Rachel Roy sat down with Crystal Coons, the blogger behind Sometimes Glam, to discuss philanthropy, taking risks, and body positivity at Bumble’s LA Hive. Here’s a look into their empowering conversation:
Crystal Coons: The Curvy Collection – how did it start? What brought it on?
Rachel Roy: The Curvy Collection was always the number one request from any personal appearance that I did. If any of you are thinking about starting your own fashion line, my number one tip is to develop and design a curvy line or to start a curvy collection simultaneously with what you are developing. It definitely is the one category that is most supported and the one that grows the quickest, and I wish I could have started it sooner.
CC: What were some of your challenges with the Curvy line since you started it?
RR: So my challenge with Curvy is very interesting. I started my business in 2004, and in 2006 I did my very first fashion show. You can probably understand how excited I was to show during fashion week, but both stylists that I hired told me that I wouldn’t be supported if they honored my request of 50% brown models and 50% plus size models.
CC: That’s heartbreaking!
RR: Yes, and it’s shocking - especially because they were telling this to a brown girl. So when people say, “how difficult was it?” Well, it wasn’t that difficult for me because I had my own business. But it is difficult for models, and for people who aren’t in control of making those decisions. Needless to say, you have to be able to take risks and not listen to the naysayers - because everyone is going to be giving you advice - and you have to just stick with your gut.
CC: I think with entrepreneurs, because everyone is trying to give you advice and everyone is trying to tell you what to do, it’s kind of hard to trust yourself and your internal voice. You just think “a million people can’t be wrong”, but a million people can be wrong if its not what you feel.
RR: That’s right - and in our business it’s very much about what you feel and what’s authentic, but when you go and look for funding, the question that you’re going to get is “well, how quickly can we get the money back?” And those are two completely different conversations. And so when trying to find investors, you have to find investors who understand that they’re getting into the business of a brand, which will make their portfolio look better, and its not necessarily about money doubling overnight, it’s a longer process with a brand.
CC: It’s a marathon not a sprint – and that’s so hard. So, I love that you are committed to shooting Curvy lifestyle campaigns just like your Contemporary ones. Why was this so important to you?
RR: It’s very important to me to treat my Curvy line just like I treat my contemporary line. I don’t see any difference, besides the sizing. Personally, I’ve been both Curvy and I’ve been Contemporary, and I want to be marketed the exact same way. It’s not a different woman, it’s not a different story, it’s just a different size.
CC: Oh my gosh, I love that you said that! And being on this side from a consumer standpoint is just crazy how we’re marketed to so differently, as if we’re not all girls and we don’t want to look beautiful.
RR: It’s crazy, because there’s so much money to be made there, if there were just a little more democracy. And it’s like anything else in history, where brown people & gay people had to fight for certain rights. And to be curvy in the fashion industry, I have seen with my own eyes women, and some men, who have to fight for those rights as well. And it’s just amazing to me because there is so much money that people want to spend and are willing to spend, if only they’re spoken to.
Ashley Graham who is lovely, she’s an activist I’ve worked with and I kind of watched plus size fashion grow because of her voice. The more she spoke & the more she worked, and the more embarrassed people got at how they had treated curvy customers and models– the more it took off. I worry that once the voices stop, it may go back to how it was before. So I really encourage people to not stop speaking up.
CC: How did you merge philanthropy and building a business?
RR: I’m a strong believer that without giving back, your professional and personal life won’t really thrive. The two types of work are really important to me – the work that you do for yourself, and the work that you do for others.
I have an 18-year-old, and she really keeps me aware that to have a modern business, it takes passion but it takes purpose. Kids want to buy from companies that have that purpose, and they expect them to deliver and do all of the things they say they’re going to. For me, there’s nothing more modern than creating a for-profit business that has a give back program.
CC: If you’re not already balanced, it can definitely seem like two completely different spaces to be in, so it’s really admirable how you can merge the two. How can people get more involved, because it does seem very overwhelming?
RR: What works for me is just incorporating what I do day in and day out. I make product for a living, and if you reach out to those factories, many times they will go along with whatever you say as long as you have a plan and follow through. It’s like anything in life – if you need something from somebody, instead of going to them and asking for help, if you can offer help to them, they’re more inclined to help you. And so when I talk to young kids, I tell them whether you work in a library or you work in a restaurant, you should donate what is free to you anyway.
CC: As an influencer, I get sent a ton of product and I often get asked, do you do closet sales? And my answer is no – because I don’t need to make $10 off this thing, so I work with charities that work with women who have gone through hell and back and are trying to get their lives back together – especially in the plus size space, they don’t get a lot of donations.
RR: That’s so great for you, and it’s also such a beautiful thing to write into your story. Also, brands will read that and think, oh, maybe we’ll be included into that story if we’re not included into this story. Even the selfish side of people… the good does appeal to everyone.
CC: What are your best three pieces of advice about starting a business?
RR: 1) You have to jump and grow your wings on the way down. 2) You have to get used to people not liking you – you just have to be confident enough to realize its okay 3) You have to be prepared to start completly over. There’s not many people that I know that haven’t had immense failure, particularly in the fashion world – whether they lost their name, or their partners wanted to sell them – and if you look at the people who you want to emulate, none of them have had an easy ride.
CC: I love that a lot of what you’re saying has to do with changing our relationship to fear. So much of what we don’t do and the things we need to do to start is about fear, and the fact that we’re terrified. Whether its fear of failure or fear of success, its there.
How can women in male dominated fields use fashion to break the glass ceiling?
RR: What we put on our bodies is how we choose to be perceived, whether that’s serious, sexy, fun, or innovative. I really do think what you put on your body is telling a story, and I would say dress equal parts feminine and conservative sexy. One of my favorite silhouettes is a turtleneck like Marilyn Monroe tight & a pencil skirt. More importantly, you have to take into account who you’re surrounded by - do they want to see you succeed, or do want to see you fail? The ones who want you to succeed really don’t care what you wear.