With her line of designer handbags, clothing and accessories stocked in major retail stores around the world, a wildly popular podcast and a successful book, Rebecca Minkoff is the definition of a successful entrepreneur.

Despite not having formal fashion training, Minkoff built a fashion retail empire with her brother, Uri, and she has one key piece of advice for entrepreneurs: take risks, and don’t be scared to fail.

“You’ll always come out the other end learning something. And we’re going to fail a lot. It’s part of everything we do. And, so, to reframe every failure as, ‘What did I learn?’. It’s a learning opportunity,” Minkoff said during a recent virtual fireside chat with Barbara Mason, Scotiabank’s Group Head and Chief Human Resources Officer.

“It's an opportunity to add another notch in your tool belt or get forged into a better diamond.”

Minkoff’s comments came during a virtual event hosted by The Scotiabank Women Initiative ® (SWI), whose mission is to increase economic and professional opportunities for Scotiabank clients who identify as women or non-binary to be successful, as it marks three years since its launch in December 2018.

Barb Mason and Rebecca Minkoff

Photo: Barb Mason and Rebecca Minkoff

Minkoff talked about her own entrepreneurial journey, from personally giving out postcards in New York’s Union Square to drum up interest in her designs to later having a namesake brand and hosting her own fashion shows to showcase her collections.

She talked about her successes, such as when Minkoff broke the mold for fashion shows in 2015 by featuring a live band and bloggers in an outdoor show, as well as her failures.

One such failure was the initial launch of her podcast, Superwomen, Minkoff said. After selling many ads for the podcast, the expectation that the designer’s large following on social media would flock to listen didn’t pan out, she explained.

“I fell on my face, and they had to give all the money back,” she said. But Minkoff explained that she got her “hands dirty” and tried to figure out how to make the podcast successful, and now, three years later, Superwomen is in the top 5% of podcasts.

Minkoff also talked about the unique challenges that women entrepreneurs face, such as the delicate balance as a leader between wanting to be nurturing and empathetic, while demanding excellence. 

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I think sometimes women can shy away from wanting to be too tough or too strong because, you know, we get judged more harshly. And I've just taken a stance that you can be empathetic, you can be kind, but you can also be very strong and demand excellence and I felt like that's been the right move for me as a leader in order to see people succeed.

— Rebecca Minkoff 

“I think sometimes women can shy away from wanting to be too tough or too strong because, you know, we get judged more harshly. And I've just taken a stance that you can be empathetic, you can be kind, but you can also be very strong and demand excellence and I felt like that's been the right move for me as a leader in order to see people succeed.”

It is important for business leaders to be authentic, vulnerable and admit mistakes as well, she added, explaining how she responded after making a “huge mistake” recently.

“I said to them all, ‘I made a mistake. I was wrong. I should have listened to you, and I won't do it again.’ And I think that that makes them not abandon their leader. They go OK, she's human just like us and we can believe in that.”

The Scotiabank Women Initiative is a unique offering helping thousands of women pursue their best professional and financial futures by providing unbiased access to capital and tailored solutions, bespoke specialized education, holistic advisory services and mentorship.  SWI has deployed more than $3 billion in capital to women-owned and women-led businesses in Canada since its launch in December 2018.

The program’s Un-Mentorship Boot Camps have worked with more than 6,000 women entrepreneurs across the country, helping them improve their business acumen through networking and other business challenges.

SWI also introduced a Digital Hub developed in collaboration with Shopify, Google Canada, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook and HubSpot to deliver key resources to help women entrepreneurs accelerate their businesses digitally.

Its initial focus was on helping women-owned and women-led businesses, but in its second year SWI expanded to serve emerging women leaders and executives among the Bank’s Global Banking and Markets clients, offering bespoke programs such as board preparation courses for clients, aimed at building up the pipeline and correcting the imbalance in corporate boardrooms in Canada.

Last year, SWI also launched in the Bank’s Global Wealth Management division with the aim of helping to empower women investors with education and other tools to take charge of their financial futures. The program offers in-depth training, perspectives and strategies for advisors to help better support them with the unique wealth management opportunities of women clients.

“We really started with small and medium sized businesses and helping them get access to capital, and get the tools and the information to be successful,” said Gillian Riley, President and CEO, Tangerine Bank, founder of The Scotiabank Women Initiative, said during the event. “And that focus remains, but we’ve thought even further about how we could expand this concept into other divisions, and want to look to help businesses grow, women develop their careers and make decisions about their own financial futures as well.”

To watch the full Scotiabank Women Initiative fireside chat with Rebecca Minkoff, click here.