How Tibi Turned Around Its Footwear Business

More than 20 years after its inception, Tibi has solidified its position in the fashion industry, aided by the addition of handbags early last year and by its now-thriving shoe business.

Footwear has become a bankable piece of business for the company in the last year and a half, noted founder and creative director Amy Smilovic, but it didn’t come without some hiccups.

When shoes were added to the lineup five years ago, Tibi started out with a licensing arrangement — and then quickly shuttered it.

“We were trying to be all these things in one [line]. It was a mess,” said Smilovic. “You can’t be that in clothing, and you can’t be that in shoes, either.”

Tibi Amy Smilovic
Tibi founder and creative director, Amy Smilovic.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

After bringing the category in-house, Tibi found its shoe groove.

“We focused on what our story was,” said the designer. “The key is: Our [footwear consumer] is no different from our Tibi [ready-to-wear] customer. She’s busy. She’s not looking for something average or with crazy details. She’s looking for some kind of clean modernity in the shape or the toe — something that feels current.”

Smilovic noted, “Oftentimes, we design the shoe first, and then we create the clothing around the shoe.”

Now the brand’s business is at a tipping point. Tibi has had 170 percent year-over-year revenue growth in 2018 for its footwear collection, which is filled with sleek, polished and low-heeled styles. And for its resort ’19 line, orders are up 76 percent over last year’s — and 2017 had shown growth as well. The company said roughly 10 percent of its total revenue comes from footwear.

Tibi resort '19
Tibi resort ’19.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

“Sometimes things just take a while for a look to settle in,” Smilovic said about the shoe business. “It’s been on fire for us and has been an incredible category.”

A tactic that is working for the company in both design and strategy is “less is more.” With the majority of its shoes made in Italy, the line remains aesthetically refined and unusually lean — Tibi’s shoe offering consists of only 14 SKUs.

Said Smilovic, “The inclination is that you need to do more and more styles, [but] we are seeing this increase in [sales] volume with probably 30 percent fewer SKUs than what we had four years ago. That’s what’s important.”

Brooke Fisher, VP and DMM of women’s contemporary at Bergdorf Goodman, said, “Tibi offers a different perspective on everyday dressing that makes it stand out from the rest of the fashion world. Amy designs for a woman who is feminine but not ‘girly’ and is laid-back but still polished.”

Tibi is capitalizing on the increasing desire for its shoe styles by offering color exclusives to retailers. “We can do a boot in a special color for Southeast Asia, for example, and help retailers combat this bloodbath going on online,” Smilovic said.

While Tibi is sold in 200 doors throughout the globe, Asia — specifically China and South Korea — is a key area. Its business there has been building steadily, thanks to the fact it has a designer positioning but not designer price points. “Our brand awareness has grown,” said the founder.
“If you go into a store in Korea, there’s Balenciaga, Céline, and then there’s Tibi. There’s a lot of price value, and there is definitely a moment in Asia for things that are on the clean, modern side.”

Tibi resort '19
Tibi resort ’19.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

Despite its international success, the company will not change its design approach for any specific consumer market.

“With the internet and a global audience,” Smilovic explained, “we have to stay so focused on what we do. The Asians who ascribe to our aesthetic or India or the Middle East or Russia, you don’t do something different for those markets, because they can sniff that out. This wouldn’t be Tibi anymore. It would become something else.”

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