We sat down with Rachel Roy, the stylist made fashion designer and business woman, at the launch of her shoe collection at Nordstrom on Sept. 20. Read what she had to say about fashion, women empowerment, business and shopping on a budget.
You talk so much about making clothes for strong independent women. Who is a strong independent woman in the limelight that you think has great style?
For actresses, Diane Kruger, I think she is so effortless and chic and modern and feminine and strong all in one.
I really do love, how Michelle Obama supports so many different designers and yet she does it in a way that’s all her own … I appreciate all the support she gives to American designers and I believe she takes risks that therefore help women that are watching her.
And how do you feel about the fact that Michelle Obama wears your clothes?
Oh I’m so happy of course! I mean the first time she wore something of mine that I knew about it was off the rack. This was about 4 years ago, so for a designer of my size to see the First Lady of the United States wearing something, that when the photograph was taken people could go in store and buy it, I was just over the moon and I don’t know if that was intentional on her part but those are the kinds of things that help small businesses.
The other thing is, for a woman who is so scrutinized to choose a garment means that she feels good in it and confident, hopefully beautiful and strong and all those things I’m trying to achieve in the fittings.
What is the most important aspect of an outfit? Is it fit? Is it accessories? Everyone says something different.
I think that’s a really, really good question. I’ve always had the mentality that if you have a great shoe and handbag, but shoe first the handbag you can get away with as well, it can be your foundation for anything.
Accessories are important to me but I like to use accessories as a story for my voice. So what story do you want to tell today, that’s the great thing about fashion we can tell whatever story we want.
I do like chunky cocktail pieces, I like vintage pieces, I’m not a huge diamond girl but I like an interesting story through jewelry. But I do think a shoe really grounds your outfit, and you can get away with a little two dollar vintage tee that you find in a box and I don’t know, American Rag jeans.
Clothing to me, after accessories is where you use your freedom of expression.
I saw an interview with you where you said that one of your passions was to give other women a voice, or to speak for women who don’t have the opportunity to speak for themselves. So how are you doing that? Are you doing that literally through your voice, through your fashion and what are you saying?
I was in Ghana a few years ago and I had my daughter with me, this was awhile ago maybe 5 years ago and we were at an orphanage. The little girls opened my bag and found lip-gloss and some of them had never even seen their reflection before in a mirror and so to be there with my daughter and to be surrounded by little girls that were so happy with lip-gloss, it showed me that the beauty of fashion is how it makes someone feel about themselves. Within that same trip I had a moment where I thought I couldn’t do it anymore because you see how far a little amount of money goes, and helpful it is and then I see the prices that I’m charging and there was a moment where it broke my heart and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ And then someone I was traveling said to me, ‘who are you kidding? Your company isn’t even that big, do you think you even have a voice anyone’s been listening to? Work harder so people will hear what you have to say, and care about what you have to say and then speak on behalf of people who don’t have a voice.’ And it made perfect sense to me. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and worked harder.
I try to provide jobs, for women in particular, in 3rd world countries, working with Haiti now. I employed a mother daughter team that creates jewelry and I buy jewelry from them and I put it into my secondary collection because I have more orders there and I want more orders basically … the more orders they have the longer they’re working, the longer they’re working that might keep the mother out of an abusive relationship, might put food on the table, that’s what I mean about being a voice for women.
Designer merchandise is so expensive, do you have to have money to be fashionable?
I went to college in Washington DC, I grew up quite poor, and I had to work 3 jobs through college, but I made friends with sales girls, and they would call me when my favorite things would go on sale. But you know, like SALE, like 70% off like before it goes to the outlet, and that’s how I would buy my Manolos. I have been a Manolo shopper from the age of 17, I still have some of those Manolos, and I bought less than my friends at the time but they would last so much longer, and you’d get your money’s worth out of them. I’m 38 I don’t know how many times I’ve worn them. So, no you don’t but you have to have taste and taste is relative and so if your taste is rocker chic, there’s enough out there for everybody. Know what lane you want to be in and then have fun in it. Don’t try to be everything.