Designer Rebecca Minkoff can tell if a start-up will succeed or fail

Rebecca Minkoff's brand is known for its fun and colourful leather handbags. It also sells footwear, jewellery and apparel, including a men's clothing and accessories line called Uri Minkoff.
Rebecca Minkoff's brand is known for its fun and colourful leather handbags. It also sells footwear, jewellery and apparel, including a men's clothing and accessories line called Uri Minkoff.PHOTO: LIFETIME ASIA

Designer Rebecca Minkoff says branding, marketing and a product people want are vital to any start-up

When American bag and fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff assesses the viability of a start-up, she looks at three things - if it has a cohesive marketing plan, is selling a product people want and has a leader with a good head on his shoulders.

With more than a decade in the fashion industry, Minkoff, co-founder and designer of her eponymous bag and accessories brand, has a good idea as to whether an entrepreneur has what it takes to survive.

Speaking to The Straits Times over the phone last month, she says: "What I look for is someone who doesn't flinch at the questions thrown at them because they are already prepared for the answer.

"When contestants pitch their product, what I'm looking for is cohesive marketing, branding and a product that I know people will want. It also helps if they have a good story to tell and are organised in their process of how they are going to market their products and what makes them unique and different from anyone else in the market."

Minkoff is one of four judges on American reality television show Project Runway: Fashion Startup, where aspiring fashion and beauty entrepreneurs pitch their concepts to a panel of investors to secure funds for their budding ventures.

The other judges are Ms Katia Beauchamp, chief executive officer and co-founder of monthly subscription beauty-box service Birchbox; Mr Gary Wassner, CEO of Hilldun Corp and chairman and co-founder of Interluxe Holdings; and Ms Christine Hunsicker, CEO and founder of subscription-based clothing rental service Gwynnie Bee.

Minkoff, 36, who is married to actor and director Gavin Bellour and is based in New York, says that she found herself giving advice based on "branding, marketing and them telling a compelling story".

I would never want to be someone who would make someone second-guess themselves or make them feel bad for trying something.

BAG AND FASHION DESIGNER REBECCA MINKOFF saying she tries to be a positive force on reality television show Project Runway: Fashion Startup

The mother of two says: "I think most of my co-judges were very focused on the business and metrics, but for me it is really important to make sure that the contestants have a really good product and for them to figure how to brand it properly."

Speaking from her own experience as one of the first few fashion brands to use social media as a branding and marketing tool in the early 2000s, she says that being ahead of the game helped as the firm did not have to struggle to adapt when social media became a major force in fashion.

"We were already fluent" in it, she says, adding that it is important to continue to engage with customers on all social-media platforms. "Whether it's Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook, it is very important to make sure we are talking to the consumer properly on each channel so it feels unique."

Her brand, which was launched in New York in 2005, has gained a reputation for fun and colourful leather handbags. Over the years, it has expanded into footwear, jewellery and apparel, including a men's clothing and accessories line called Uri Minkoff. It is named after her brother, who is 41 and the firm's co-founder and chief executive officer.

The Rebecca Minkoff brand is sold at more than 900 stores worldwide. In Singapore, it is available at Takashimaya Shopping Centre at Ngee Ann City, as well as at Tangs outlets at Tang Plaza and VivoCity.

Even though Minkoff has a lot to crow about, she does not throw her weight around on the show. Instead, she tries to be a positive force.

She says: "People are putting themselves out there and that takes a lot of courage. I would never want to be someone who would make someone second-guess themselves or make them feel bad for trying something."

•Project Runway: Fashion Startup premieres today, airing on Thursdays at 9pm exclusively on Lifetime (StarHub TV Channel 514).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2017, with the headline 'The 3 keys to success'. Print Edition | Subscribe