Twenty-seven years ago, Amy Smilovic and her husband launched Tibi in Hong Kong. Though it was a struggle to get there, the currently NYC-based brand looks much different today. For starters, it’s largely void of prints. And the brand’s direct sales now make up a majority of the business.
On this New York Fashion Week edition of the Glossy Podcast, founder and creative director Amy Smilovic discusses her brand’s evolution, including its new, pandemic-driven approach to independence. She also discusses her signature “creative pragmatist” style, her thought process when choosing retail partners and her reason for ditching the runway show for fall 2024. Highlights from the conversation, below, have been lightly edited for clarity.
Moving to a business-life plan
“Covid forced me to think about a business plan in a totally different way. If you think about writing a business plan, you [typically] have one plan that’s like, ‘Oh, we want to achieve $200 million in sales, we want 30 stores’ — whatever it is. And then people separately tend to write a life plan: ‘I want to be really healthy, I want to have a great relationship with my spouse’ — that kind of stuff. And Covid just made it so clear that there was no bifurcation of business and my life. My life was my business, so I should be loving what I’m doing. And so my husband and I sat down and we were like, ‘What do we really want in life?’ And we decided that we really like independence — that it is so critical that we show up every day in a world where we are making our own decisions that we will either live or die by. We decided that we want to enjoy our life, and enjoying our life means that if we’re traveling, we’re going to good places. And if we’re traveling with our team, it means that we’re eating in good places. It doesn’t mean that I’m eating in some kind of shithole to save money while I’m with the team and then I’m eating nice later on. I just want to enjoy all the moments of my life. So it meant releasing ourselves of scrimping and saving on T&E and everything, when I’m the one out doing the T&E and I want to enjoy my life.”
Establishing a team that supports an independent business
“We’re [now] very forthright about making sure that the people we surround ourselves with are people who share our mindset, and that they are good people who assume positive intent and are rabidly curious and competitive with themselves, first and foremost. And that means that they have a work ethic that is through the roof, but that that work ethic is because they would accept no less for themselves. … We certainly realized that to be a $100 million brand would unravel [our new direction]. If we had more than 50 employees, there’s no way I could know all their names and enjoy being around them and not do it without outside investors, for instance.”
Retail relationships that work
“What’s challenging me now is anything that’s not in my control. And we’re seeing a lot of these bigger online retailers really trying to figure out what their future looks like. And every day, I’m so grateful that we are not working with any of the department stores in the United States. I think they’ve been a victim to a lot of things — a lot of it’s self-inflicted. But with these bigger online retailers, there seems to be a reckoning coming. Some of them we do business with, and I hope that they can figure out what the right business model is for them going forward. … What makes for a comfortable partner is a store that has a point of view and where the store owner is heavily invested in their business. Someone like Max in Denver, Colorado. Max absolutely knows who his customer is. He has a point of view and he is in the store all the time. He knows what product he has. When he is buying designs, he’s thinking, ‘Is this Tibi gonna work with the Loewe shoe that I just bought? Can I put it next to this Row sweater?’ He’s building a wardrobe in his mind. You have to be present. These stores cannot just dial this in. … But it’s a two-way street. If we’re not performing for him, the onus is upon us — I have to get on Instagram. I have to really start telling people: ‘You’ve gotta go to Max, and this is why, and this is what he has.’ It’s a very symbiotic relationship. And we’re down for that. But you have to be a store that is willing to be a receiving host, in order to have a symbiotic relationship.”
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