love about fashion, there is no other industry where women from all different countries come together like this.
Frank, your price point is affordable…
It’s certainly a challenge to get the right balance between quality and price. But we always make sure that while our quality stays high, the clothing is accessible.
Where are you taking the Tibi brand next?
There is a saying “you can never stay where you are” or “a shark has to swim forward, otherwise it will sink and die.” I was focused on growth in the past… and now I think there is a way in the current world to stay “as is.” If I can keep creating great stuff and love what I do, that’s what life is about and I am happy!
A shark has to swim forward, otherwise it will sink and die.