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“What would truly make me think ‘Wow, perhaps I’m starting to accomplish what God has intended for me to accomplish’ is when I truly give back to others and help others have freedom…that’s when I’ll start to think that maybe I’ve started to accomplish something truly great.” -Rachel Roy
My personal experience with lightning-speed success doesn’t hold a candle to the accomplishments of fashion designer Rachel Roy who- in just 5 years- has become a definitive figure in the critical, competitive fashion world. Enamored with vintage film belles as a youth, she carried her passion into several divisions of Rocawear as an intern, and soon became creative director of its women’s and children’s divisions. Her decision to launch her own line in 2005, however, was when she struck goldmine.
Ever since, fashion’s “it” girl has seen her vintage-inspired garments adorned on the likes of Oprah, Gwyneth Paltrow, Michelle Obama, Tyra Banks, Jennifer Gardner, and Ivanka Trump and can be seen in every major fashion magazine over the globe. Her greatness, however, is not only found in her fashion career but in her valiant efforts to change the world through humanitarian work (this year she’s partnered with Fairwinds Trading Co. to actively create craft-based jobs for women in Rwanda and Tanzania). I had the honor to sit down with the remarkably humble and stunning Rachel Roy before her RRNY Spring 2010 runway show in Atlanta to discuss her journey and wonderful ways that she is inspiring the world.
ML.com: You went from: impulsively wanting to dress your mom, dad, and brother in your youth (she giggles) to…[Michelle] Obama.
Oh my goodness! And just last night again, I found out that she wore a piece from my pre-Fall collection for a speech in Mexico.
Yeah, it’s probably the best feeling that I could have in the business of dressing women
“…because if you’re not making people feel good about themselves, you’re not doing your job.”
So when someone that I’m inspired by wears it- especially in this point in her career where what she is wearing is so scrutinized that she can’t just throw something on, that means I am starting to do my job in a sense of making women feel good and strong and confident. And I was absolutely over the moon (giggles).
ML.com: It’s evident that your clothes have elements of vintage Hollywood. Why does that era inspire you?
Growing up I couldn’t watch TV, but my family had all the channels that you get when you don’t pay for cable (laughs). So one of those was Turner Classic, and
“I just found the women from the 1940’s and 1930’s [like] Tallulah Bankhead and Ava Gardner so inspiring because they were feminine yet strong.”
There were different periods in the past few years where if you were feminine, you could not be strong- you had to be grungy to be strong or this and that, but anything that deals with balancing opposites I’m very attracted to.
ML.com: So now you have Michelle Obama and Oprah endorsing your clothes, but as a youth you had a mere dream. Has the success hit you yet?
“No, I don’t think I will consider myself truly successful unless my children are happy and healthy and other children in the world are happy and healthy.”
I am blessed to be working in a career that I love and is my passion, and I wouldn’t want to work in any other field, but what would truly make me think “Wow, perhaps I’m starting to accomplish what God has intended for me to accomplish” is when I truly give back to others and help others have freedom, help others have safe, healthy lives- that’s when I’ll start to think that maybe I’ve started to accomplish something truly great.
ML.com: You started in 2005, right?
I started my own collection in 2005, yes.
ML.com: What a mind-boggling fast-track to where you need to be! Personally, I think that just comes from good people doing great things and God honoring that.
ML.com: What about all of the awards and honors you’ve received? Has that made you uneasy?
When you work on what you love there’s highs and lows. But in my mind, because I love it, I don’t think I should get any accolades for it because I feel like I’m blessed. I get to work in fashion, it’s what I want to work in, and I don’t have to work in finance or another industry that I don’t have a passion for, and I should do well at it. I should honor and respect the forces that be- the universe- that allowed me to work in fashion.
“So I should show up as early as I can and stay as long as I can, and I should put integrity into everything I do and put my heart into it because I’m blessed that I get to work in this field.”
But what truly makes me happy is empowering women or children that don’t have power.
ML.com: Wonderful. That’s funny because that was the first question I wanted to ask, because compared to other designers, you may be one of the most vocal about humanitarian issues. Did you always intend for your talents to be a platform for social change?
Thank you for saying that and for asking me that because
“I don’t feel that I do nearly enough and I don’t feel vocal enough.”
I feel that Miss Diane von Furstenberg (fashion designer) is quite amazing at what she accomplishes, donating hundreds of thousands of her own money to scholarships, working in politics, and using her voice in ways that I never would have dreamed of, so to me she’s inspiring- Donna Karan did so much with her causes as well. I feel like if you’re not working on giving back, if you’re not attending every charity event you’re invited to and lending your name/support or donating something- how could you not? Just- simply how could you not? We’re so blessed, and- the more you travel, the more you’re able to see living conditions for other humans, it becomes criminal to do any less.
ML.com: Right…I’m glad you said that because so many people think that once you hit the sweet spot of success and you make it, that the glory is all about you, but really it’s about helping other people get there.
If we’re even allowed to have a voice it’s only because God intended for us to be a vessel for Him, and to let His light shine through us onto what needs light shone on it.
“I was in Africa about 4 years ago, and I struggled with the idea of knowing how much my shoes costs and what that same amount of money would do for some of the different places I was visiting…”
and the only way I could wrap my mind around it was the idea that the better I do, the more I’ll be able to give back. So instead of just wallowing in my guilt and sadness- because that happened for a while- I said “No. The harder I work, the more money I make, the more voice I have- the bigger the impact and the more I can help.” And that’s what gets me through.