Designer Rachel Roy On Empowering Women Through Fashion

01/06/2014 04:39 pm ET | Updated Mar 08, 2014

Paradigm Shifters is a series of interviews with a select group of women from eclectic walks of life. The series highlights unspoken, real-life insights on how women have turned weakness into strength. A naked soul point of view on how breakdowns are really just preparation for breakthroughs. They are your quintessential Paradigm Shifters; internal shifts converted into genuine change.

Everything I have ever done has been focused on this underlying theme of shifting the paradigm because what we think determines what we feel and what we feel determines what we do. This is why Seven Bar Foundation and Empowered By You takes lingerie, which has traditionally been seen merely as a means of seduction, and redirects that energy to become a tool of empowerment.

I hope these stories inspire you to look at your individual situations, struggles and accomplishments through a different lens. At the very least you will be more equipped with real life tools to change your own paradigm. At the end of the day we are our own alchemists, turning the silver we were born with into the gold we are destined to become.

Rachel Roy
Iconic American Designer

rachel roy ava Rachel Roy, with daughters Ava (center) and Tallulah (left).

Renata: Being a woman who has challenged the status quo and has had a positive impact on others, what is the one aspect about yourself that you are constantly striving to make others see differently?

Rachel: As a fashion designer my goal is to make women feel amazing about themselves. When they put a certain dress on, I want them to feel smart, confident and individual.

It starts at a very young age and we have to nurture that. OrphanAid Africa is very close to my heart and I traveled to Ghana last year with my daughter Ava to work with children that are abandoned through war, poverty and abuse. I had a transformative experience when we visited an orphanage. My daughter, Ava and I were playing with the little girls and as they were looking through my make-up bag they found a mirror. Little did I know that we were about to become witnesses to these young girls looking at themselves in a mirror for the first time. Experiencing this moment and sharing their happiness made me realize how incredibly proud we can be of our reflection. It was their first encounter seeing themselves; their first encounter playing with make-up and what made them happy is what makes my daughter happy. I learned that little girls, are little girls, no matter where they live, and sharing and experiencing their beauty, seeing them filled with joy is what I love about what I am able to do. This experience made me realize how we see ourselves, from the inside and outside, ultimately makes us happy and I strive to make women look and feel their best.

What has been your experience with support from women vs. the support coming from men as mentors? Did a certain mentor give you your first break?

I have been fortunate enough to surround myself with phenomenal women - women who inspire me, challenge me and are always there to support me - and I foster that attitude throughout my whole company. Some of the best advice I've received from a business point of view though came from Andre Leon Talley, a former Editor-at-Large at Vogue, who once said to me, "Rachel I am helping you because I feel you have a point of view and you are willing to stick to it." That was a defining moment in my life and I always pay that advice forward.

I'm lucky enough to work in an industry that has a tremendous amount of fearless women like Diane Von Furstenberg, Donna Karan and Anna Wintour. Watching them build their empires and learning from them has been invaluable and it drives you to live up to your potential. When Oprah claimed that I was "the next best thing in fashion," I felt I had to live up to that.

Being that success hardly ever comes without failure, heartache or let down, how do you keep your innocence and allow yourself to not get bitter?

With every heartbreak there is beauty. I have had two to three extremely painful decisions I have had to make in my life. Now looking back, I feel blessed to have gone through those experiences. Tough decisions are excruciating to make but when I finally listened to my gut and made my choice, everything that was negative seemed to disappear. I realized that when I overcame the fear to finally make a decision, it was really myself that was holding me back.

I have come to realize that life is like a ladder and with every step comes with a bit of pain along with the joy that comes with the climb. Although I have had my challenging times, I am grateful for them. Ultimately, the more I grow, the more I learn and can pass that onto others to be true to themselves. I have come to terms with the fact that I cannot make everyone happy but at the very least I hope I can inspire others to be true to themselves. My goal is to inspire you to create the life you wish to live through making powerful conscious choices. To take a leap even without knowing if you can fly. You can't wait for wings because wings only come as you grow and you only can grow and gain clarity if you take a leap.

In my work, I have found to be true and teach my employees that a breakdown can only lead to a breakthrough-- that in finding ourselves in our weakest moments we can also discover how strong we really are. Sometimes the biggest let downs end up being the biggest blessings. Have you had any difficult experiences that eventually led to growth?

There was a time when I was living a life that I did not want to live. I knew better because I wanted better. Having my girls inspired and made ME into the woman I was meant to be. Knowing that I was responsible for my daughters' future gave me the strength that I needed to make a change. Overcoming obstacles showed me how strong a person I actually was, I just had to take that leap. Everyone has the power inside them - it is important to know this. I believe self-esteem comes from being able to define the world and live life on your own terms and to refuse to be pressured by the judgment of others. I want to instill the confidence in my girls to have the will to stand apart and live as they believe is right.

When you have had a tough day, when you feel like you are trying to make something happen but all the odds are against you, what do you do to get inspired? What empowers you to turn it around?

I try to always remember the many women and children I have met through my 'Kindness is Always Fashionable' philanthropic program. Giving women in impoverished countries a voice by providing them with jobs is something I am passionate about and is a core pillar of my business. To be able to give women jobs so that they will be able to better care for their families and communities is empowering. It really puts life in perspective - we all want the same thing: happiness and confidence - no matter where we live in the world.

If you were to name this year as a "chapter in your life" what would you name this chapter? And what do you want the next chapter in the story of your life to be titled?

I'm turning 40 soon and can genuinely say that the older I get the sexier life is. My chapter of this year would be called Growth, Excitement and Self-love.

Rachel's intent runs deep into the fabric of her soul. We perceive her as a beautiful and perfect American designer only to discover in this interview that how she is able to shift the paradigm in her own life is as precious as the designs that she creates for us.

She and I are similar in that we both see life as a ladder. The philosophy that I built Seven Bar Foundation and Empowered by You upon is based on a lesson I learned from Maimonides, a philosopher from the middle ages. In Golden Ladder of Giving he teaches that the most effective way to give is "To prevent poverty by teaching a trade, setting a person up in business, or in some other way preventing the need of charity." I suppose most things that Rachel says and believes have even a deeper meaning than she knows.