Inspired by a recent trip to India, designer Rachel Roy recently celebrated her 39th birthday with a mission of giving, instead of receiving gifts. Roy has partnered with the charity: water campaign to raise $20,000 to give 1,000 people clean water in India. “Water changes everything. Diseases from unsafe water kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war,” explains Roy.

In the midst of prepping for her Fall 2013 presentation at New York Fashion Week, we caught up with the designer and talked about her partnership with charity: water and her advice on how you too can make it a philanthropic year.

ESSENCE.COM: Was there a specific encounter or observation from your recent trip to India that prompted you to help this cause?
RACHEL ROY: This is my fourth year working with charity:water actually! I heard about them around the time of my 35th birthday and what I love most about charity:water is how simple they make the act of charitable giving. There are no rules or expectations, and you can donate as much as you feel comfortable giving.
During this time however, and through seeing how the dollars have been spent, I’m reminded just how essential clean water is in setting up a foundation for everything else in life. In a developing community, clean water is the most important commodity, and it’s such an easy gift for us to give.
ESSENCE.COM: How has your passion for fashion led you to this charity: water initiative and partnering with charities in general?
ROY: I truly believe it’s my job, my responsibility, to use the resources I have to give a voice to women, children, and causes that do not have their own voice. I’ve met so many inspiring and generous people in my career, and it’s a true privilege to be able to give back and hopefully, create opportunities for others.
ESSENCE.COM: You’ve partnered with different organizations and countries in the past, including Ghana and Haiti. How do you decide which specific charities and countries you will support?
ROY: When looking for an organization to partner with, I usually seek out charities which give me the opportunity to be more hands-on with my time and energy. I love seeing how every hour or dollar spent can make a real difference.
ESSENCE.COM: What are some of the important things to look for in donating or partnering with a charity?
ROY: Commitment to a cause. Look for organizations that have a track record and history of effecting change. It’s a great feeling to be a part of that momentum.
ESSENCE.COM: It’s the start of the New Year. Could you give us some suggestions on how to make it a more philanthropic one by sharing ways we can give back?
ROY: I think it’s always best to start on a local level. You’ll know what needs attention and how to make the biggest change in your own community. A fantastic resource and a great place to start is Volunteers of America. It’s a nationwide database of all sorts of organizations that could use an extra pair of hands. It’s as simple as putting in your zip code to see what non-profits are active in your area.
ESSENCE.COM: What are your top three goals for the New Year?
ROY: It’s hard to pick three! This New Year I promised I would make more time for cooking; no more rushing or taking shortcuts in the kitchen! I’ve also started with a new trainer, Amanda Obregon at David Barton who’s an expert at keeping me motivated this time of year! It’s also a big goal of mine in 2013 to travel more with my daughters. 
ESSENCE.COM: What’s the important thing you’ve learned from your 39 years on earth?
ROY: Honesty is the best policy –– this is always true.

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