Fashion Designer Rachel Roy Tells Us, It's Never to Late to Pursue Your Passion

Photography by:   Andrew Willard

Photography by: Andrew Willard

By:  Caroline Vazzana

Last night we attended the launch of Rachel Roy footwear. Starting in spring 2018, the womenswear designer will now offer shoes on her site, and we'd be lying if we said we weren't excited. Our high expectations were not only met, but totally exceeded when we got a sneak peak of her new line last night. From red gingham platforms adorned with pineapples to brocade mules with lucite heels, let's just say we're dying to get our hands on a pair, or two, come spring. We sat down with Rachel herself last night, to talk about her career in the industry and how it's really never too late to follow your passion. Read below as she invites us into her world, takes us along on her journey, and how she's Making it in Manhattan.

Plus, get a sneak peak at a few of our favorite styles from the collection below, enjoy! 

When did you first realize you wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry?
Good question! Taking it all the way back. I have always worked in fashion, ever since I was fourteen. I didn’t know necessarily which aspect of fashion I wanted to pursue, but I knew enough to know that when I was working around clothes it made me feel really good. And I still feel the same way to this day. Business can be difficult, or just life in general, but the actual process of working with clothes, prints, colors, makes me feel really good. 

When did you know specifically that you wanted to be a fashion designer?
I think I had been working maybe for about five years, on the other side of fashion. I worked in a retail store from fourteen until about twenty-five. I learned so much that really shaped what type of designer I would be. I worked in New York and I worked in design, licensing, and HR first, to really understand the business, I did licensing for seven years. I knew that when you create pieces for your employer, that aren’t necessarily your aesthetic, you realize you want to create clothing that you would like to wear. I would say in my late twenties is when I knew exactly what I wanted to do. It wasn’t necessarily as a child, or in my childhood. Once I knew though, pretty shortly after that I was able to start my own line, but at this point I was in my thirties, so it took years and years of experience.

So would you say it’s ever too late to start a new career and pursue a passion? 
Sometimes when I do personal appearances and talk to kids, there is a lot of pressure to figure out what your passion is, and follow it. Success comes with personal success, not necessarily monetary success. But personal success happens when you realize what your passion is. And my passion was clothing in general, it can transform how you feel about yourself, but I didn’t know specifically design. I like to remind kids, high school kids, college kids, and even women in their fifties, that it can come at any time, it’s never too late, and it could also change, right? Say someone had a great career being a teacher, and at the time that was their passion, no reason to say that they can’t follow a new passion, whether it’s baking, etc. later on. For me, the design portion of it came later in life, but I did know very early on that transforming my life through clothing, and how it made me feel about myself, I got that pretty early. It is a journey, that’s the thing. You’ll have a few tough breaks and you’ll have some good luck, and it’s all about timing and being ready to accept the good luck, and not ignore it, and work with it. But, once something amazing happens, life just keeps going, it is a series of ups and downs. That’s the other thing I talk to young people about; you just have to keep going up and down. If you just got to a point where it’s amazing and stayed there, it wouldn’t actually be life. It’s not an authentic life, right? 

Who have been some of your biggest mentors in the industry and what’s the best advice they’ve ever given you?
I haven’t had a mentor per se, someone that I could call and ask them business advice, or talk to on a daily basis, or even a monthly basis. I do think it’s very important though, especially for kids. If you don’t have access to watching someone run a business or start a business, it can be very daunting. For me, I would say Iman was someone very helpful to me, someone that I met through work. I could ask her any type of personal or professional question, and she would answer honestly, and honesty to me is very important, and helpful, more so than someone just telling you something that they think you would want to hear. So I would say Iman is someone that I’m grateful for. 

Where do you go to for inspiration when designing a new collection?
I go two places. One, I go outward, and I people watch. My office is right across from Bryant Park, and I live in California. So I’m able to observe a lot of people and just watch them. I see them walking by, how they interact, where they’re going, what they need to wear to get there, on two very different locations, and that’s super helpful- both in New York and California. Secondly, I also go inward, because there’s always a feeling of newness that I’m longing for. I always want to feel different than other people. What I’ve learned as a designer, is it’s just that urge to be fashion forward and create new silhouettes, new ideas, and that’s the part that I love so much. That’s the tapping into, when you close your eyes and stop thinking. Try feeling, and go with that. I take what I’m feeling, theme-wise, mix that with what I see, watch people, and go forward!

What’s some advice you would give to aspiring designers hoping to follow in your footsteps?
I would say to chart their own path and create the line and their own history that’s meant for them. If you look to others for inspiration, you really have to look within to know what you really want. Especially when people ask the question what do you want from work, from a relationship, what you really want at this restaurant, the answer is sometimes hard to get from people. When you figure out what it is you really want, in business, because that’s what we’re talking about, in the design business, and you pursue that. You can’t look at a very well known designer, and want his or her business. You might want the size of their business, but you might not actually want what they’re creating, how they’re creating it, what they’ve had to give up to create it, in terms of percentage, ownership, creative control. Really open your eyes to what it is you want, and inspiration from what’s around you, and then come up with a creative plan that allows for some imagination, because things aren’t always going to go as they seem.

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Shop my Rachel Roy printed cutout jumpsuit here.

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