Five Questions With Tibi Founder And Designer Amy Smilovic
By Ellie Zimmerman
For this month’s Fashion Issue, Girl Tribe’s Ellie Zimmerman talks with Tibi founder and designer Amy Smilovic about the fashion industry, her career, her fashion advice and inspirations.
Ellie: What do you think are the most important qualities and skills for a woman designer? What experiences in your life most prepared you for your current career?
Amy: For Qualities and skills in a designer: I think first is a strong work ethic. Because if you know the value of work and you are driven, then that will shape your outcome. There is a saying that most people miss opportunity when it knocks, because it’s dressed in overalls and is disguised as hard work (Thomas Edison- not me).
The experiences that prepared me best were honestly the wide range of jobs I’ve had. From the newspaper route at 11, to the sales clerk, to waitressing, and then to career in advertising and marketing at Ogilvy and Mather and American Express- all of these jobs every day help inform decisions I make at Tibi- whether it’s designing (I understand a broad range of women) or general business decisions (how much to spend on cost of goods [cogs]).
Ellie: Do you have a muse? Who is the Tibi woman that you design for?
Amy: My muse(s) are a compilation of the women that wear Tibi. I’ve gotten to know a lot about our customer and how they want to feel when they get dressed. I think about that a lot when I design. And since I am a mashup of these women in many ways (born in the Midwest; raised in the South; grew up Protestant; worked many jobs throughout high school and college; married someone Jewish; and European; moved to NYC; had a career in business; lived in Asia; settled in Greenwich; am a Mom, work everyday in the City with a very diverse team……) I can relate to a wide variety of people.
Ellie: What other designers do you like? How do you get inspired?
Amy: The other designers/brands I tend to wear are Stella McCartney; Balenciaga ; R13 denim; KITH; JW Anderson; Calvin Klein. I get inspired by getting out- walking around- and literally just seeing what catches my eye.
Ellie: How has the fashion industry changed with the rise of online shopping and influencers vs. traditional magazine editorials? Do you target specific women to dress and be a representative of your brand? What do you find is the most influential exposure for your brand?
Amy: It’s changed dramatically due to online and influencers. One of the biggest changes I see is to the seasonality of the clothes. “Back in the day” you would be looking at fall clothes in the magazines starting in June (with the July issue that was on the shelves mid June). So you were trained to start thinking about your fall wardrobe. That’s where you became informed about what was happening in fashion. Now – nearly 90% of that information comes to you through Instagram. But authenticity is very important with influencers. And it’s July/August. So what are they wearing ? Summer clothes. So right now, the customer – as opposed to just a couple years ago- is still in Summer mindset. It makes sense – but this really upends the status quo.
Do I target specific women? No- the women tend to find us- they wear the brand- the influencers are, by and large, very savvy business women. I do not pay any of them to wear the clothing- but I will say I’ve formed some very close relationships with many of them. I consider them like business colleagues.
The most influential exposure to the brand? For me it still starts with the runway show and then builds from there. The runway show is the way I am able to communicate my vision to the world.
Ellie: What education and work experiences would you recommend to someone who wants to get into the fashion industry?
Amy: I would recommend they do a wide variety of jobs- not too far from what I mentioned- advertising, business, sales, all of these will make you a very well rounded individual who can contribute in a meaningful way. My head of design worked myriad jobs before joining me (for over 12 years now). There’s no way she could do what she does if she’d gone straight from design school to work.
Ellie: What do you think are the best fashion trends out now?
Amy: Best trend right now is individualism. There is a real revival in actually wearing the clothes that are in your closet – and mixing them up- cut them, tie them, pin them. In my closet I have a box of pins, needles, tape and scissors. I alter my clothes all the time on the floor of my closet. I hate it that everything ends up at the Real Real. Wear what you have, repurpose it- and if you buy something new, make it Tibi. Haha. That’s a joke. (Sort of).