With only a small collection of printed dresses, Amy Smilovic launched a brand named Tibi in 1997. Today, the label is one of the biggest in the contemporary market, bringing in more than $20 million in sales annually. We caught Amy during a rare quiet moment to discuss how she got her start, the secrets to her success, and how Tibi is different from Chanel.
THL: For the many young women interested in getting into fashion—-how did you get your start? What was your first big “break?”
AS: It was really when we got in to the Coterie shows. At that time, the line consisted of just a few printed dresses with an Indonesian vibe. Jeannine Braden from Fred Segal stopped by my booth and said she’d buy the line if I expanded and did some skirts. So I went back to Hong Kong where I was living and [created a few] bias cut skirts. I literally put one on and walked into Scoop in NYC and waited until a salesgirl commented on it. I told her it was my design and then Stephanie Greenfield [Scoop co-founder and creative director] came out and I was able to say, “Jeannine Braden put in an order for these” and then I was selling at Scoop. You really have to take advantage when you are in that moment.
THL: You started Tibi way back in 1997 and since then, the fashion world has changed drastically. What’s your secret for continued success?
AA: When you are hitting your stride, the key is to not lose your identity without seeming repetitive. You have to push yourself constantly to try new things and stay fresh while remaining focused. It’s really difficult. Trusting your own instincts is important. That took me a long time to feel comfortable doing.
THL: Would you ever design a low-priced line with a mass retailer like Target or H&M?
AS: I can’t say I’m really interested right now. I think it just confuses the brand. There is so much room for growth in the range we are in.
THL: Whose style do you love, and why?
AS: The women who try new things and are not interested in playing it safe or dressing in an overly sexy way. Dree Hemingway, Kate Bosworth, Alexa Chung. I always know when I see their outfits that even if I don’t like the looks, I will still find them interesting.
THL: What labels (aside from Tibi, obviously) do you swear by?
AS: I tend to wear things that are very clean and minimal because its not what we [Tibi] are known for — fillers for what my own brand does not offer. I love Vanessa Bruno, Stella McCartney, Celine, Chloe, Margiela. I wear other designers all the time; I’m always mixing it up.
THL: What’s next for Tibi?
AS: I’m focused on the higher end. Online, with social networking and blogging, presents a tremendous amount of opportunity that we’ve only begun tapping into. For a brand that doesn’t have a ton of money (unlike Chanel, which can stage a show on the Great Wall of China) going in the “back door” through alternative online media can be very beneficial. The Middle East is also a huge focus for us — we do really well there. Truly, if I can keep producing great stuff that I and lots of people want to wear, I will be really happy.
[Photo via the Tibi Facebook page]