Women have made big strides in the financial industry, but banking’s classic accessory is still stuck in the 70s. We collaborated with fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff to change that.
The banker bag has been a Wall Street status symbol since 1978, when Joan Killian Gallagher, then 28, founded Warden Brooks, one of the first companies to sell branded merchandise. Her canvas duffel, with a jacquard ribbon strap featuring the logo of whichever bank placed an order, sold a million units in its first year. Traditionally bestowed on associates and analysts when they join a firm, the hip-slung swag soon became ubiquitous in New York and beyond.
The bag has barely changed over the years, but the same can’t be said of the world it inhabits. For one thing, the financial industry, while still working to achieve racial and gender equity, is far more diverse than it was in the late 1970s and 1980s, with women now representing nearly 53% of entry-level workers1. And many of those women find what is essentially a glorified gym bag a less-than-fashionable accessory. According to our survey, only 3% of women in finance own a traditional banker bag.
“Although women’s representation and influence on Wall Street has evolved, the bag hasn’t. And while the traditional canvas duffle bags still have their place, we saw an opportunity to reimagine the bag to appeal to a more diverse audience,” says Alice Milligan, Morgan Stanley’s Chief Marketing Officer.
Teaming Up for a Common Goal
Fashion designer Rebecca Minkoff understands what a woman wants from a bag. She launched her company with her brother in 2005 with a single style, the M.A.B., and built it into a global brand before selling it earlier this year (she remains the label’s Chief Creative Director). She also understands the importance of championing women in a traditionally male arena. She established the Female Founder Collective, a women’s networking group, in 2018, with the intent to support, develop and elevate founders of female-owned and -led businesses. “As women, we have the power to shape and transform our communities—through our purchasing power and also through the leadership and employment opportunities we offer as business owners,” she says. That same year, she kicked off her podcast Superwomen, in which she talks to powerful women from all walks of life, CEOs to artists, about how they’ve found success.
When we approached Minkoff with the idea to reimagine the banker bag for women, she was up to the challenge. In fact, she had had the banker bag in mind when she designed her very first M.A.B. “I’m not only a fashion designer but I’m a strong advocate for women in business. This project gave me a chance to rethink a style icon so that it reflects the new gender diversity in banking—something I know Morgan Stanley champions as well.”
A New Take on a Classic
The new streamlined and refined version of the banker bag would never be mistaken for something you would throw in your locker on the way to the squash court. “My goal was to empower women to feel confident expressing their own sense of style in the workplace,” says Minkoff. Made of responsibly sourced leather from Spain, which is tanned using an eco-friendly process, the Rebecca Minkoff x Morgan Stanley Banker Bag 2.0 features silver hardware, a removable shoulder strap and plenty of compartments. And at 14 inches long and 9 inches wide, it’s roomy without being overwhelming.
The update on an icon made its debut during New York Fashion Week at Minkoff’s Spring ’23 Immersive Presentation at Lavan 541. "We don’t just want to launch a new bag,” says Milligan. “We want to celebrate today’s increasingly diverse workforce and continue to champion progress and catalyze meaningful change.”