It’s hard to believe the Amy Smilovic launched her women’s contemporary brand Tibi 20 years ago. But in that time, what began as a tight collection of practical, problem-solving dresses has grown to include a full-scale offering of everything from a wide assortment of shoes to handbags, knits, soft-tailoring and outerwear. In the process, Smilovic has become a quintessentially New York go-to for women seeking the kind of cool separates that toe the line between airy elegance and alluring insouciance. Her footwear, too, is resolutely versatile, with her latest collection for fall ’17 highlighting the low-heeled, high-vamp pump (done in a rather shocking pink crushed velvet or stark white) and stretch satin boots that ticked the modern woman’s checklist for slightly subversive shoes that are still walkable.
Footwear News checked in with Smilovic to get her thoughts on Tibi’s tipping point, what hindsight has taught her and women’s issues in the workplace.
What was the biggest breakthrough moment in your career?
“The moment that I felt a visceral breakthrough was when I designed these silk bias skirts using what I referred to as “tacky” prints. They were combinations of souvenir scarfs in odd color combinations. One Sunday morning I woke up to find that Bill Cunningham had featured his entire New York Times page that day on the phenomenon of this skirt – he hadn’t realized they were all from one brand – Tibi!”
Is there anything you would have done differently?
“Looking back, I would have hired a technical designer by my side from day one. While the fact that I didn’t come from a fashion background enabled me to approach the business with a unique point of view, there is one area of the business where there is no new “point of view” – and that’s on fit. The clothes have to fit and they must do so consistently. Hiring for this position earlier on would have saved me so much headache and money.”
Do you think women do enough to support other women in the workplace?
“At Tibi, I see no issues here. We have an incredibly supportive group, and most important, everyone on the team is gender blind. Of course, Tibi is a women’s brand that is designed to be lived in, worn and loved – a woman’s point of view is invaluable in this pursuit. But, I’d hate to think that anyone would support a man more than a woman, or vice versa. I believe in openly recognizing the unique attributes that an individual brings to the table.”
What is the biggest challenge you faced in the last year and how did you overcome it?
“My biggest challenges right now come from impositions. By this, I refer to new federal and state government regulations. There seems to be very little trust right now in corporate America to do the right thing. I find that incredibly sad. At the end of the day, a corporation is not an inanimate ‘thing’; it’s quite the opposite in that it’s a living breathing organism comprised of individuals. We self-regulate. If we don’t treat people well, it’s a free country, they have the right to go work somewhere else; and, believe me, this irrefutable fact always has me looking behind my back and keeping us in check. I don’t ever want to lose a great employee and that’s what propels us to do the right thing. I wish my day was just confirmed with colors and designs, but all of these regulations consume so much time across our leadership base.”
Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
“Take a deep breath.”