Couturing recently looked at New York label Tibi which has been making waves in the fashion world since its creation in 1997. With a following that includes Olivia Palermo, Blake Lively, Elin Kling and Taylor Swift, just to name a few, Tibi is one of the hottest labels going round. Couturing interviewed talented Tibi designer Amy Smilovic to learn more about how she took her label from her apartment in Hong Kong, to stocking in over 200 stores around the world.
1. Since starting Tibi with your husband in 1997, the label has grown exponentially and is stocked in over 200 stores around the world. What have been some of the most memorable highlights and achievements you’ve had since creating Tibi?
I actually started Tibi with a partner, who is no longer involved. Frank joined the team two years later as President. Since the beginning of Tibi we have grown so much, made some mistakes but (I like to think) recovered quickly and learned from them. I’m thankful every day for the success and hard work of the whole team.
Without a doubt the most memorable moment in my career was my first fashion show for NYFW. Nothing can beat that rush, and the first was my most exciting. Seeing six months or more of hard work on the runway goes by incredibly quickly and is short but so sweet.
2. Before starting Tibi, you worked at American Express and Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. How has this past work experiences helped you in running your label?
The business knowledge I gained working for American Express and Ogilvy & Mather has proved invaluable. I started working out of my apartment in Hong Kong, making just a few styles and selling them one by one. When an order came in from Saks Fifth Avenue, the business took off and it was prior experience that gave me the foresight and enough knowledge to work through the production of garments with factories in Asia. Also, working in advertising helped me to realize and solidify the idea that my ideal career would encompass aspects of both artistry and business-which Tibi definitely does.
3. What have been some of the greatest challenges you’ve faced design wise and business wise since starting Tibi?
Tibi has been going through some major rebranding and repositioning for the past few seasons. We’re moving towards a more downtown and sophisticated look, focusing on sportswear silhouettes and luxe fabrics. The new aesthetic is truly a reflection of my own personal style, something I had previously put on the back burner (at least as it related to Tibi.) Especially at the beginning, I took great care to listen to the opinions of retailers, which is a huge part of our success; on the other hand, you have to put your own ideas first. I’m learning so much from our ecommerce sales, something we launched over a year ago. It’s fascinating to gather so much information about your customers-what they like, what they respond to from a marketing perspective, etc. It’s been a major point of validation for our new direction.
4. Tibi has become known for its unique prints as well as its bright colours and beautiful silhouettes. What else makes Tibi different from other labels in the market?
As we move the focus away from our prints, we’re focusing on offering special pieces in luxe fabrics with high-quality construction at the contemporary price point. The popularity of fast fashion has made the entire industry re-think pricing and design strategy. Consumers can find trendy pieces at extremely low prices, so it’s our goal to make sure what they’re getting from us isn’t possible at the lower price point. Whether it’s construction that allows a piece to be worn multiple ways, or a simple but high-quality leather skirt, we make pieces that are special.
5. You recently collaborated with Swedish blogger Elin Kling for your Spring 2012 runway and advertising campaign featuring Julia Sarr-Jamois, You also collaborated with Del Toro to release some unique loafers! Why do you think collaborations are so important in the fashion industry and who would you love to collaborate with?
The partnership with Elin Kling and Julia Sarr-Jamois made sense because we’re rebranding and their personal style really speaks to the new direction of Tibi, which is a major focus for us right now. Collaborations with other brands like those we’ve done with Del Toro and Bobbi Brown increase awareness among potential customers that we might not reach on our own. Another reason we’ve collaborated with people or brands is creative energy. For me, I love working with someone who can bring new ideas to the table. For example-Elin and I so often are on exactly the same page about styling, but once in a while she’ll put together something I wouldn’t have thought of and completely love.
6. You used leather for the first time in your Pre-Fall 2010 collection and are constantly developing new and interesting prints such as the beautiful Rococo print in your Fall 2011 collection. How do you ensure that you keep developing as a designer and that your collections always bring something new, whilst still maintaining the Tibi design aesthetic?
We really push ourselves to discover what feels new and fresh, it could be a color, fabric, silhouette and the inspiration behind it could come from travel, film, art, really anywhere. The design team and I collaborate and take great care deciding what will be our focus for each upcoming season. Recently we’ve added new fabrics (such as leather) and for Spring we’re trying different shapes and bodies, more separates that we’ve ever done before. We make the runway collections about the vision and then round out the offering and aesthetic with commercial pieces.
7. You’ve listed Stella McCartney, Celine, Vanessa Bruno and Margiela as some of your favourite designers. How do they inspire you from a design and career perspective?
Stella, Celine, Vanessa and Margiela are designers that I wear on a regular basis, and so much of the time when designing for Tibi I’m thinking of what I would want to wear and how I can put my own little twist on it. In the case of both Stella McCartney and Phoebe Philo for Celine I also identify with them as designers and mothers, as I have to balance those two very different roles every day.
8. Tibi has a blog, active Facebook page and Twitter. How important is it in this day and age to harness the power of social media to help your brand?
Social media has been a key concentration for the past two years, and it’s only growing. Social media allows us to start a conversation with our customers. In the case of customer service for example, we’ve had many online shoppers reach out to us about where they can purchase a certain item, or how they can reach out to our returns department. I think it personalizes the shopping experience and we also get honest and immediate feedback about our online efforts.
9. You work with local artists such as Aaron Wexler to create interesting installations for your store. How do you use the interior of your store to reflect the Tibi design philosophy?
The Soho store is our flagship and the only store outside of Tokyo. With boutiques and department stores, we do our best to convey to Tibi message within the confines of the space, but at the flagship you can see the collection as a whole, merchandised as intended and housed in an interior that reflects the brand’s philosophy. The interior is clean and minimal with lots of architectural detail, all key words for our new direction.
10. What exciting things can Tibi lovers expect from the brand over the coming seasons?
We’ve dabbled in interiors in the past, with custom rugs and wall paper. It’s a personal hobby of mine and something that I think could tie in well with the ready-to-wear line. We also already have a full collection of shoes, and it’s an area of continued growth for us.
Other goals for the coming years are a West Coast store, continued expansion overseas (especially in China) and increasing sales on our website. Our 15th anniversary will be this Spring, so I truly cannot wait to see what the next 15 years will bring.
Thanks to Amy and the Tibi team for telling us about this dynamic label. Make sure you check out the new season Tibi collection and Tibi blog at http://tibi.com.