Today, you can see her coveted handbags on the arms of supermodel Gisele Bündchen, actor Reese Witherspoon, and Cantonese pop star Meg Lam. But in 2005, Rebecca Minkoff was an unknown designer vying for attention in the fierce high-end fashion industry. Rather than hope for the blessing of an influential editor to launch her to fame, Minkoff teamed up with her brother Uri, a software entrepreneur, to form direct relationships with customers using emerging technology platforms. With Rebecca as designer and Uri as CEO, Rebecca Minkoff, the company, has grown 20% to 30% annually since its founding. And just as Rebecca introduces new designs every season, Uri keeps the company’s technology profile fresh in order to stay one digital step ahead of the competition.
Meet the New Tastemakers
“When we started, the communication between designer and consumer was one way,” says Uri Minkoff. “And unless you were deemed the next darling by an editor or store buyer, your chances of breaking in were relatively nil.” The Minkoffs sidestepped anointed tastemakers and leveraged emerging social media platforms to build a community of brand ambassadors. “Even if you are chosen as a press darling, the only way to stay at the party is to sell,” Uri says. “We launched at a time when consumers were beginning to become the real influencers” and seized the opportunity to capitalize on that influence, he says.
A Store of the Future
In November 2014, Rebecca Minkoff opened two new stores in Manhattan and San Francisco, developed in collaboration with eBay’s retail innovation group; in August 2015, a third store, the company’s largest, launched in Los Angeles. The goal with each store is to translate the online shopping experience into real life.
Each location features a large interactive screen at the entrance, where customers can browse products or request a beverage. Inside a fitting room, RFID-tagged merchandise is displayed on an interactive mirror, where customers can request new sizes or Rebecca’s own recommended coordinates. Using a mobile app, they can pay and leave without ever talking to a soul. “The technology gives usthe ability to create the kind of experience each customer wants,” says Uri, who had previously founded consultancy Fortis Software. “She can shop anonymously or be treated like a VIP.” That’s critical because Rebecca Minkoff’s target customer is the tech-savvy Millennial woman eager for personalization.
“We’re a bridge between tech and fashion.”
Most ideas for the store were Uri’s, with execution by eBay. “To be able to create an elegant solution, we needed their industrial designers and software engineers,” he says.
Make Retail Smarter
“YouTube is the TV of our time. Twitter is the newspaper. Facebook is the water cooler,” says Uri. “All of those allow us to be seen.” The data from those interactions helps to reveal what customers want. Conventional wisdom holds that the key to retail success is location, but digital commerce proves that there’s science behind sales. “Data about conversion and bounce rates and traffic flow allows us to understand our audience better online,” Uri explains. “Part of what we’ve done with our stores is to put the technology in place to understand the digital footprint of the brick-and-mortar environment.”
Disrupt from the Inside
Today, Rebecca Minkoff may be mentioned in the same breath as Chanel or Valentino. The brand is sold in Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s, and the company is a regular on the pages of Vogue and Elle. Meanwhile, every fashion brand is embracing technology. “Now that the [social] platforms have matured, it’s a less obvious avenue for innovation,” says Uri.
He’s bent on sustaining the company’s original outsider posture, however. “Sure, we’re insiders, but we’re also a curiosity,” Uri says. “We spent a long time not caring about what the industry thought, basing everything on delighting our customer, and we want to maintain that.”
That means reading tech journals, keeping up with developments in Silicon Valley, and reaching out to new technology vendors to identify trends gaining heat. “This work is a key part of our brand promise,” Uri says. “It shows we are anticipating our customer’s needs and behavior and how tech plays a role in her life. We’re a bridge between tech and fashion, and that’s a great place to be.”
Constantly Embrace the Near Future
Rebecca Minkoff’s fall 2015 runway show was filmed in 360-degree virtual reality. “It was better than the first-row experience,” says Uri. “It was important to give our customer that experience, but I also believe that virtual reality will be the way we shop in the future,” Uri says.
At New York Fashion Week in September 2015, a drone followed models down the runway, a concept Uri suggested because he envisions the company’s Millennial shoppers strolling down Melrose in Beverly Hills or along the cobblestones of SoHo with their own drones.
The company plans to explore 3D-scanning technology early next year. The goal is to demonstrate to the brand’s young fans that the company knows not only where fashion is headed next but also where technology will take their lives.