As a fashion designer, Recho Omondi used to think that keeping her head down, toiling away in her studio and not offering her opinion was enough — but then she realized it wasn’t.
“Historically there has been this notion that designers shouldn’t talk, and I subscribed to that a little bit, but those rules don’t work,” said Omondi, who is Kenyan-American and grew up in the Midwest. “That integrity s–t is so out of the window. It’s not that I am selling out, but I have a point of view and I’m over it.”
Omondi, who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design in 2011 and held pattern making and design stints at brands including Calvin Klein, The Gap and Suno before launching her women’s line in 2013, said she loves fashion but is over how shrouded it is in smoke and mirrors. And she’s hoping to use her podcast, The Cutting Room Floor, which debuted this week, to lift the veil on an industry she believes is riddled with misinformation.
“I felt a duty to the young people who followed me, who love this industry but they feel shut out and they don’t know how to get in,” said Omondi, who has not sold any ads against the podcast.
Omondi likes to describe the podcast as a mix between Complex’s hip-hop debate show “Everyday Struggle,” and Nick Knight’s Showstudio. She wants the podcast to feel academic but informal, and she’s aiming to bring the candid conversations she has with friends and colleagues in private settings to a more public forum.
On the debut episode, titled “Who Killed the Fashion Critic,” she speaks to Emilia Petrarca, fashion news writer at The Cut, and Julie Zerbo, founder of The Fashion Law, on what constitutes fashion criticism in 2018 and who is doing it well. The tone is critical but earnest and engaging. Omondi plays student and teacher, asking relevant questions and offering tidbits about her own experiences — whether that was being a nanny to help fund the start of her line or interviewing to work at Alexander Wang four times and never getting the job.
In upcoming episodes, which will air on a biweekly basis, Omondi will speak with Matthew Henson, A$AP Rocky’s stylist, on what it takes to be a stylist, and Bethann Hardison, activist, on the state of diversity within fashion. She will also touch on how legacy brands are scrambling for relevancy and how to raise money for a fashion brand — two years ago Omondi received an angel investment.
“I’m going to be explicit about how funding works because no one really talks about it,” said Omondi. “Most designers had money, even if that is $50,000 they got from their grandparents. My parents don’t have that liquid cash and there is a reason why not a lot of designers look like me. There is so much start-up capital needed to build a brand.”
This isn’t the first time Omondi, who might be best known for a sweatshirt she embroidered with the N word that was worn by Issa Rae on HBO’s “Insecure,” has been vocal about her issues with the fashion system. She’s openly criticized the Council of Fashion Designers of America for requiring emerging brands to be fully formed before they can compete for a cash prize.
“I don’t know this for sure, but it seems like winning a CFDA award 14 years ago was really helpful. They took the boys from Proenza out of school,” said Omondi. “Now it looks a lot like ‘America’s Next Top Model.’ You may win, but it’s not our job to make sure you have a career.”
The CFDA reached out to Omondi to apply to the Vogue Fashion Fund, and after seeing Telfar Clemens take home the prize last year she was motivated to fill out an application and is currently going through the competition. Omondi is attempting to change the paradigm for not only what the winner looks like, but how they operate their brand. She doesn’t participate in fashion week — she thinks it’s a waste; she doesn’t lend clothes to celebrities, and she doesn’t wholesale to major luxury retailers. She prefers to build partnerships with small business owners who want to grow with her brand. And much like her other experiences, she is going to speak openly about the process.
“Being in the CFDA has been a very hush-hush thing, but I’m doing it and whether I win or not I’m going to be honest about my journey,” said Omondi. “I hope that in going through this process I’m not pigeonholed. I hope that they are prepared to invest in the future and what a design brand could look like. I hope that they are considering pivoting the face of American fashion in the same way I am.”