Karen Roth has seemingly lived a thousand lives, flitting effortlessly from a small farm town in Maryland, to modeling in Barcelona, to owning a photography studio and wellness center in Washington, DC, to earning a PhD in educational psychology—the list goes on. Her first capsule collection features eco-friendly and luxurious fabrics, each a simple and elegant pearl white. Here, Roth talks about her journey to becoming a fashion designer and what drives her both in life and in business.

SRQ: Though you’ve been a part of the fashion industry for years, this is your first foray into design. How did you get to this point? Roth: After finishing a degree in Fashion Merchandising, a friend of mine and I decided to be flight attendants because we wanted to travel the world. While I was doing that, I got introduced to a modeling agency in Barcelona, so I quit my job and didn’t come back, which was best thing I ever did. At 23 years old, to travel by myself through Europe really changed my whole perspective on life and also gave me a fine eye for fashion and a strong aesthetic sense. I modeled in Barcelona, Zurich, Tokyo, Milan then in New York, where I reconnected with my college sweetheart and ended up going to San Diego and having a baby. There, I picked up a camera and started styling shoots and working behind the scenes for Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus. When I had my second child, I moved to the DC area and opened up my own photography business. I recognized across the board in working with women body image things. And I was so struck by that because these women were really high-powered in their professions in DC and they were beautiful. So after eight years in photography, I felt like I wanted to do something more for women’s health so I went back to graduate school, always with the intention that I’m going to use this in some way to empower women while having a creative outlet.

How do you translate your PhD into your designs? During graduate school, I became a yoga instructor, so my dissertation research was on looking at the mind/body connection and the effects of stress and anxiety. Now I’m working with women as a designer and still looking at those issues. Wellness and empowerment of women: that’s the real meat and heart of who I am. I got inspired to make my own line while on a trip to Bali—after a long day of activities, a friend of mine came out of the shower and was wearing this beautiful dress, wet hair and a flower behind her ear—it was so simple and she looked so gorgeous, it was just effortless. I want every woman to feel that way in her own skin. You know how it makes you feel when you put a beautiful dress on with luxurious fabrics—there’s nothing like it.

What is the concept behind your line? I’ve always dreamed of creating a highly edited, luxury line of clothing—resort, lounge and lingerie—for women who travel and who desire super comfortable, natural fibers in timeless styles. There are 11 garments in the collection. There are six dresses, lounge pants, skirts, tops and a silk robe inspired by a 1920s vintage kimono from my personal collection. It’s taken two years to get all this fabric together. The silks are organic and sourced from the only certified organic (GOTS) and fair-trade manufacturer in the world, to my knowledge. I also have 100-percent cotton laces that are hand-loomed in Scotland in a 200 year-old factory. I use Ahimsa silk, or “peace silk” made in India; they allow the silkworm to emerge from the cocoon alive, so it’s vegan-friendly. And I just found a botanical dyer in New York who is working on four swatches for me dyed with a Japanese technique— I needed a non-toxic dye to go with the organic fabrics. There will be a marbled shell pink, ocean blue, sea green and black pearl.

Who is your dream client? Who do you envision wearing your designs? Nice people, first of all. Even though this is a luxury brand, it’s artisanal; it’s not at all about pretentiousness. The woman is a hip and healthy, free-spirited soul who embodies a strong aesthetic sense and a passion for living well.

Your boutique is going to start out by appointment only. What process do you use in working with clients? It’s such a small space—it’s like a Parisian-style dressing room. I want my clientele to get exceptional customer service and lots of time. I really want to help them figure out what their needs and desires are. I want to know their lifestyle. Each piece is customizable, from the dying to the hem, sleeves and fabric. I call it “demi-couture.” The designs are already here but you can make them yours. I’ve thought through everything a woman might think. I’ve thought through all different body types. You can buy off the hanger, or customize and the design goes to San Francisco to two young craftsmen who run a small workroom. It is not fast fashion. It is handcrafted artisan fashion. It takes about four to six weeks for a custom order to come back. I’m really thinking that more women will come in and want to customize, and that’s the beauty of working with a local designer and local artisans. I want to help women create an easy wardrobe that will take them from the airplane to the cruise or wherever they’re going. The dream would be to partner with local artisans to create a workroom here. It’s so much bigger than just me. It’s about empowering other women in the arts. At this point in my life, I feel like it’s all about giving back. For my business philosophy and mindset, I’m very inspired by the concept of noblesse oblige. That idea is at the heart of this.