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How Rebecca Minkoff is Feeding her Risk-Taking Addiction

Ahead of her keynote at the Retail Innovation Conference & Expo on June 6, Rebecca Minkoff shares how she has embraced value and the art of pushing limits.
Photo credit: Rebecca Minkoff

Rebecca Minkoff doesn’t just like taking risks — she’s addicted to it.

“It’s all about pushing myself out of my comfort zone continuously,” she said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “That’s where I get my adrenaline. I have team members helping me every day, but I’m spearheading the ideation and planning every day. That’s what takes me out of my comfort zone.”

As Co-founder and face of her namesake brand, she has plenty of opportunities to do it. In many ways, Minkoff has become known in the industry as a changemaker and boundary-breaker. Her brother and co-founder Uri Minkoff helped bring the brand’s Store of the Future to life, which was a critical juncture for the entire retail industry. The brand also has eagerly adopted emerging tech such as QR codes, NFTs and even gaming platforms like Discord.

Gearing up for her brand’s 20th anniversary she, of course, isn’t looking backward; she’s thinking about what’s next for her brand and the loyal community she’s built, through a blossoming media empire that includes social media, a podcast, a best-selling book and now, even a spot on The Real Housewives of New York City franchise.

Ahead of her keynote session at the Retail Innovation Conference & Expo, Retail TouchPoints sat down with Minkoff to reflect on her work thus far and how she’s helping empower the next generation of female founders and leaders. Visit the official #RICE24 hub to get more details on Minkoff’s session and all of the other incredible speakers taking the stage, including executives from Babylist, Liquid Death, Michaels, Pinterest, Primark, Reddit, Roku, Walgreens, and so many more.

Interview with Designer and Entrepreneur Rebecca Minkoff

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): You’re nearing the 20th anniversary of your namesake brand — congratulations on the major milestone! How do you plan to celebrate?

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Rebecca Minkoff: Our anniversary is technically February of 2025, but being that the fashion industry is always a season ahead, we’re going to start messaging it and talking about it this September. My approach is to celebrate a launch like this once a quarter, whether it’s collaborations or large-scale experiential events, so my goal is to come out or launch something in September that celebrates the whole anniversary through the end of next year.

We have an incredible collaboration that I cannot talk about just yet that’s coming out in the fourth quarter of this year. We’re going to be the official bag partner of one of the biggest movies that’s ever been launched — think about the level [of impact] that Barbie was. We’re also going to do a huge Fashion Week experience, really leaning into the nostalgia of 2005, and then I have some amazing activations planned for next year. Nothing is 100% set in stone, but it’s mainly about having consistent messaging and reminding the consumer we’ve been here for 20 years. That’s a really long lifespan for brands right now, so it’s about how we re-engage an older consumer but also have a new customer discover us.

RTP: It’s an exciting opportunity, because there is such a hunger for nostalgia for both older and younger consumers. But it makes me wonder how you think your consumer has evolved over this time, especially as we think about what she wants from the brand experience?

Minkoff: Our largest growing customer segments are 35 to 45 years old and 18 to 23 years, which is weird, because they’re very different consumers. They have very different purchasing habits. So it’s all about figuring out how we as a brand string that line between my age group and the younger demographic. That’s why our social media and our marketing activities show both, and it’s why we talk about both. We did a lot of experiential activations last year that were geared toward much younger women. And at the end of one of the activations, I said, ‘I can’t only do this because I’m an old lady.’ I want to be able to also do experiential events for my peers and make sure that we don’t forget her in this messaging.

I think a lot of brands try and pigeonhole a woman into being one thing and that’s all they talk about. We tried that for many years, where we froze the customer at 27 years old, and frankly, it didn’t work. There’s a way to be multi-dimensional and multifaceted, while always keeping in mind that this girl is growing up, so what would she do if she was in her 40s? If we go back to the ethos of this woman, she’s an urban girl. She’s looking for love and she’s a hard-working person, even an entrepreneur. What do those character traits look like? As long as we stay true to both on the age spectrum, I think that she buys into it.

RTP: You’ve also been an early adopter of new platforms and experiences to reach and resonate with your consumers. How do you think about the role innovation plays in your day-to-day business?

