Rebecca Minkoff burst on the fashion scene in 2001. It all began with her iconic I Love New York T-shirt. Minkoff designed her first handbag ― the one she dubbed the Morning After Bag — in 2005. Her legendary career snowballed from there.
These days Minkoff is a major fashion name, leading a global brand with a vast footprint. Handbags (yes), but also apparel, footwear, accessories, eyewear and perfume. Now, she’s also a new author.
After 20 years in the industry, Minkoff felt it was time to share a bit of what she’s learned along the way. Her new book, Fearless, just dropped this month in hardcover.
PaperCity caught up with the designer for an exclusive interview, while Minkoff was en route to and from a crush of book tour events. During her last interview of the day, she killed two birds with one stone, pausing occasionally to make payments at toll booths.
Minkoff is comfortable wearing a lot of hats. Along with designing and running her brand, she is a wife and the mother of three young children. Rebecca Minkoff hosts a weekly podcast called Superwomen, where she interviews women from all walks of life about their successes and failures. She also founded the Female Founder Collective to connect women to the mentorship they need to take the next step in their careers. But writing a book is something brand new, even for this tour de force.
“I was sharing a cab in 2019 with an author and podcast host who suggested I had 20 years worth of advice to offer,” Minkoff tells PaperCity. “I started writing it in January of 2020. I was able to sit down with a friend who is a writer. For several days all she did was interview me. Then she helped me organize and edit my thoughts.”
Instead of chapters in Fearless, you’ll find it laid out in the form of Rules ― 21 to be exact. Minkoff dedicated the book: “To all the girls with nothing but a dream. It’s yours. Now go and get it.”
“The rules are things that worked for me, whether it’s trusting your gut, or giving yourself permission,” she says. “What are the stable things that work in business, marriage and parenting across the board?”
Minkoff thinks that both success and failure can be equally instructive. It’s just that you are immediately exploring what you could have done differently when you fail. Failure is almost always a learning opportunity. Yet when you succeed, Minkoff believes it’s just as important to reevaluate what led to that.
That’s rule No. 17: GET FRIENDLY WITH FAILURE. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you learn.
“Fear is an emotion that has been hard-wired into us,” Minkoff says. “It keeps us safe. When you are doing something that scares you, it’s OK to evaluate all the worst case scenarios before making your move. But the important thing is to take the next step.”
The Rules of Rebecca Minkoff
Giving back is another big passion for the designer. Along with the other female business leaders and mentors that she has collected, Minkoff says, “We are paying it forward.”
“With Female Founder Collective, we are teaching real life business skills to women entrepreneurs. When I was younger, I felt lost in the big city. As I got older, all the issues became clearer, like the wage gap. I wanted an outlet for women to educate each other.”
Achieving that elusive work/life balance is all about expectations. Are women fulfilling their own expectations or those of others? That’s rule No. 20: FORGET ABOUT BALANCE. Optimize your life for you. Minkoff advocates for striving for flexibility rather than perfection, which only leads to guilt.
“People see me and think it’s me running every aspect of the company,” Minkoff says. “We have a remarkable team of 25 people. For a lot of years, I did everything. But now they free me up to do the things I want to do like speaking engagements, the podcast, even writing this book.”
COVID has been especially tricky for women to navigate. Women were largely tasked with handling child care, and juggling working from home at the same time when schools went virtual. Minkoff felt this tension herself. Splitting home schooling duties with her husband, she worried about her children’s education falling behind. With her company, employees and supply chain also at the top of her mind.
“As women it’s on us to demand what we need from our support system,” Minkoff says.
That might be as little as changing a diaper, or folding the laundry. But women have to ask. In fact, that’s rule No. 3: DON’T ASK FOR HELP. Ask for what you need.
“When you ask a better question, you get a better answer,” Minkoff says.
“Before COVID, there was a separation of worlds ― your work life remained separate from your home life. But that has been stripped away. It has shown our bosses the life behind us, and as women we should use that to our advantage.
“You see a lot of women out of work, looking to take control of their lives. People are reevaluating what’s valuable to them, and they are ready to take more risks to achieve their goals.”
That’s actually rule No. 2: GO FOR PURPOSE OVER PAYOUT. Happiness is not a timecard.
Minkoff believes most people have a sense of what makes them happy, or what they are good at. She suggests trying a lot of things on for size. Like she did when she was a young intern, moving from one department to another. It gave her a view of the business from all angles, and allowed her to focus in on her true strengths. She feels that’s a great way to hone in on what could become a happy and lasting career.
“When you look at history, and the women that changed things,” Minkoff says, “It takes sticking your neck out. . . like Rosa Parks, sometimes you’ve got to stick your neck out.”
“The risks are what I am excited about now. You can look at it like exercising a muscle. With the book launch, I’ve been asking my followers about their fears, and it’s been cathartic for women to share those with each other.”
It’s been cathartic for the author as well ― ordering and sharing the life lessons she’s learned so far. There’s a little tough love in the book as well. Minkoff is a proponent of being proactive and taking responsibility for yourself and your own happiness.
“Fearless is not saying you don’t have to fear,” Minkoff insists. “But you can learn how to live alongside it, and still pursue your dreams.”