Natural Woman

NOV 16, 2017

In an exclusive interview for LANDMARK, Tibi founder Amy Smilovic talks about what it takes to create real fashion for real women.

“Our woman is busy and equates looking good with feeling good,” says Amy Smilovic, founder and creative director of advanced contemporary womenwear brand Tibi. “When she puts together the right look she feels more confident, more in control and better about herself.”

That mission statement applies equally to Smilovic herself. With Tibi now celebrating its 20th anniversary, the US-born entrepreneur embodies the brand’s DNA, which she defines as “clean, cool, relaxed and feminine.”

While other fashion houses offer their clients designs that are often lust-worthy, not all of them work in the real world. Smilovic, on the other hand, designs for herself. That concept has earned the brand a reputation for creating clothing that suits women’s real lives.

And that, in turn, has set Tibi on course to generating sales of more than US$60 million this year at worldwide shops including Harvey Nichols at LANDMARK.

When Smilovic founded Tibi in Hong Kong in 1997, her business plan was based on taking advantage of fashion trends. Her first collection, a small line of printed silk scarf skirts dresses, was quickly sold to major department stores in the US. It soon developed into a major collection sold around the world.

That business model, a contemporary dress collection based on prints, worked for a decade, until the rise of fast fashion. By 2010, Smilovic could no longer compete. "I realised the fast fashion brands of the world were going to always be doing that contemporary world cheaper, faster, better," she says.

Worse still, Smilovic’s personal identification with the company had been lost. “I didn’t wear the clothing. I wasn’t passionate about it. The business was increasingly driven by what the clients wanted, not what I wanted,” she says.

To save the company, and her self-respect, Smilovic had to unlock her imagination, redesigning the company’s focus to reflect “who I am and what I want it to be”. These days she designs for herself – “my young self, my middle-aged self, my mum self, my wife self, my business self. I think I’ve got enough multiple personalities to make solid collections year after year”.

Tibi’s latest collections are a fitting tribute to the brand's rebirth, featuring a playful palette of lavender, mustard, butter, and soft blue in mix and match styles that can be worn with cool confidence for a range of occasions, from business meetings and cocktail parties to the street. Masculine-styled velvet blazers pair perfectly with skinny pants for the office, while plissé midi-dresses are models of sophisticated femininity. Sportier pieces, such as the oversized lambskin Moto Jacket matched with raw denim Trish jeans epitomise Silicon Valley chic.

Looking ahead to the next 20 years, Smilovic insists that bigger is not necessarily better. “I have a team of 85 people; I don’t aspire to have 150. I would like 85 people who are financially secure, enjoying their life and making beautiful things for those who appreciate them. We do not have to be everything to everyone,” she says.

Explore Tibi’s Autumn/Winter 2017 and Spring/Summer 2018 collections at 3/F, Harvey Nichols LANDMARK

If Amy Smilovic’s inspirational story has unlocked your imagination, share your wisdom on anything from life and fashion to personal growth here.