Minkoff X Penn

In the fashion industry, the surname “Minkoff” has become synonymous with innovation. Since her humble beginnings of making T-shirts in her apartment in 2005, accessories and apparel designer Rebecca Minkoff has grown her brand exponentially with a technology-focused business strategy. In partnership with her brother Uri, Minkoff has become a pioneer in digitizing customer service and creating fashionable wearable tech. As a part of Penn Fashion Week, the duo came to the University of Pennsylvania yesterday to speak about interactive retailing and capturing the millennial consumer.

The Rebecca Minkoff brand has been consumer-centric from the very start, beginning with its products, in particular the signature Morning After handbag. In 2005, Minkoff wanted to create a bag that was affordable yet would not go out of style in three months. She noticed a dearth of variety in the $500 price point zone, and decided on a logo-free, timeless bag for consumers who wanted affordable style. And thus the Morning After bag was conceived, and received by the market with great success. Since then, Minkoff’s creations have been spotted on the arms of celebrities and models from Jenna Elfman to Agyness Deyn.

Minkoff credits her success her focused approach to customer service, which has been unique within the industry since she launched the brand. Rebecca Minkoff was one of the first brands to cross the brand-consumer divide and reach out to customers for product and service feedback, breaking the traditional top-down hierarchy of the fashion industry. Through conversations with customers, Minkoff solicited feedback that she used to adapt and improve her products to fit customer desires. Despite that many insiders’ concerns that she was “dirtying the brand”, Minkoff was adamant to democratize her brand. Contrary to the norms of the industry, “we wanted to make [Rebecca Minkoff] a brand of the people,” she said.

And Minkoff has indeed been a pioneer in incorporating “the people” into her brand identity. In 2011, she was the one of the first to collaborate with fashion bloggers, with now-celebrity blogger Rumi Neely modeling in her Spring/Summer. She also incorporated fan Instagram photos in her ad campaign, which Marc Jacobs replicated in a similar vein several years later in his #CastMeMarc campaign that recruited models from Instagram and Twitter. Minkoff was also the first to use Snapchat and GoPro cameras to show behind-the-scenes action at Fashion Week, and is now in the process of creating a 360-degree virtual experience of her show.

Tech has been integral to the development of Minkoff’s stores. Despite that many have predicted the death of brick-and-mortar retail due to the rise of online shopping, the Minkoffs have continued in omni-channel sales, with unique technology-based customer service in their brick-and-mortar stores that tries to blend the best of online and offline. The “Retail 3.0” model, as Minkoff calls it, was created to solve consumer pain points and was first tested out in their Soho, New York store. Upon entering the store, customers could interact with a large touch-screen mirror, with which they could order drinks and select clothing. Their choices would be automatically sent to their dressing room, which was another innovation in itself. The dressing rooms contained interactive mirrors as well, and would show product recommendations based on the customer’s choices, and allow the customer to ask for other sizes and styles. This design was created so that customers could go through the entire shopping process without speaking to a single person, akin to online shopping. By combining brick-and-mortar stores with new technology, Minkoff has tried to target both traditional consumers who like personal service with modern consumers who prefer “touch” rather than face-to-face interactions.

And the emphasis on technology has extended to her products as well. Minkoff recently entered the wearable tech market with several jewelry pieces intended to blend fashion with functionality. She designed a bracelet that could be connected to a smartphone to show notifications from the top 25 contacts, and also a bracelet that doubles as a phone charger. Moreover, Minkoff partnered with phone accessory brand Casemate to design a cross body bag with a charging phone case inside of it, for power on the go.

Even though Minkoff is a newcomer to the game compared to many established fashion institutions, this quality allows her to keep her brand current. Unlike many older companies that have issues impeding their growth and preventing the implementation of technology, there is nothing to stop Rebecca Minkoff from moving forward.

Photos courtesy of Baker Retailing Center