North Salem’s Tia Cibani designs playful, heirloom-quality childrenswear
“I manifested this,” Tia Cibani gushes, gazing through her eponymous childrenswear boutique-showroom and out to the adjacent stores occupied by other women-owned businesses at Yellow Monkey Village in Cross River. A little over four years ago, Cibani purchased the building, located on Route 35, with a vision for the space to be filled with all-female creative entrepreneurs. Today, that dream is a reality.
“As soon as COVID started easing, my manifestation started to come to life. I was so amazed,” Cibani says, eyes smiling. Initially, the building was fully-occupied and Cibani’s operation didn’t require the entire space, so she was grateful for the tenants. Over time, however, she asked herself, ‘when the leases come up, do I renew or do I manifest different energy in here?’ Cibani attended some women's networking events, where she met other female creatives. "That's how the space is now filled; it's all women doing creative work."
Libyan-born Cibani grew up in the world of fashion. Her father owned children’s clothing stores where he imported Italian goods. “I was a kid and I loved cutting things up and adding embellishments,” Cibani reflects. “I knew I was going to do fashion. It just felt natural.”
Cibani spent much of her career working in womenswear with luxury fashion house Ports 1961. There she gained a breadth of knowledge and experience, including cultivating connections in China, which would later be critical to the manufacturing and production of her children’s clothing line, TiA CiBANi.
“I fell into it initially,” Cibani says of diving into the childrenswear business back in 2004. “I didn't have children.” It was her cousin who and wanted to collaborate on a children's collection that was “affordable but cute.” As her cousin continued to grow her family, she felt it was too hard to keep up and decided to discontinue their partnership.
“The schmatta business is not easy,” Cibani says, using the Yiddish word for New York City's Garment District, which was heavily influenced by immigrant communities in the early twentieth century. “I was doing womenswear which is high-stress; this was like an outlet for me.” Cibani kept the childrenswear company going for ten years before deciding to close and give herself a shot at producing a womenswear line.
When her own womenswear line “wasn’t gelling,” Cibani launched TiA CiBANi kids. “I love working with kids,” Cibani says. “They’re so fun and freeing. I find myself very free to be fantastically creative in a different way than womenswear.” Cibani describes that with womenswear you can take risks with the edgiest trends, but says “I feel like with womenswear you always have to look at dressing her to get a date, whereas with kidswear it was about being playful, [about] fantasy, and comfort. I love to be that way myself in my wardrobe. So it just felt it was a perfect fit after all.”
After rechanneling her creative energies into a kid’s clothing line, Cibani found herself exhausted by the energy of living in New York City and sought to move. “We kept going further and further north,” Cibani says. “We wanted to go to the point where [the town would] still be commutable, but feel like we’re really away and [North Salem] felt like it.” Cibani began working out of a studio in her home and fell back in love with childrenswear. Her studio became her all-in-one space; a sample room, stock room, and where she held team meetings. While her at-home studio was successful in launching the business, she soon felt “invaded by inventory,” and decided she needed studio space. Cross River’s Yellow Monkey Village was on the market, and the timing was perfect.
It turned out that Westchester County offered more than a studio space for the TiA CiBANi collection. The designer sourced inspiration for her current Fall/Winter ‘22 collection, Curves of Color, from a picturesque sunrise she admired with her daughter last June on Mills Road in North Salem. A 4 a.m. birthday request from her then nine-year-old, along with the works of artist Ellsworth Kelly, melded to inspire the current season’s concept. The collection’s tufted kimonos with geometric prints are a nod to the late artists’ vivid use of bold blocks of color.
“My collection is not an average kids collection,” Cibani says. Her line exudes play; bold prints, statement accessories, and Mommy and Me pairings, all while maintaining high-quality fabrics and a commitment to comfort. Pleated tulle dresses for little girls are staples for each season, and quality is critical. “Let them enjoy being little girls, have their fantasy, and twirl in beautiful things, not the polyester Elsa Disney dress,” Cibani says. In addition, every collection also includes a grouping of buttery soft basic knits consisting of tops and bottoms in special hues that relate back to each season’s color palette. Cibani refers to these as the “glue of the collection.” The pieces are cashmere-soft but made of machine-washable cotton. These knits pair with statement pieces from the line or work well as playsuits for loungewear. “They are the underpinnings of every season,” she says. “People love them.”
Accessories are a major component of the TiA CiBANi line. Whimsical headbands adorned with ruched fabrics, pom-poms, and tassels are statement pieces in the collection. “We are known for our accessories,” Cibani says. “They are the cherry on the icing on the cake. They kind of warrant their own booth at a trade show sometimes, a category in themselves.”
Cibani hopes that her collection will encourage parents to expose their children to design, and feels that introducing children to beautiful materials is to educate them. “I really wish people would take their children as seriously as they take themselves,” Cibani says, “to really let them know quality and know design and [to] treasure those heirloom types of products.”
Cibani’s plans for the future include growing her direct-to-consumer business, increasing online business, continuing to build her wholesale accounts, and potentially opening a retail store in Manhattan.
“But I want to stay here,” she says gazing through her thick oversized black glasses, acknowledging her studio space with gratitude, “I don’t want to outgrow this space. I love it here.”
Cibani grew up immersed in design, and while she once thought that womenswear was her path, she ultimately found her home doing what brings her joy and allows her to share that joy with others. “It is truly what I love to do,” Cibani says. “I feel like I could do it with my eyes closed. It’s not forced, it's truly what I love and my personal expression. It feels great. I feel like I’m at home. I truly am.”