Her composure, the pleasant lilt in her voice and her ambitious yet grounded perspective could lead one to assume that Amy Smilovic, the founder and designer of Tibi, has it all figured out. She might.
Tibi is a contemporary line of beautifully wearable clothes founded by a quintessentially modern woman. With 2017 marking the company’s 20th anniversary, we spoke with Smilovic about self-invention, reinvention and entrepreneurism.
Can you tell me a bit about the genesis of Tibi and your transformation to a fashion designer?
The company is just one and a half years away from its 20th anniversary—it began in Hong Kong in 1997. I had been in business before that, working for both Ogilvy and American Express. When I moved to Hong Kong I wanted to do my own thing. It was a really exciting time in Hong Kong, right at the handover from the British to the Chinese. There was this really entrepreneurial spirit.
In Hong Kong I found two Chinese men, Ben and Ivan, who were very young and entrepreneurial. They were game to do this with me. At the time I didn’t realize how special it was. I was the only contemporary brand producing in Asia. Theory, Rebecca Taylor and others were producing in the U.S. But to have all the resources in China, in Asia, the print designers and production houses there, was exciting.
I’d always loved, loved, loved clothing. And I always wanted my own business. My father and grandfather were artists. I was always creative and wanted to be artistic. That’s why I went into marketing; I wanted to be creative but fell into accounts. It was a great place to learn business, how companies run, how to crunch numbers, how to execute.
In college, I minored in art. Everyone always asks, “How do you do this without a design degree?” But I always wonder—how do people run a fashion label without a business background?