Going from a California teen working in a clothing store to making dresses for Michelle Obama has been quite the trajectory for fashion designer Rachel Roy.
Roy, 43, launched her self-titled brand in 2004 after working as creative director of Rocawear, where she met and married the line’s cofounder Damon Dash, whom she divorced in 2009. She was inducted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2007, formed a joint venture with Jones Apparel Group in 2008 and has been selling an affordable line of sportswear, shoes and accessories under her label at Macy’s since 2009.
For the latest in Reuters’ Life Lessons series, Roy shared some of the things she has learned along the way.
Q: What inspired you to enter fashion?
A: I started drawing and making clothes as a young girl and that was my escape. My love of fashion really came from how it can make women feel, myself included. I found that very powerful.
Q: What was your first job?
A: My first job was at age 14 at Contempo Casuals. I went there and didn’t leave until they hired me.
This, coupled with my father always working three jobs, instilled the strong work ethic that I have today. Working retail for over eight years is where I learned how women feel when they try clothes on. I cared deeply about how fashion can transform a mood, and someone’s day, week, and life.
Q: What has being in the fashion business, which can be mercurial and unforgiving, taught you about being a good business person?
A: I have learned to bend so I will not break. I have learned to flow like water so that I am constantly learning and evolving. It’s important to know how to adapt, to be eager to learn and to be open to change.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge in recent years?
A: The business has changed tremendously over the years, and I have learned that things are meant to change. Otherwise they get static, boring and unloved.
Q: How important is it for you to be philanthropic?
A: Philanthropy is a driving force in my personal and professional life. It’s been a pillar of our DNA since I started my company over a decade ago.
I started my ‘Kindness is Always Fashionable’ platform to encourage everyone to find a way to give back and incorporate it into their lives. My ultimate goal in philanthropy is help women and children, whether by creating sustainable employment for women, which in turn enables them to help create better lives and circumstances for themselves, or helping children in countries in conflict, such as Syria.
This holiday season, we are working with an organization called GAIA For Women in Dallas to craft products for the Gifts For Good program that we launched last year. GAIA creates work for resettled refugees and is very synergistic with our belief that creating sustainable jobs for women can transform families and communities.
Q: When you were growing up, what lessons about money stuck with you?
A: My very first memory ever was at 3 years old. I saw a small girl in India, with burned fingers and hands begging for money and my father giving her a few gold coins. It was one of the most disturbing images because even then, at a young age, I was able to understand that the money wasn’t going to do much for the girl who seemed to be all alone. By comparison, the life we lived in California was rich - yet it was quite poor by many American standards. I learned that money is something to help you and others survive, but it is not the element that is most worth chasing.
Q: What money lessons do you pass down to your own kids, who are 18 and 9?
A: I want my daughters to understand the subjects of compound interest, interest on interest and manifesting. Manifesting works like compound interest: you get back more than you put in. It is intentionally creating what you want. If you treat your money like you treat yourself – with repeated care, mind, body and soul – you’ll see the speed at which your return does increase.