You've heard Heidi Klum reiterate this week after week, but as the adage goes, in fashion, one day you're in and the next day you're out. And this certainly applies to the business of fashion, too. Enter: Project Runway: Fashion Startup, Lifetime's latest reality series that gives fashion and beauty entrepreneurs the chance to pitch their startup company to a panel of investors.
The panel is composed of Rebecca Minkoff (an industry leader in accessible luxury handbags and accessories), Gary Wassner (the CEO of Hilldun Corporation, a company that finances new designers), Katia Beauchamp (the cofounder and CEO of Birchbox), and Christine Hunsicker (CEO and founder of Gwynnie Bee). In a phone interview, Preview got to pick the brains of renowned accessory designer Rebecca Minkoff as she dished on what she learned on the show, the importance of social media, and advice for aspiring fashion entrepreneurs.
IMAGE Courtesy of Lifetime Asia
What do you look for in a fashion company?
"What I look for is a company that just needs some gas, ideally has a good head on its shoulders, has a good business plan, already showing signs of success and doesn’t flinch at the questions being thrown at them because they already know the answers.
I’m looking for cohesive branding, marketing, and a product I know people will want. And they’ve got a good story to tell, and what makes them unique, what makes them different from anything on the market, and they’re organized in their process of how they’ll go to market.
Most of my advice is based on the show around branding, marketing, telling stories. My co-judges on the show were focused on the business and the metrics and I made sure they had a very good product."
What kind of judge are you on the show?
"I come across nurturing, I try to remain positive as much as I can on the show. people are putting themselves out there and that takes a lot of courage and I wouldn’t want to be someone who makes someone second guess themselves or make them feel bad for trying."
What advice would you give aspiring fashion entrepreneurs?
"I think it’s key to know that it’s okay to fail, and failure in inevitable, and it’s part of achieving the goal. It’s more of how to bounce back, and how to retrench and learn from the experience of why you didn’t succeed. I talk a lot about that people think they can Amazon Prime their way to success or Uber their success, but it really takes a lot of hard work and time to make a product that will succeed."
How do you make sure you're connected to your consumers?
"We were the first brand to be online and talking to our consumer in 2005. It wasn’t about adapting it was an organic evolution. As social media became a major force in fashion, we were already adept to it. Now, we’re always making sure to be in contact with our consumer, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, it’s important to also make them feel like you’re talking to them properly on each channel so it feels unique."
When do you know it's time to give up?
"As an entrepreneur, if no one wants your product, if no one sees longevity, if you’re out of money and you’ve tried every avenue and explored every nook and cranny then you should no longer continue but usually if you have a product that can stand on its own then there’s usually a way."
What have you learned by being on the show?
"The things that stood out to me is that the American dream is still very alive and very real. It was inspiring to see people starting out and see the passion they have for their companies. And also learning a lot, between my co-hosts and their Harvard degrees, I felt like I got a business degree as well learning from their viewpoint what’s smart to invest in."
Is there anything you would have done differently?
"I probably would have invested in Facebook, I would have gotten on Instagram even sooner than we did. We were one of the first fashion brands to get on it but I would have utilized that tool more. Hindsight is always 20/20. I wouldn’t have been deterred when people talked us out of talking to our consumer,which happened all the time, they talked us out of using bloggers. We didn’t listen to them but we had the fear of “what if they were right.” Looking back we wouldn’t have been scared of what we decided."
Project Runway: Fashion Startup premieres on May 18 at 9pm on the Lifetime channel.