Closing The Gap

UN ambassador, designer Rachel Roy: Nothing happens alone, 'no matter how hard you work'

Courtesy of Rachel Roy

Business owner, fashion designer and social entrepreneur Rachel Roy is a household name in the retail space. Her contemporary clothing fills the racks at department store giants like Nordstrom's and Macy's, with 250 points of sale as of 2017. She's also a member of the Council of Fashion Designers of America and penned the book, "Design Your Life."

But the entrepreneur is now taking on a different role — Roy has been tapped for a two-year ambassador position, dubbed Champion of Innovation, by UN Women. Roy will use her experience as a successful female entrepreneur to help with programs aimed at achieving gender equality and supporting female innovation and entrepreneurship.

"The more we empower women, the more women will empower women," Roy tells CNBC Make It. "My company is at least 95 percent female, and it always has been. And I'm a brown woman. There are examples of how it can work — I've had my business since 2004 — so it can work for a long time.

Through UN Women she will use her voice, her platform and her network to educate, she says.

"I don't think anything happens by chance, and I don't think that anything happens alone, no matter how hard you work," Roy says. "You could be very intelligent and very prepared for the opportunity, but unfortunately opportunities don't happen and aren't given for the majority of people."

Today, Roy is speaking at the UN in New York City for International Women's Day. The theme is "Invest in Her," and Roy will be accompanied by Shadi Mehraein, a co-founder of Rivet Ventures, a firm which invests in companies in women-led markets and female-owned businesses.

"I thought instead of standing up there and telling my story and talking, I want to bring someone that does this day in and day out, that is an expert in her field," Roy explains. "Why not have her really share with my audience tips on what she looks for, what my audience could do differently to be attractive to people like Rivet Ventures."

Photo courtesy of Rachel Roy

Information is key, says Roy.

"If you go listen to a lecture or talk and you can walk away with even three key items or points that would help you with your personal life or your professional life, I think then that time has been well spent."

Other ambassadors appointed include actors Sarah Michelle Gellar and Zoe Saldana, former NFL player Wade Davis, inventor Joy Mangano and historian Nina Ansary.

Fashion in the midst of #MeToo

Roy is no stranger to philanthropy, and has been able to successfully weave social enterprise and charity into her business model. In the past eight years, she's created over 20 capsule collections and has partnered with brands, organizations, charities and artisans groups like the Far & Wide Collective, Gaia, FEED, Good Earth, the Rescue Foundation and World of Children, Children's Hope India.

"Any time there is an authentic way to give back with purpose, it has been successful for me," Roy says.

Her own philanthropic platform Kindness is Always Fashionable helps women artisans worldwide create sustainable income for their families and communities. Via Roy's website, customers can purchase handcrafted products from artisans in need, like a handmade bowl made by women in Swaziland or a bag handwoven by female artisans in Madagascar. Roy says reaching women in third-world countries hits home, because her father is from India.

Additionally, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, Roy is donating 50 percent of the proceeds from her new LOVE capsule collection, which features everything from adorned denim to faux fur, to the Time's Up fund (as well as Everytown).

Photo courtesy of Rachel Roy

"I think sexual harassment is a problem everywhere," Roy says. "It's a problem when I go to the gas station. It's a problem when I go to a concert downtown and I walk to my car. I think it's a problem across all borders, all genres, all races. And within the fashion community, it's no different. It runs rampant everywhere, unfortunately. And it's scary."

Within the modeling business, scathing sexual harassment stories have surfaced, including allegations made by high profile model Kate Upton.

"I think models are especially prone to sexual harassment because of [their young] age, because a lot of models are in the position of wanting something, and wanting it from someone that holds power," Roy says.

Being able to start her own company, though, has put that power in Roy's hands, and she says she's worked hard to cultivate a positive culture for women within her company. Her clientele includes strong women like Michelle Obama and Tyra Banks, and the launch of her Curvy collection was well-received.

"It does require opening the door, lending a hand wherever possible, and that includes teaching," she says. "It includes sharing opportunities."

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