Rebecca Minkoff was only 18 when she uprooted from San Diego to New York City to pursue the dreams she had cultivated while creating costumes in high school. A five-piece collection and one trendsetting “I love New York” t-shirt later (it received press from Jay Leno to Us Weekly), Rebecca had her first big hit in 2001. But it wasn’t instantaneous stardom. Diligently sewing tees on the floor of her apartment, Rebecca built her path to fashion notoriety from the ground up.
Then came the Morning After Bag. Rebecca’s iconic purse began appearing on the arms of starlets and style mavens across the city and, soon after, the world. It was her big break, coming just as she was really beginning to feel the financial strain of starting a business with a not-so-cushy savings account. The bag meant to fit all the essentials became the statement piece Rebecca needed.
Today, Rebecca Minkoff is a lifestyle brand worn and admired worldwide. Rebecca’s line offers a wide range of clothing, handbags and, after returning to her apparel roots in 2009, clothing, footwear, jewelry, accessories, even tech. With five flagship stores and distribution in 900 retail locations, Rebecca is a long way from her NYC apartment floor. But it’s not something she’s forgotten about, and there’s a reason this interview starts off with her advising readers to stay humble. And with that, we’re all ears — adorned with your pearl climber earrings, please!
What did you learn starting your brand in your NYC apartment that still sticks with you today?
Stay humble. At the beginning, I played every role — publicist, messenger, designer, customer service professional, etc. It gave me a great education and keeps me from getting too comfortable and taking our team and success for granted. I work closely with everyone in my company; from the most junior to the most senior.
Were you ever scared during those early days that you wouldn’t make it? How did you push past those thoughts and insecurities?
Of course! It’s a risk going out on your own and there were some days where I just didn’t know if another order would ever be placed. Every time there was a positive response, however small, it kept me going. The Daily Candy piece that was written and helped launch the business was probably the most memorable of those moments.
What did it feel like when you started to see your bags on the arms of celebrities and on everyday women?
When I was walking down the street and saw someone carrying one of my bags for the first time, it was the best feeling. One that I will never get tired of. I experience the same excitement and sense of pride as much today as I did when I first started out. It’s a constant reminder of how lucky I am and validates the hard work and passion put forth by me and my incredible team.
How would you describe the Rebecca Minkoff customer? What is important to her and how are you working to address her evolving needs?
She’s a fashion-forward, modern woman about the world. With ready-to-wear, handbags, footwear, jewelry, eyewear and tech accessories, my vision for the brand is singularly focused on my ideal millennial girl, who experiences all of life’s exciting moments, with her confident, go-anywhere, do-anything attitude.
Your flagship store is quite simply brilliant; a shopping heaven for millennials. Why did you decide to integrate tech into the store?
Our customer is very attached to her technology. We understand the need for immediate satisfaction and being able to have control over everyday experiences. Our store is designed to do just that. She can be served a beverage, get a new product, switch out a size, change the lighting of the fitting room and more, just by using the technology we offer her. It’s on her own terms, and we’ve received an incredibly strong response.
We read that when you first saw your new dressing rooms the all-male team of developers hadn’t even noticed that the mirrors at the time made a woman feel fat. What did that moment of realization feel like to you?
The entire team was made up of men. So when the two girls went in to try it out, right away, they said ‘This is a fat mirror. We are not shopping at a store with this mirror.’ And no man would have (barely) known what that term was. So it was sort of an aha moment for me to see that if a woman had been on the team, she would have known you have to consider the mirror and how it makes a woman look. It’s those small details of a woman’s user experiences that can make such a difference.
That insight obviously started a fire in your belly to recruit more females for STEM jobs, so tell us more about your speaking tour with Intel and what you’re doing to narrow that gap?
We have a four-pronged strategy:
1. Awareness. Developing innovative campaign, print and social media strategies to highlight opportunities for women in technology in the 21st century economy.
2. Interest. Encouraging interest in technology through events, training, and education.
3. Engagement. Expanding the pipeline of women in technology by providing mentorship and scholarship support to women pursuing STEM education and careers.
4. Leadership. Nurturing the next generation of professionals on the path to leadership and ensuring equal access to economic opportunities for women in technology around the globe.
What do you hope is the biggest takeaway from females who attend one of these speeches?
I’ve heard women in tech say, “Well, if we show we care about ourselves, we get taken for granted that we’re stupid or self-centered.” It’s been a societal message we’re trying to fight to say, “No, you can be smart and pretty.” You can pursue a career in tech and still work in fashion. The lack of women in tech fields is increasingly impacting industries beyond stereotypical Silicon Valley software startups as tech becomes a natural asset to women. It’s showing them that this is possible, and that I did it, so YOU can, too. Nothing like this existed when I was coming up and so many things can seem unattainable. If you can make something feel a little more attainable for someone else, that’s what I want to do.
As one of the most socially savvy brands, how important is it for you to be accessible to your customer?
I saw the opportunity to reach my target audience on social media in a way that felt organic and natural. Since my customer is a female millennial, she is a digital native. I wanted to speak to her in a way that made the most sense to her, because she’s grown up online, she’s comfortable with it, and she’s responsive to it. From there, I’ve continued to incorporate not just what I’m wearing, but also showcasing what my customers are wearing, highlighting how influencers style my products, and directly highlighting new products that make the most noise.
What new trends are you seeing in the social space that are important to the Rebecca Minkoff brand and lifestyle?
Snapchat is where it’s at! I love the immediacy of it. We learn a lot from what our customers snap and when they view our snaps.
What is your favorite aspect of the business to be involved in?
Styling the show is really one of the most exciting moments of the season. It’s such a stressful time, but starting to put everything together and seeing what works and what doesn’t before the collection finally hits the runway is so fulfilling.
What qualities do you look for when building out your team? What skills can our readers hone to be the kind of employee a boss wants to promote?
Someone who is entrepreneurial, creative, passionate, collaborative, and takes initiative.
As a working mom of two, do you believe in this idea of work/life balance? Or, are you more of a believer in work/life integration?
I believe it really is all about balance and prioritizing. Also, loving what I do makes all the difference. Even if I’m up until 1 a.m. working, it never feels like a sacrifice. My approach to achieving the balance is varied, but I’ll sometimes opt to come in late to the office so I can have breakfast with my family, or only commit to going to work events 2 or 3 times a week to ensure I’m spending as much time as possible with them — but continuing to grow my business.
What advice do you have for a reader who wants your job?
It takes time. Not everything happens all at once. Stay true to yourself and follow your passion. Even if your dream seems unattainable, you can achieve it if you stay focused, driven and diligent.
Person I’d love to grab coffee with:
The purse I happen to be carrying at the moment is:
My large black unlined Feed bag
You’ll find these three things in said purse:
Chapstick, moisturizer, hair ties
My go-to outfit is:
Moto jacket, t-shirt, jeans and layered jewelry
My favorite dinner spot is:
I can’t live without:
My favorite way to unwind is:
At at home with my husband and kids. During the summer months, we like to venture to Montauk or Fire Island to get out of the city. As long as I’m with them, I’m happy!
I feel my best when:
I’m with the kids and I have a few days off. Eight hours of sleep really helps (if that even happens!).
Photos Courtesy of Rebecca Minkoff; Lead Photo by Paul Maffi
… So many things can seem unattainable. If you can make something feel a little more attainable for someone else, that’s what I want to do.