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Tibi’s Amy Smilovic on the Brand’s Footwear Business, 25 Years in Fashion and Connecting With Fans on a Whole New Level

Much has changed over 25 years since Amy Smilovic launched Tibi. The biggest takeaway? Less is more.

The designer is committed to scaling and creating purposeful product. For instance, more than half of the business comes from direct-to-consumer with a focus on specialty retailers, rather than a robust wholesale strategy. (Although the brand does sell online at Browns, Net-a-Porter, Printemps, Rent the Runway and Shopbop.) Also, Tibi has far fewer seasons — now delivering five times a year when they used to ship 11. Plus, its New York flagship is only open five days a week rather than seven.

It’s a more focused and strategic approach that’s paying off, according to the company. Tibi reported seeing a 123% YoY increase in shoe volume, for instance, and 68% increase in ready-to-wear as a result of its strategy.

Tibi spring 2023
Tibi’s spring ’23 collection at NYFW.
CREDIT: Daniele Oberrauch

Part of that comes directly from Smilovic herself. While she’s always been the face of the brand, the designer now more than ever is connecting with consumers on a daily basis.

Scrolling through her Instagram you’ll find fit checks and, more importantly, “Style Class” episodes on everything from dressing for work to what shoes to wear with jeans. It all started during the pandemic, when Smilovic leaned into Instagram Live, where she went from 5,000 followers to now over 100,000. She’s hit a chord with a wide range of people, including high-level execs from HBO to BlackRock, who slide into her DMs looking to have smart conversations about style.

Here, the brand founder talks about Tibi’s footwear business, social media and more.

After 25 years in business, how has Tibi evolved?

Amy Smilovic: “It’s not just a clothing brand anymore. Our customers are very impacted by what we’re
doing in a way that I would’ve never expected. I coined this term ‘creative pragmatism.’ It’s a way that we refer to our clothing and the people who follow Tibi. It’s dressing in a way that is balancing pragmatism with creativity. Doing that gave us permission to not have to define ourselves. With that, I’ve written a book — that is coming out in hopefully two months — and we’re doing these seminars all over the world, to talk about style and what it means to be a balanced individual. I get around 200 DMs a day, at least, and I know where their head is at all times and it’s just so good.”

What is your approach to selling shoes?

AS: “It is very much of a direct-to-consumer model, with the exception of selling to some stores where it makes sense. The path that we’ve been on is really creating a product that works with the collection. So there’s no traditional merchandising approach to it. It’s very creative and pragmatically led. Each season we’re doing only about nine styles. However, with that, shoes now represent 14% of our direct-to-consumer business. And direct-to-consumer is a bit over 50% of our total business right now.”

Tibi spring 2023
Tibi’s spring ’23 line included minimalist flat sandals.
CREDIT: Daniele Oberrauch

While Tibi is not a wholesale-led business, what makes a good retail partner?

AS: “There’s Kick Pleat in Austin, Texas; That Concept Store in Dubai; Schneeweiss in Austria; Max in Denver and Aspen, Colo. It’s stores that have a deep collection with Tibi. And they have a very loyal customer base coming to them, so if they don’t offer that customer the shoe to finish off the whole outfit, then it’s a missed opportunity. For me, I cannot do wholesale in the shoe area and charge the prices that I want to charge. For the very precious few stores that we sell to, it’s on a margin that I would never be able to normally work with. And it’s certainly not a margin that would allow for any risk.”

What has been driving Tibi’s growth this year?

AS: “We’ve always had an interesting vantage point — we own our own warehouse and the warehouse is in Georgia. We’ve been doing our own e-commerce now for [over a decade]. We don’t have any one-hit wonders; there’s a lot of depth. We have also just been working our ass off on social media and building a real dialogue with the customer. And the company is 25 years old this year. I do think that my age has something to do with what we’re doing. I’ve got experience under my belt. I’ve lived a varied life and that’s one thing we’re really leaning into, showing people that we can relate to different people on a lot of levels. Half of my time right now is spent on social media and communicating with our customers directly.”

Tibi spring 2023
Tibi’s spring ’23 collection at NYFW.
CREDIT: Daniele Oberrauch

How do you operate now as a more lean business?

AS: “We reduced the number of seasons, but we really cut the SKU count by over 100% for ready-to-wear.
We canceled all the department stores [in the U.S.] except for Bergdorf Goodman. The only way to me to ever be sustainable and ethical is to not overproduce. You need to make less. So before we go into production, I put a feeler out there and I ask people to sign up if they’re interested. We don’t do preorder — I don’t want to take people’s money and risk not delivering — but we do get their intent to buy. And the conversion on that intent is usually around 75%. So before we went into production on the Bronson boot, for example, we had 800 people sign up to buy it.”

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