Minkoff: In the beginning, the risks we had to take were out of sheer necessity because we weren’t funded by someone with deep pockets. Everything was on my [Co-founder] brother’s credit card, and he mortgaged his house. So that’s why we started using social media; we used influencers because it seemed like a great idea. From there, we got more comfortable taking risks. We also saw the benefits of doing that, so the more risks we took, it started leading to more inbound traffic and awareness.

When we launched our store the future, which my brother really spearheaded, other brands were paying up to $1 million or more for that type of development. But Ebay and their innovation team at the time knew we were willing to take risks and be the first, so they funded the project. We also were the first fashion brand to launch on Shopify — that was a big risk because it was a new platform. It became this thing of like, ‘Okay, we’ll be the test case.’ And we’ve shown so much success — and failure.

RTP: Can you share an example of your failures?

Minkoff:
There have been many failures along the way. Our NFTs were successful, but then NFTs stopped being successful as a market. We rode that wave, it was great. We thought it was going to lead to something, but then it collapsed for everybody, and so then you think about what’s next. Is it upsetting that we introduced and launched QR codes six years ago? Yes, it’s really upsetting, because no one understood why you’d use a QR code and that it would lead to reward points or incredible ways to capture your customer or share content. Now, it’s like it took COVID for people to get it. I think there’s a timing to some of this stuff, but I think the key is to always stay nimble and try. And I think the bigger you get, you still should have that small mentality of always trying.

RTP: How do you instill that mindset within your organization? Of course we know that failure is common and likely, but there’s the emotional aspect to failure too.  

Minkoff: Failure sucks no matter how you slice it, but you have to take the innovation mindset. You have to take the engineering mindset of always testing; trying something and determining whether it worked or didn’t. Take the emotion out of it. It’s easier said than done, but it is a muscle. The more you fail, the more you get back up. It’s just like doing your core workout. You get faster and better at it but you can’t take it personally.

I think that I’ve seen women take these failures more personally. They bring in the idea that they did something wrong and question whether they ‘have it’ — it’s that self-doubt. But failure is a part of life, and if you don’t try something, you’ll never know the outcome. Even in my book, Fearless, I talk about how sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. You gain so much more from learning and failing than you do when you just try something and it worked.

RTP: Rebecca Minkoff, as a brand, also has embraced new media channels, and really focused on building a community. You’ve transcended simply designing and selling products. What role does media play for you individually and for the brand as a whole?

Minkoff: We began to think of this brand as a media entity in itself as social media evolved and grew. And when we started looking at the effect it could have culturally, it became really clear that, first and foremost, we are a luxury leather goods house. But after that, it’s about: Why are you buying into this? What values do we bring to the table? What do we stand for? We have the opportunity to say okay, this isn’t just about the product. It’s about telling the whole story.

On my podcast, it’s about women who have failed and gotten back up. My book is all about my origin story: a woman who moved to New York City and was looking for love. But it’s also about entrepreneurship and anything that touches upon these areas that makes sense and fits with the brand. If my goal is to make a woman feel confident in my bag, shoes and clothes, then I should damn well make sure that she feels confident in her business decisions and the risks that she takes every day. It’s about addressing all of this without sounding cheesy or self-helpy but also not being like, ‘buy this bag, it’ll cure all your problems.’

RTP: How have you built the Female Founder Collective to provide a community aspect to this mission that drives your growing media empire?

Minkoff:
My Co-founder, Alison Wyatt, and I really wanted to build the Female Founder Collective into a community, education platform and resource for all of the unsexy stuff of business — stuff that most women when they start their companies don’t realize they need to know. We asked how we could close the gap because you really don’t know what you don’t know. Could we be the platform that provides them with expert support and education from founders that have lived it and had incredible success? Plus, the community can provide you small shortcuts to success with resources, tips and tricks.

Almost six years ago, we set out to do that and now, we have over 25,000 members. And I think the goal is make women rich, right? Give them the education, the tools for success and make them wealthy so they will change things; make sure women are paid fairly, that women have the right amount of maternity leave or time to pump — whatever it is that we’re struggling with. We need to redesign the world to our use case.

In some cases, I feel like you can do that more quickly as a founder than trying to turn around a big corporation. I’m really proud of the group that we have built to make this happen, and the goal is to just get bigger and stronger. We launched a retreat last November and we’re going to do that again for founders that are doing $5 million plus in revenue. And then we have this amazing mentorship platform called The North, so if you’re not a female founder, or if you’re a man, you can book time with exceptional women like Kirsten Green from Forerunner Ventures who are paid for their time to provide advice.

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