LOS ANGELES — At nearly 15, Rachel Roy — the namesake business of its founder and creative director — is only midway through its teens, but there’s hardly a drop of angst when it comes to where the company is headed.
Rachel Roy is set for a busy fall season, with the upcoming launch of the new Rachel Roy Collection exclusively at Nordstrom on Sept. 17 and licensing deals pushing the brand into categories such as home, hosiery, optical and outerwear.
“I’m rarely going to say no to designing anything but, in particular, something that is so inherently me — clothes that you need to wear at a certain age for the entire day or longer that can hit dinners and all the other social events,” Roy said of the Rachel Roy Collection.
The collection, which retails from $90 to $350 and totals roughly 30 stockkeeping units for its September and October deliveries, retains the brand’s classic aesthetic mixed with a bit of an edge.
There are also hosiery and throws launching later this year and optical set for a spring 2019 introduction. The company is strategizing on its own direct channels of distribution as well. Physical retail is important, Roy said, in the form of pop-ups in unexpected markets.
“I think there’s enough people thinking within the box and some doing it very, very well and others struggling,” she said. “Keeping a retail company alive in this climate is difficult, and if I’m going to do anything in terms of retail, I have to think outside of the box, or it’s just not feasible. What I’ve found is super successful for me, both who I am personally and also the business, is going to markets that are untapped. So going to Memphis, going to South Carolina, going to Kansas. I find that New York and Miami and Los Angeles do not have a monopoly on fashion or women and men that love fashion. Those individuals live everywhere.”
Roy described the company’s retail strategy as another step for the brand in being inclusive, a concept she said has been with the business since its inception in 2004 when a stylist told her she would not be taken seriously by Vogue and other magazines if she used models that weren’t white.
“How can a brown designer not use brown models? That was back in 2004, 2006. Fast-forward to 2018, 2019. What can I be doing that’s inclusive?” she said. “Fashion makes people feel good about themselves when done right, so it’s the idea of pop-up shops where you go into a market that is fairly untapped with designers making personal appearances, you hire employees that are energetic and talkative and encouraging and you stay in the markets where it makes sense.”
Roy confirmed the company is looking into future locations, and she hosts pop-ups every time she makes an appearance or does a fashion show, always tying it in with a local charity. The company has done about five so far and she said it is expected to become a “substantial business model” moving forward.
The idea of inclusivity is tantamount to evolution at Rachel Roy the brand, and Rachel Roy the person has much greater aspirations for not just her line but the fashion industry as a whole when it comes to what inclusive means in the future.
“I want to make product that’s inclusive. I want to make product that makes women feel good about themselves. I think it’s super important to know that your product is made in a safe factory similar to how you could walk into a grocery store and pick your food based on whether it’s organic or not organic,” she said. “You have a choice. I would love for clothing to be the same way. For the most part, that is the wave of the future, I believe. My friends and my coworkers make decisions for food based on that and I think people want to make decisions for clothing based on that. Those are the types of changes that I would like to see.”
With the brick-and-mortar strategy coming into focus, e-commerce is seen as just as important to serve as the flagship for the brand.
“I’d really like to have that be our store and it is for all intents and purposes,” Roy said. “It’s just a matter of getting as many eyeballs on your site as I can get. With the couple hundred Macy’s doors that I have, there’s traffic there that may not have intentionally been going into the store for Rachel Roy, but they turn to the left or turn to the right, happen to see it and they’re a new customer. It’s not as easy with a web site to grow the numbers unless you buy them.”
It’s a truth and aspect to the business that didn’t exist in 2004, when Roy started the line as a means of designing pieces specific to her own tastes for a segment of the market largely viewed as older within the industry: 35 and up.
The approach has allowed the brand to stand out while also insulating itself from the dramatic mood swings that can accompany the realities of designing collections around the fickle tastes of the young.
“If I didn’t have my 18-year-old daughter and my 10-year-old daughter, I would probably be completely in a bubble in terms of ‘OK, this is who I am and these are the occasions that I need clothing for,'” Roy said of how her daughters’ personal styles inform her of what’s trending among younger demographics. “I know the market that I’m not serving and I’m OK with it because I can’t be everything to everybody. I don’t have a teenagers line right now….So do I like that I’m not the Brandy Melville customer? No. I’d love to serve that girl as well, but with what I’m producing now, I can’t be everything to everyone and what I dislike more than anything is when you do try to check every single box and then you become so watered down you don’t mean anything. Your fits are in-between. It’s not sexy enough for someone like my daughter. It’s not conservative for someone like me. What do you mean? Who are you? What do you believe in? Do you just want to grasp everybody and not really penetrate in a meaningful way? So, yes, I would love to sell in that market but I don’t and that’s OK.”
Roy and company are not mulling a teen line, but she said if the brand were to grow large enough, it’s certainly something that could be considered.
She’s ticking off all these plans for the company as she sits in her home office in Sherman Oaks, Calif., where a stack of advanced copies of a young adult book she and daughter Ava cowrote sit behind her. The space is an oasis of calm, where a dining room table functions as her desk and de Gournay wallpaper surrounds her.
Four and a half years ago, Roy relocated to Sherman Oaks from New York, marking a return to California — she was born in the central California city of Monterey — for a change of pace. It’s an approach she sees as perhaps the greatest shift when asked for her thoughts on what’s been the biggest change she’s seen take place in the industry as she prepares for the company’s next major steps.
“Things change and you could either change with it, be in advance of it and be a little bit of a risk-taker or you can — not be left behind — but you not be part of the change,” she said. “I have seen so many changes in the industry, whether it’s in the magazine world, what people choose to buy, what they don’t choose to buy, how they choose to buy. But more than any of that, I’ve changed and my approach to fashion has changed. I mean, how many people would leave their office, their staff of almost 50 people, move to California with their kids and do everything on Skype? So I’m the one that’s changed.”