Fashion designer and UN Ambassador Rachel Roy recently toured with Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi for his nationwide The Price of Free documentary screenings. They discussed post-film the intersection of his work on ending child trafficking and her work in sustainable fashion, where one of their key takeaways for consumers on ending child labor was, “If the clothing is so cheap it feels too good to be true, it probably is.”
She graciously agreed to answer a few questions for Indiaspora for International Women’s Day.
As a UN Ambassador for Innovation and Change, can you name one of your women role models who has made an impact for women globally?
RR: I admire men and women that do God’s work. Mother Teresa quite literally is a saint. The idea of living your life in a way that you will be proud of at the end of your life, a life of service, a life of helping those that can not use their voice, of defending fellow women, the helpless, and caring for the abandoned. Her actions are so admirable and inspiring.
You’ve also recently wrote a coming-of-age novel with your 19-year-old daughter Ava Dash about finding yourself in unexpected places—Rishi Kanva ashram in northern India, to be exact! The novel, 96 Words for Love, came out this January.
We were interested to hear the story is a modern retelling of an ancient Indian legend from the Mahabharata, Shakuntala and Dushyanta, told through the eyes of Ava. As the story goes, King Dushyanta marries Shakuntala in the forest, gives her his ring, and promises he will return for her. A powerful rishi casts a spell that causes the King to forget about Shakuntala, and it can only be broken by the King seeing the ring again. However, as Shakuntala loses the ring while traveling to the royal court, the King does not recognize her; instead, she returns to the forest with her son, Bharata, where they live in the wilderness on their own. Eventually, the ring is found and returned to the King, who remembers their past marriage, and they are reunited.
Can you tell us what appealed to you about this Indian legend?
RR: Choosing of the legend of Shakuntala and Dushyanta was left completely up to Ava. She loved the idea that until you find yourself and are true to your essence you cannot love another. A very powerful message for young people and us all!
What was it like working with your daughter on this project?
RR: Working with my teenage daughter was at times difficult but in the end the best partnership I’ve ever had. Truly. What started as a love story from myself to my daughter Ava two years ago, in hopes of teaching her more of her Indian heritage, ended up a love story between Ava and myself to the world.
Did you use your own experiences as a point of reference for the characters? Have you or your daughter ever visited Rishi Kanva ashram?
RR: Yes, Ava and I pulled from our own experiences, insights and feelings with crafting these characters, including staying at similar retreats and ashrams in Northern India.
Deepak Chopra was kind enough to write a beautiful quote for the book:
“This book is a feast for your soul. How our inner lives and yearnings govern the adventure we call life is part of every lore in every tradition. This story by Rachel and Ava will energize you and fill you with the longing of a love that stirs within us as a spark that can turn into a raging fire and without which life stays barren and dry.”―Deepak Chopra MD
Proceeds for this book are going to children in India that have been rescued from trafficking through World of Children. How did you choose World of Children as the beneficiary?
RR: I am an advisor to World of Children and have worked with WoC for years. I love that they are a small enough organization where I can direct funds precisely to the issues that matter to Ava and me the most.
Summary of 96 Words for Love:
Ever since her acceptance to UCLA, 17-year-old Raya Liston has been quietly freaking out. She feels simultaneously lost and trapped by a future already mapped out for her. Then her beloved grandmother dies, and Raya jumps at the chance to spend her last free summer at the ashram in India where her grandmother met and fell in love with her grandfather. Raya hopes to find her center and her true path. But she didn’t expect to fall in love… with a country of beautiful contradictions, her fiercely loyal cousin, a local girl with a passion for reading, and a boy who teaches her that in Sanskrit, there are 96 different ways to say the word “love.”
Rachel Roy is the daughter of an Indian immigrant father and Dutch mother. She is mother to Tallulah and Ava. Rachel is the founder & creative director of her eponymous brand and a tireless activist for using your voice to cultivate change in the world and to design the life you wish to live. Rachel founded Kindness Is Always Fashionable, an entrepreneurial philanthropic platform to help women artisans around the world create sustainable income for their families and communities. In 2018 Rachel was named a United Nations Women Champion for Innovation, and works for the UN advocating gender equality and other critical women’s issues. In 2015, Rachel published, Design Your Life.
Ava Dash is the daughter of fashion designer Rachel Roy. She attends college, works and lives in Los Angeles. Ava works with young adults that have aged out of the foster care system as well as former sex trafficked girls in India. Inspired from her travels with her mother, Ava hopes to start a give back business that provides critical resources to educate and empower the girls she has met on her travels to India.