Tibi founder and designer Amy Smilovic remembers the Indonesian odyssey that was sourcing fabrics for her first collection.

Polaroids from Smilovic’s travels in Hong Kong and Indonesia, photographs courtesy of Amy Smilovic

In the spring of 1997, at 28 years old, I traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia to find batik fabrics for the inaugural Tibi collection.

It was my first business trip. I was living in Hong Kong at the time and had just started the brand a few months earlier. My then business partner and I set up nine meetings with printers at the Shangri-La Hotel, where we stayed, but only our last appointment, a couple named Zen and Faria, showed up.

We found out later that the other eight printers came to the hotel, but assumed they were meeting Chinese men — not American women — and left.

One of Indonesia’s many rice fields, photograph by Romy Garcia

Zen and Faria invited us to Solo, an hour’s drive away, to visit their factory.

The first night there we stayed at a Holiday Inn that played Jean-Claude Van Damme movies on a loop and had a Pizza Hut attached that only served pineapple pizza.

The following evening, Zen and Faria invited us to stay at their guest house: a hut at the top of a little peak surrounded by rice paddies. It was the most beautiful place.

An Indonesian artisan at work on a batik fabric, photograph by Teo Gregas

We ended up ordering 10,000 yards of their batik fabric in pink, turquoise, yellow, and orange — colors they had never worked with before.

They shipped it to Hong Kong in five yard increments, all of which were covered in cow and chicken tracks because they had been dried in fields.

We used those prints in our first run. Everything was very authentic — so much so, we decided the sourcing process wouldn’t be feasible for the long term.

Still, it was a rich experience in my early days as a designer.

— as told to The Thick

Did you see? The Lost Explorer founder David de Rothschild shares intricate textiles he’s sourced from around the world, perfumer Carlos Huber smells the very first fragrance he created.


Colorful batik fabrics like these were used to design Smilovic’s first Tibi collection, photograph by Latisha Richard