NEW YORK — Rebecca Minkoff credits her rule-breaking approach as key to her company’s success. On Tuesday night, the designer addressed a largely Millennial audience at Space 530 as part of Fashion Group International’s Next Gen speaker series. FGI livestreamed the talk, “My Life as a Designer,” on its website for the first time — a development that also mirrored Minkoff’s approach of reaching her customers through a focus on digital innovation.
Minkoff started her company after moving to New York City at age 18. Originally focused on ready-to-wear, the young designer passed out flyers in Union Square, sold her designs to consignment shops, and managed to get her name out to a larger mass audience after the actress Jenna Elfman wore one of her designs during an appearance on “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.” Minkoff’s brand really began to take off in 2005 after her first handbag design, named “Morning After,” was featured in the e-newsletter Daily Candy, which at the time had the ability to leverage brands through its huge influence in the digital space. With help from her brother Uri Minkoff, the designer set out to continue to grow and establish her brand while placing an emphasis on innovation.
On speaking directly to her customer
“Back before Facebook was public, before Twitter existed, I came across a blog where these women were talking about my handbags. I thought, they’re asking all of these questions, and no one’s answering them, maybe I should talk to them…At the time, several of our department stores said, ‘You can’t talk to your customer, that’s not good, it’ll dirty you.’ And we said, ‘I think it’s really important that she knows that she has a voice and that we’re listening to her feedback.’ I think these women felt empowered, and like they had a voice… from there we started to see extremely explosive growth with the sales of the handbags.”
On seeing growth during the recession
“Our department stores came in and said if there’s a 5 in front of one of your bags, we’re not going to carry it next season. We had to redo our entire supply chain–how we got our goods, whether by boat or by air–everything was taken into account in how we can save money without skimping and cheating the customer…When many companies were shrinking and going away, we were actually growing during that time, and I think it’s because the customer said you listened to me, not just for what I want out of a handbag, but also that my lifestyle changed.”
Taking the road not taken and partnering with bloggers
“I think my brother and I very much felt like this is how fashion is going to be perceived, and these people are going to become influencers…We wanted to take a stance that these other influencers are going to change views and disrupt things, which they have. We were early adopters of partnering with bloggers.”
On disrupting the retail experience
“We wanted to take the best of ecommerce and merge it into a brick and mortar environment…You have under your control in the dressing room access to all the inventory in the store, how we’re going to cross sell looks to you, and we wanted you to have four options of lighting.”
During the most recent fashion week, Minkoff partnered with GoPro and Google Cardboard and has entered the realm of wearable tech with the debut of a charging bracelet. “I never wanted to do tech for tech’s sake, but if it eased a pain point in the customer, then that’s something we wanted to provide.”