Rebecca had the amazing honor of delivering the commencement speech to the FIT Class of 2013. To a room packed with fashion’s brightest hopefuls, Rebecca spoke about the importance of taking risks, sticking to your guns and adapting to the digital age.
Watch the entire speech above and follow along with the text version below.
It was a privilege to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
I am honored to stand before you today, sharing a few minutes of this short and precious time between the cap-and-gown “selfie” you posted on Instagram this morning and the moment you update your Facebook page in an hour, telling the world that you are a proud FIT graduate, class of 2013.
I want to take a moment to acknowledge each and every one of you for the courage it takes to choose fashion.
You are so brave.
It isn’t the safest career path.
You have chosen creativity over security, imagination over conformity, and adventure over the predictable.
But you have made this choice because you know fashion is important.
It is inspiring. It is fun.
In Tokyo it is a religion. In Paris it is an institution. In New York, it is everything, everyone and everywhere around you.
It’s just as much a thriving business as it is an art, an emotion, a form of communication, and a direct reflection of society and pop culture for every generation.
Fashion is a medium through which people make themselves known.
It’s how we see and understand one another. It informs the way people see themselves and how they want others to perceive them.
It is a unifier. It is a differentiator. It is a symbol of oneself.
Fashion is a field in which there are no rules. No formulas. No rights or wrongs.
It’s open to interpretation, and that power to create something new, innovative and beautiful is the power to change how we see the world.
And while there are these universal truths, the reason why fashion is important to you is uniquely your own.
That is what keeps you going.
That is what keeps you hungry for more.
I knew when I was 13 years old that fashion was important. I saw a dress that I wanted to wear for my Bat Mitzvah. It was a big deal.
This was going to be a milestone in my life, and that dress was going to do more than make me look stylish and super cool to all my friends.
It was going to make me feel good. I needed it. I had to have it.
So I did what any adolescent girl would do and I begged my mom to buy it for my big day. Despite my best negotiating skills, this battle was a loss. My mom had won the fight… or, so I thought.
Being the resourceful woman that she is, she challenged me to make the dress myself.
The terms of the deal were simple: “I’ll buy you the fabric, and you can learn to sew on Grandma’s sewing machine. This way, you can make any dress you want.”
At the time, I was upset and didn’t understand why I had to make my own dress, but moms do have their special way of teaching you life lessons without you even knowing it.
So I did it. I made my Bat Mitzvah dress with my own two hands. It wasn’t perfect, but it was my own. My idea. My design. My work. I felt like my best self on that day.
In the end, it wasn’t my mother who won that battle, it was me.
Not only did I get a new dress, I learned how to be creative and persevere – qualities that have propelled me through life’s hurdles and to where I am today.
I guess now would be an appropriate time to say, “Thanks, Mom.”
And to all of the parents and friends who have supported these talented students on their journey towards a career in fashion, I’d like to take a moment to thank you, too.
You’ve helped them take the first step in choosing fashion.
For me, it was knowing that fashion can make someone feel like their best self that inspired me to become a designer. And being able to articulate why I chose fashion has helped me define my goals, made the hard decisions easier, and the triumphs mean that much more.
Class of 2013, you know why you chose fashion.
Now, it’s time to make your choice to pursue your dream a reality.
They say college is the best four years of your life. To you, I say, “Welcome to the best years of your life.” Your futures are bright.
Now, I wish I could tell you that the hard part is over. That you’ve seen the last of the naysayers, pulled the final all-nighters and overcome the biggest obstacles. But, I can’t.
The more you grow in your career, the more moments there will be that test your will.
Early in my career, I realized the battle with my mother over the Bat Mitzvah dress was just the first of many.
In 2008, the economy crashed. It wasn’t pretty. Businesses were going under. Brands — even beloved ones — were starting to fold.
Buyers and editors seemed to come out of the woodwork just to tell us that the category was going to be eliminated, leaving other price points to reign the racks.
But giving up just didn’t feel right to me.
My dream was to build a brand that would be there for women during life’s big moments. And this was starting to feel like one of those big moments.
So when life throws you a curve ball, which it tends to do quite often, what do you do? Be creative and persevere, just like I learned on my grandmother’s old sewing machine.
Fashion is always changing, so it’s crucial to learn to adapt.
Do away with the rules you once knew, and create your own. And that’s just what I did.
At a time when everyone said it was uncool to talk to customers, we listened even closer. We reevaluated our business, our strategy and our price-point. We figured out what worked, and cut what didn’t.
And after three weeks of tireless rebuilding – and might I add, way too many Diet Cokes and ramen dinners – we successfully brought our collection to market. We had the highest sales in our category and redefined our company’s course, which resulted in 546 percent growth over the next three years.
Knowing why we were doing what we were doing allowed us to transform our business in a way that just felt more “us.” Our conviction kept us going in a way no cup of coffee ever could.
It’s that same conviction that has led us to be a fashion industry leader in social media.
You know how we started listening to customers and no one thought that was cool?
Today, we call that Facebook.
And Twitter, and Instagram, and Pinterest and Tumblr, for that matter.
Now, if you’re a brand and you don’t have a presence on these platforms, you might be considered uncool — evidence that being a first to try something new and different has its perks.
A word from the wise: Risks always pay off, even if they don’t work out in your favor. At the end of the day, you’ve learned something new and you know that you went for it. That knowledge is a gift in and of itself.
Class of 2013, you’re entering the fashion industry in the digital age – a time when a Facebook comment can make a brand rethink its design approach, a Tweet reveals a fashion editor’s must-have for the season, a blogger can make a living because of his or her personal style (and brand preferences), a Pinterest board can drive online sales, and an Instagram pic can win fashion enthusiasts tickets to fashion week.
The opportunities are endless.
Challenge yourself to embrace them in creative ways that move people to think differently.
Show the world the way you see it – and don’t just limit to Facebook.
Whether it’s your design talents or your fashion-marketing savvy, this career means something more to you than just a 9-5 job.
It’s your passion. It’s your art. It’s your love.
Give it your all, and you will go far.
Remember, choosing fashion is just the first step. It’s the series of decisions, risks and opportunities you take from this day forward that guide your path and lead you to where you’re meant to be.
Trust yourself. Believe in yourself. Be yourself.
Be creative and persevere.
Remember why you chose fashion in the first place.
And today you have proven to the world — and to yourself — that you have so made the right choice.
You have chosen to succeed. Congratulations.
And on behalf of all who live for fashion, let me be the first to thank you for that, not as students, but as professionals.
As you take your first steps as a fashion professional, it’s important to seek out mentors and surround yourself with people who inspire you and guide you.
This type of support can make or break your advancement in your career.
If I didn’t have the encouragement and guidance of my brother, Uri Minkoff, CEO of the company, and Elissa Bromer, our President, I might not be where I am today.
There is also someone sitting here with us today who early on recognized our company and our bravery, perhaps before we even did.
And you are all so very lucky that he also sits on the board of FIT ensuring there are more success stories every year.
For that, Michael Stanley, I am eternally grateful.
Thank you to FIT for being a landing place for me to get my feet wet in the fashion capital of the world.
And congrats, Class of 2013.