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Felicia C. Sullivan

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Interview: Entrepreneur & Designer Rachel Roy

Posted: 07/16/2009 5:55 pm

Rachel Roy's eponymous line is the epitome of refined, feminine sophistication. From the optimistic explosion of tropical color and sequined skirts in her recent resort collection, to the cigarette pants and double-breasted flannel suits, geometric cutouts and one-sleeved sheaths for Fall 09, the collection is decidedly made for the modern woman who seeks to infuse a bit of everyday glamour into her wardrobe.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with the designer and she shared her journey to launching her brand as well as the essential pieces that every woman she have in their wardrobe.

Over the past two months, I've had the privilege of speaking with many entrepreneurs in an effort to learn more from successful women as I embark on the nebulous journey to launching a non-profit, and I've learned that the impetus for starting their businesses found its roots in childhood; we as adults seek to either remedy or recreate our childhood experiences. Recently, I read that you were so eager to work in fashion that you stalked Contempo Casuals -- the 90s mall favorite boutique -- until you secured a position. How did you discover your affection for fashion at such an early age, and what propelled you to launch your eponymous clothing collection as a successful adult?

RR: I have known that I wanted to be a designer since I was 8 years old. While back-to-school shopping, I realized that I hated the selection I had to choose from and decided that I wanted to do something about it myself. My first job was in retail at the age of 14, and I have worked in the industry ever since. When I moved on to the more behind-the-scenes side in licensing, I got a firm understanding of the business side of fashion which helped me to build a foundation on which to eventually start my own company.

Although we're in the midst of a precarious economy, many are finding, ironically enough, that now is the best time to start a business. As someone who is a successful entrepreneur, can you speak to the process of how you launched your company?

RR: I decided to launch my own brand six years ago while I was working at another job, meaning I had the income to support myself and was able to use all the resources I had access to at the time because I was already working in fashion. The launch stemmed from a passion that I have always had which enabled me to work 15 hour days allowing me to see the company grow - I believe that when 100% of your heart is put into what you love it will become a success on some level. While balancing art and commerce is never easy it is something I always had to consider knowing that the brand would not run if I didn't run it properly. Right now I feel blessed to be launching my secondary line, Rachel Rachel Roy, in a time when the job market is as difficult as it is. Fortunately Jones Apparel Group was able to provide me with a spectacular staff and more support than I could ever have imagined, to fulfill my dream of making both designer and accessible clothing for the younger girl.

We're living in precarious times, where discretionary spending is tightening and consumers are less likely to spend more on clothing as freely as they used to. How do you maintain growth and profitability? How does your brand remain relevant amidst the belt-tightening?

RR: I focus my designer collection on the idea of 'classic with a twist' so that women can keep the garments in their closets for years and still look unique and fresh every time they wear a piece. With that said, I stay true to my point of view like every good company should. I don't change the product depending on the tide.

I dress women the way I see them and the way I envision them from day one, thus my customer knows that what she is looking for she will get. For my secondary line, I made sure everything was sold at an affordable price so that my customers also have the option of shopping in the moment without making a big investment. The RRR collection for Macy's remains fresh current and relevant given the fact that it is designed for the younger sister to Rachel Roy. She always needs new fun, clever product, which is what I love to do.

Where do you find your inspiration for each season? Might you reveal your process of inspiration to concept to manufacturing?

RR: I am inspired by life, past experiences, what's to come, women around me, art, colors, paintings, and emotions. I take it all in and try to deliver something beautiful as a result. I am also inspired by what I want to wear next - something modern, something exciting, and something that feels right. I begin with colors and prints and then move on to fabrics. Once those are in place, the silhouettes begin to take form. It is so rewarding to find that my original vision still feels right six months down the road.

After two decades of gross consumerism, women are now reinventing their wardrobes and shopping strategically. Gone are the days of the "it" bag and $2,000 trend shoe, rather women are seeking to acquire investment pieces to build the "bones" (as Nina Garcia likes to say) of her wardrobe. What are the bones of your wardrobe? What are the essentials every woman should have?

RR:

  • The perfect trench, because it never fails to look sophisticated and chic and can be worn as both a coat and a dress.
  • A go-to cardigan that can double as a jacket.
  • Mix and match skirts can go a long way in creating a permutation of great looks.
  • Perfectly fitting jeans -- they look good with everything and will never go out of style.

Although I love my designer pieces, I always love to infuse more affordable pieces from emerging, independent designers stocked in non-descript Brooklyn boutiques or on etsy.com. What shops (online/off) do you patron? Any recent remarkable finds?

RR: I frequent Net-A-Porter and begin with the sale section because there are always great finds. I also like to look out for the newly-featured designer at Target; I love Rachel Ashwell's Shabby Chic. Vivre has a great sale section, as well. Remarkable finds are completely necessary in building your wardrobe - I feel that if you're not mixing high and low end, you're not dressing in a modern way.

Looking back at the evolution of your company and brand - is there anything you might have done differently in the years you've been in the fashion business and the four in which you've operated your own line? Any critical lessons learned?

RR: I learn lessons everyday. In retrospect, I realize that I may not have gone forward with launching my own collection had I been aware of the immense amount of work that is involved, but I believe it to be a blessing that I did not have this foresight. In the end, you need to hold on to your name because it's the only real power that you have for yourself.

Any new projects underway for 2009 and beyond for Rachel Roy?

RR: Right now I am overwhelmed with work for my collections - making sure the product is me, that it's shipped on time, that all runs smoothly, and that I remain thinking outside of the box. In the future, I hope to develop product for home and explore other creative outlets.

Any advice you'd like to impart for burgeoning entrepreneurs?

RR: Intern, intern, intern. At as many companies as possible -- you will pick up something valuable wherever you are.

 
 
 

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