Being Mama: Rebecca Minkoff
The fashion designer and mom to Luca and Bowie talks about setting boundaries and why she wants her kids to work hard
Rebecca Minkoff doesn’t really do overnight success. The designer, whose range is beloved by celebrities like Reese Witherspoon and Kate Mara (among many others), took years to launch her own label, and similarly, struggled to fall pregnant at first. But they say we’re given the challenges we can cope with – and Rebecca is living proof of that.
The designer, known for her colorful, design-led handbags, first learned to sew from her mom, who refused to buy her a new dress – instead, she taught her to make her own. From there, Rebecca made her own bat mitzvah dress, and after college, scored a coveted job at a menswear company in New York… only to discover that she would be working in the shipping department. Still, she rose through the ranks and a few years later, left the company to launch her own label. A few weeks later, 9/11 happened.
While many of us would pack up and go home, Rebecca stayed, and her first collection became a love letter of sorts to her city. She gave a t-shirt emblazoned with “I Love New York” to her friend, the actress Jenna Elfman, who wore it on Leno. The rest is history.
Like the zigzag road to her ultimately successful career, Rebecca endured plenty of ups and downs when it came to falling pregnant with Luca and Bowie. “I was really winging it at first,” she says. “When I wasn’t making progress, I began to incorporate things I knew that would help me get pregnant. I got ovulation sticks that would tell me when it was ‘go time’, I saw an acupuncturist who ‘warmed up’ my uterus, I had my partner take extra zinc (apparently, it makes the swimmers strong).” Eventually, the extra credit work paid off and Luca, and then Bowie, were conceived. “I think the key is to remind yourself that you’ve spent your whole life trying NOT to get pregnant,” she says, laughing. “The older you get, the harder it is – so to be patient and know it will happen, eventually. And if it doesn’t, there are always alternatives.”
While pregnancy didn’t exactly make her glow – between nausea and gestational diabetes – Rebecca was determined to have as natural a birth as possible. “While I was pregnant, I watched a documentary called The Business of Being Born, and it really convinced me I wanted to have a natural childbirth,” she says. “I feel like our society has gotten so medical, and that this diminishes what women are truly capable of. To me, it’s a gift that we are able to bring life into the world, and I dislike the idea that doctors who want to save time tell pregnant women to opt for C-sections.” To that end, she prepared for the birth like any major event in her life (like, say, Fashion Week), by doing Bradley Birth Classes and prenatal yoga, as well as hiring a midwife who knew her preferences, and a doula. “Together with my husband, we did it – despite the hospital’s attempts at intervention and in spite of some of their orders that I would not be able to,” she says. A proud advocate of natural birth, Rebecca says that if more women knew how they could manage pain and were embraced by the team at the hospital, things would drastically change and improve women’s and infant health overall. “I came out the other side fully conscious of a power I didn’t know I had. To me, that is priceless.”
For someone who runs her own design label, returning to work was a non-negotiable. “It’s a whole different ball game,” she acknowledges. Things that helped? “Getting really, really good at multi-tasking, empowering my team and relying on more help. As a female founder, I needed to ensure that my team could become their own ‘bosses’ within their area. So getting them to take that initiative helped with being able to be a mom and work,” says Rebecca. Nowadays, she ensures that employees returning to work after having children have the same benefits as she did. “If they have to pump, or leave early for a doctor’s appointment or childhood milestone, I want to them to. I encourage them – probably to the point of being overbearing – to pump as often as possible!”
Still, she says, the notion of work-life balance is a bugbear for her. “Balance. A man came up with this term, right?” Balance, she says, is a “mirage, that doesn’t really exist.” For Rebecca and her family, finding equilibrium between her career and her home life simply took time. “I needed to explore my limits – how much work was I prepared to do, what was I comfortable with? From there, I started to set rules. I want to walk my kid to school every morning. That means we don’t have office meetings until 9.30am. I also have a rule about not being away from my kids for more than five days. If I truly have to, they come with me.” It’s those give and takes, says Rebecca, that are unique to each mother, that she has to explore for herself.
Key to her parenting style is her own mother’s insistence on hard work (see: The Dress Incident, above). “My own mom always taught me to work hard and not to expect anything to come to me just because I want it,” she says. “I want my kids to know the importance of this, too, because for me, it’s advice that has truly resonated.” To that end, Rebecca has already put her kids to work, saying, “I try to let them help me around the house as much as possible.”
While her company has gone from strength to strength over the years, Rebecca is sanguine when it comes to her achievements. “Over the years, I’ve done a lot, and learned a lot. I’m really proud of what I’ve achieved with my label – my dream was always to open flagship stores, and to have it come true was an amazing moment. But personally, my biggest achievement is, well, even bigger – birthing two children… and keeping them alive!”
Rebecca’s maternity style
“When I was pregnant with Luca (my first pregnancy), my goal was to not buy maternity clothes. Cut to ordering a ton of maternity jeans with Bowie, my second – and feeling like I could breath again! I think it’s key to dress for your shape even while pregnant. To me, the same rule of what looks good on you without a baby is the same as what works with a baby. I have a large chest and skinny legs, so I tried while pregnant to wear flowy tops with skinny jeans or great jackets with shorter dresses.”
Rebecca’s top three tips for looking pulled together (even when you’ve had zero sleep)
“Always pick a nice piece of jewelry that can stand out on its own. Secondly, false lashes are divine. I go to Bling Lash every three weeks and take a nap, and wake up with new eyes! Lastly, a good bag (from me!) is always a good idea!”