Meet Amy Smilovic, Founder & Creative Director of Tibi

Lindsay Judge   |   12-04-2022

Amy Smilovic, Founder & Creative Director of Tibi discusses the expansion of her brand, being a female entrepreneur and Tibi in the Middle East


Amy Smilovic founded her brand Tibi in 1997 after moving to Hong Kong with her husband. Unable to continue her own job in the country she wanted to find a way to express her love for fashion and her entrepreneurial mindset. Creating Tibi fulfilled this passion and set her on a journey of success. After moving back to the United States Smilovic established a base for Tibi in New York City from where she has gradually grown the business in her own way, remaining the sole owner of her company until this day. Tibi caters to women who are confident in their own style and understand fashion, her cult designs have become a favourite of celebrities and industry insiders and her classic style allow women to be creative in the way they wear her pieces. On a recent visit to Dubai, we caught up with Smilovic to discuss the latest collection and her plans for the brand in the Middle East.



In your own words, how would you describe the universe of Tibi today and the woman that wears the collections? 

In the past, I would think to describe our Tibi customer as a demographic. Maybe by where they lived, their career, etc. But now I have so much more insight and we know that the Tibi person is a mindset. It is someone who really cares to express who they are visually. They have an attitude that is at ease, open-minded, and very curious about the world around them. They either have confidence within themselves, or it is something that they hope to have for themselves. The more their outside reflects their inside, the more their confidence grows.


What can you tell us about the Spring 2022 collection – the inspiration, the silhouette, the colour palette etc.? 

The collection was about expressing who we are and showing more of the craft of the art. Handmade details, crochet elements, and visible seaming are ways to show the handwork in a more visible way. The collection manages a lightness that I feel is more important now than ever. However, it still does it in a way that is refined and very modern. That’s a delicate balance to achieving that ease whilst still having structure.



Tell us about the creative process for this collection. 

I always start with how I want to feel. I write out the adjectives I want, it is important for me to have a lightness in attitude that is still grounded. I want to show respect for the past and heritage but not heavily anchored to it. I want colour and happiness but I want it tempered. The world is in a crazy place and I want to reflect an acknowledgement of that. It is joyful but still cognizant of what is happening around us. When we know how we want to feel, we can start to build the colour story and the fabrics that will reflect that. From that, we start to understand the shapes of the styles that will communicate that mood.


Can you share a little on the Creative Pragmatism concept you have been discussing over the past year? 

Creative Pragmatism is about striking that balance between creativity and functionality. Many people have been trained that fashion is about choosing a “team” to be on. Team “Modernist”, team “Ladylike”, team “Sexy”. Creative Pragmatism eliminates the notion that you have to be one thing or another, or that to be both is to be confused. It gives a “term” to those who’ve had trouble expressing their style for fear that it is confusing. One day they dress very creatively, the next day more tailored and classic. Formulating the idea of Creative Pragmatism is about saying yes, you can visually look very creative, but it can also be functional and quite refined at the same time. You are a Creative Pragmatist if you strike this balance.



As a founder and creative director of the brand, how do you prioritise and separate your duties? 

I hire people that I trust to do their jobs. Many have been with me for a long time – we know how to move together. I get my hands in everything, always. It’s what keeps me on top of the business. However, my team is confident enough to tell me when to back away or question me when I’m jumping in too deep into their area. I can’t help myself so it’s important I always have people around me who are confident pushing back.


Looking back can you tell us a little about how Tibi came to life? 

I had always known that I would be an entrepreneur one day and I think subconsciously maybe I was always working towards that goal. Working first in adverting and then in marketing and sales at Ogilvy and then American Express. I moved to Hong Kong in 1997 with my husband; I couldn’t work for American Express there, and pragmatically speaking, it was an opportunity for me to do something on my own and fashion made sense. I was an art minor in college; I knew a lot about business and I was always obsessed with fashion. Hong Kong was just emerging as a place to make a luxury product so it was perfect timing.



What in your opinion is the secret to success? 

I think one of the biggest secrets is that I am not a perfectionist. Perfectionism in my world of creativity is very dangerous. Because there is no set definition of a creatively perfect creative piece. I see many designers striving for this and it puts them in a holding pattern where they cannot move forward. Constantly moving forward is the key – if you spin too hard you just dig a hole for yourself and that’s not good.


What do you think sets Tibi apart from other brands? 

Independence at our size. There is simply no, or extremely few, other brands that are our size and have managed to stay independent of outside investors. This means is we are free from being constrained by external voices of direction. We can make our own decisions, every day. And because we are a small team of 40 people, we are all highly informed on the business. Our ideas are not created in a “vacuum” and we are small enough to vet them out with each other and nimble enough to take quick action because we do not have layers of management. It is very freeing creatively, and to be free creatively is to be authentic. To be authentic is to mean something to someone. We do not have “authenticity” as a marketing objective, it just is what we are. Other companies are either too big to be authentic or they are too small to balance authenticity with the ability to actually produce and execute. We are in a sweet spot where we can do both.


Who is someone that has been a mentor or inspiration to you throughout your journey? 

I take inspiration from everyone around me, whether it is my family, my husband, my talented team at the office, or podcasters that offer very balanced viewpoints (Honestly by Bari Weiss). I’m a voracious reader of business-related books and older books that are still relevant today (Ogilvy on Advertising). Anyone who takes risks I’m always a big admirer of (Richard Branson, etc).



What can you tell us about Tibi in the Middle East and can we expect to see more of you moving forward? 

This trip was amazing and we will do so much more here. I had no idea the range of the individuals that I would meet and that 7,000 miles away I would meet so many people who shared the same mindset. There is a very passionate open-minded creative customer out here and I can’t wait to do more.


The past two years have been challenging to say the least – what is a lesson you have learnt from the global pandemic and have you changed anything about the business? 

The lesson that I have learned is that really terrible things happen and you have to press forward. I am lucky in that my husband has been through so much in that respect. Having fled a country to arrive as a hopeful immigrant into the USA, he has seen terrible events unfold and he knows that you press on. Growing up on a small island, off the coast of Georgia in the United States, I always had a very loving family. We were not rich, but we had each other and life was stable. You knew what to expect. Now I know, I have to just expect that we will be constantly surrounded by the unexpected. We have to protect the core of what we have and press forward. Always moving forward.


What is the biggest challenge you face in what you do? 

There is much out of our control – production, raw goods materials, and the state of the world. So the biggest challenge is to focus on what we can control, make sure that we are financially stable whilst still taking the right amount of risk to grow. We have employees at Tibi who have been with us for over 15 years and that’s a lot of pressure knowing that we are all supporting each other in so many ways. If one of us fails, everyone feels it. That’s a bit stressful, every employee contributes to such a level that they cannot fly under the radar. Traci, our head of design, she doesn’t just feel accountable to me, she feels accountable to Courtney in Public Relations, or to Sandra who runs our warehouse. That’s stressful and rewarding at the same time.


What is something you would still like to achieve? 

I want to achieve a business level where more of our team can be rewarded and feel more financially independent for themselves. If that happens, we all really win. We are not there yet but I know I see the light at the end of that tunnel, so to speak.


What is the professional motto that you live by? 

“Leap and the net will appear.” Julia Cameron, The Artists Way


How would you describe your own personal style? 

Chill, modern and a bit classic.


What is a message that you would send to your fans and customers in the Middle East? 

I can’t wait to see and meet more of you!


Tibi is available at THAT Concept Store in Mall of the Emirates, and online at