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Icon Rebecca Minkoff's advice for pandemic-fatigued women? Stop asking for permission

The fashion designer and entrepreneur shares lessons on making a meaningful career pivot from her new book “Fearless: The New Rules for Unlocking Creativity, Courage, and Success.”
Rebecca Minkoff attends the 22nd annual ACE Awards at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 11, 2018, in New York.
Rebecca Minkoff attends the 22nd annual ACE Awards at Cipriani 42nd Street on June 11, 2018, in New York.Charles Sykes / Invision/AP file

Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff knows a thing or two about the impact of risk-taking. After moving to New York City from Florida at the age of 18 instead of going to college – with no contacts in the fashion world — she made the professional leap to start her own brand in 2005 after being fired from first job in the industry. According to her, it all started with addressing her own fears head on.

“Fear can hold a lot of us back whether it is in the workplace or personally, I have learned so much over the last 20 years in business,” the designer and entrepreneur recently told Know Your Value’s Daniela Pierre-Bravo.

In an effort to share what she’s learned about risk, resilience and reframing success, Minkoff released her debut book this month, “Fearless: The New Rules for Unlocking Creativity, Courage, and Success.”

“If I can give [women] guideposts along [their] journey and have an entertaining story over the years of all my failures, trials, and tribulations, then that was the goal of the book,” said the co-founder and creative director of her eponymous fashion line.

The book’s 21 rules for helping women make professional gains is especially critical in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which may have set the female workforce back a generation.

But Minkoff was quick to point out the pandemic’s silver lining. “We got scrappy … [when] I watched our business shear off a cliff.” Her brand lost over 70 percent of their business in March 2020, due to department stores closing. “The easier thing would be to close up and come back later, but we owed it ourselves, the families that we support, and how hard we worked for the last 16 years to fight this out.”

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For businesses within her Female Founder Collective, she touted the benefits of being creative nimble during this time. “I kept telling [them] be happy you’re small, because we can be nimble like a fox and pivot when we need,” said Minkoff. “So, whether I was the chief content creator, email copywriter – you name that job – I did it and so did my team. I think we’re still here because of it.”

Stop asking for Permission

For Minkoff, the first lesson she learned in her career journey – Rule #1 in her book – was getting over the idea of constant validation. “I think we get into this mindset sometimes of ‘Do you think I should?’ or ‘I have an idea, what do you think?’ My rule for you is don’t ask for permission,” she told Pierre-Bravo. “If you have a great idea or strategy, say it. Asking for permission is something that’s great for your toddler or 9-year-old, but it’s not great for women when we need to take risks or do something bold.”

Get friendly with failure, but be ready for opportunity

The mother of three also explained that part of taking professional risks includes staying calm when things don’t go as planned, which was a normal part of scaling her business. “In the book I say sometimes you win, sometimes you learn,” she mentioned. “By that I mean we need to reframe failure. If we say to ourselves, ‘what did I learn by this,’ instead of ‘I’m a failure, I’ll never make it,’ then we can start shifting that behavior that gets us into these patterns.”

Minkoff added that for many entrepreneurs, especially women of color, getting past the self-limiting fear of failure proved to be the biggest hurdle. “Last year in the middle of the pandemic, the Female Founder Collective put on a cohort where we educated over 50 female founded companies on how to raise money, capital and what to do with it. More than half of the cohort were women of color,” she said.

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“What we saw was this fear of we only have one chance,” she added. “We overwhelmingly said to them, go out and pitch to the investors and VCs you’d never want the money from, people that you’d say this would be terrible partner – those should be the first people you pitch – because you’re doing something new for the first time. Get your stage fright worked out. If you have to pitch in front of friends and family, get really good practice so that by the time you have your one and only, you are ready.”