Friendly Advice: How to Stitch Together a Trailblazing Career from Rebecca Minkoff
As a designer, Rebecca Minkoff is known for artfully mixing bohemian romance with downtown rock-and-roll. At her recent spring show at The Grove in Los Angeles, Minkoff’s perspective emanated in a profusion of gauzy blouses and watercolor-inspired botanical prints that breathed fresh life into studded black leather and safety-pin earrings.
The show gave the impression that women can combine whatever they like, mixing and matching as they choose. And just as women can determine their own personal style, they can also craft their own path in life.
In the hope of gleaning insight into the professional acumen and personal grit that have sewn together her trailblazing career, we spoke with Rebecca Minkoff about her role as a designer, a businesswoman and an entrepreneur.
You started your fashion career right out of high school. How were you so sure this was what you wanted to do?
When I was 18, I moved to New York City to pursue my dream of becoming a fashion designer through an internship with Craig Taylor. At night, I also took design classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology, but only for three semesters. I realized I knew what to do and, while I might not have been the best, I knew how to promote myself. You can’t be shy in this industry and I’ve always favored a bold course of action.
What was your first job and what did you do?
I was scooping ice cream in Florida. When I was 15 years old, I needed money to pay for gas to get to and from school. I didn’t mind constantly having cold hands and quickly learned never to snack on ice cream. Granted, I didn’t take away any lasting life lessons from this job, but it did teach me to show up on time and not to be afraid to work for it.
Your handbags are often connected with personal experiences (like your iconic Morning After Bag). How do you feel when you see someone carrying one of your designs in real life?
The Morning After Bag was my first handbag! Not long after I designed the bag, I was walking down the street and saw someone carrying one of my bags; it was the best feeling and 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.
You started your own apparel line when you were 21. What was it like taking on that professional responsibility at that age? How did you know you were ready?
When I was 21, I was fired from the internship that I’d had for three years. The owner said that I had learned everything and was ready to go out on my own. Even though it was a scary moment for me, it gave me the push that I needed to pursue my passion. It’s definitely a risk going out on your own and there were some days when 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 DailyCandy piece that was written about the line and helped launch the business was probably the most memorable of those moments.
If you could go back in time and take your 21-year-old self out for brunch (or a paper-cup bodega coffee), what advice would you give her?
Even if your dream seems unattainable, you can achieve it if you stay focused, driven and diligent.
Did you face a lot of professional rejection when you were starting your career? Any tips for getting through it?
I like to think of rejection as a learning tool. There’s always a reason behind each rejection. Sometimes it may be a bad idea, a mismatch of needs, bad presentation, bad approach, different values, misunderstanding and so on. But if you have the ability to understand the reasoning behind the rejection, and separate any personal emotion, this will be extremely helpful in your growth.
Who do you turn to for career advice? What’s a great piece of advice you’ve been given? Who gave it to you?
From day one, my parents were on a mission to teach my siblings and me the value of hard work. For example, I had my heart set on one dress to buy for my bat mitzvah, my big coming out to society as a woman. My mom said she wouldn’t buy me one. Instead, she taught me how to sew so that I could create my own. This small moment in my youth set everything in place. It’s ultimately why I became a self-starter, an entrepreneur. People always think of “no” as the end. For me, it’s about opportunity. A different direction. A new idea. “No” is just the beginning of “yes.”
What do you look for in a stellar employee?
Someone who is entrepreneurial, creative, passionate, collaborative and someone who takes initiative.
How do you want women who wear your clothes to feel? How do you want your designs to function in their everyday lives?
My unique 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.
If you could distill your advice for doing well in business and life into three golden rules, what would they be?
It takes time—not everything happens all at once. It’s not all glamorous! Stay true to yourself.
SHOP: Rebecca Minkoff