This week, Uri Minkoff, co-founder and CEO of Rebecca Minkoff spoke to a packed room at WWDMAGIC and shared with us how he and Rebecca built their brand from the ground up to become the largest independently owned lifestyle brand today.
Rebecca’s start was not only fueled by her talent, but a serendipitous chain of events that set the stage for developing their business. For those of you that don’t know, it all started when Rebecca made an “I love New York” t-shirt that was worn by actress Jenna Elfman on Jay Leno. The exposure led to orders and while Rebecca cranked out the shirts, she continued working on her apparel line. One day, Jenna asked her to make a handbag for a new movie she was working on. Jumping on the opportunity, Rebecca quickly learned how to make a handbag and sent it off. Although it never made it on set, she started toting it around New York and realized that there was interest in bag. Then, with a new stockist in LA and a feature on DailyCandy.com, the Morning After Bag (MAB) became a huge success. However, it wasn’t that easy. There were major financial risks, late nights, paying others and not herself and self-promotion where Rebecca passed out flyers touting “the next hottest designer” in Union Square all in the name of building a brand.
At the presentation, designers, buyers and the industry carefully listened to the advice that Uri gave for building a brand.
1. Seize the ups and downs of entrepreneurship
The reality is that you will be turned down, told no, and given constructive, and sometimes, not so constructive criticism. Instead of seeing this as a negative or accepting it as a “no,” figure out a way to work around the problem to make the product, idea or initiative better. It was clear that taking risks and the opportunity-solution route is the mantra that Rebecca Minkoff lives by.
2. Know your customer
Part of knowing your customer is understanding what they need. Rebecca noticed a void in the handbag industry because at the time, no brand was playing in the accessible luxury category. Rebecca wanted to give a young twenty something woman like herself, a good-looking bag at an affordable price point, and by realizing that consumer need, the collection was validated.
As the line began to grow and gained popularity with celebrities and press, the one thing they didn’t loose sight of was their customers. Rebecca continued, and still is today, the face behind the brand, making herself accessible and authentic to her customers. From listening to them on blogs, forums, Facebook and meeting them in-person at trunk shows to understand not only their relationship with the bags, but also their lifestyle, they are able to create better products and market to them in a more strategic way.
3. Deliver on your product
The Minkoff’s believe in what you see is what you get, and that’s how they deliver. Uri told us that recently there was a fire at their tannery and leather slated to be used for the next season was damaged. Instead of swapping out leather for a lower grade or a skin that wasn’t promised, they sourced leather from NYC at a higher cost just to stay true to themselves and not to compromise on the quality and product that they promised to the retailer and ultimately, the customer.
4. Leverage and love your brand ambassadors
For those of you don’t know, the Minkettes are Rebecca Minkoff’s brand ambassadors and die-hard fans. These devotees are spread out all over the country and praise the label on blogs, social media sites and some have even become affiliates. Their relationship goes beyond online as they’ve been invited to shopping events, blogger functions, and have even come to the office for tea!
5. Invest in marketing, PR and social media efforts
Rebecca Minkoff is truly a wonderful case study for innovative marketing ideas and collaborations and something they believe in. From getting press by celebrities wearing her bags to customer-driven initiatives like collaborations with Polyvore that gave fans the opportunity to create the newest MAC, they have been able to use both on and offline efforts to grow and sustain customers. Their weekly emails, contests and social media push keeps customers engaged and encourages involvement which helps them grown their user base.
6. Foster and maintain relationships
The Minkoff’s stress the importance of keeping strong relationships. From buyers, retailers, customers, banks, investors, press and the industry, the key is to surround yourself with people that can support your brand as they will invest in you as much as you invest in them.
Towards the end of his presentation, Uri said a memorable line that we must not forget as designers, “add some science to the art” which truly captures the essence of Rebecca Minkoff’s label and the reason for their much deserved success.
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