You may not know Recho Omondi by name, but you’ve likely seen her work. Most famously, perhaps, she designed the “n***as” sweatshirt Issa Rae’s character wore in the season two premiere of Insecure — but it's her refusal to conform to industry standards, her willingness to speak out against its shortcomings (particularly when it comes to racial diversity), and her mission to provide her customers with pieces they deserve (and can afford) that's led Omondi to build herself a six-figure business.
Though she says she used to have this idea that designers were meant to be seen and not heard — “It’s sort of like an unspoken thing, she tells Refinery29. "You do this humble bow at the end.” — anyone who knows the designer knows that her personality lends itself to more than that. On Wednesday, Omondi launched her podcast, titled Cutting Room Floor, which will air bi-weekly on Wednesdays on Soundcloud, iTunes, and Spotify; the first episode, "Who Killed The Fashion Critic?" features Julie Zerbo, the founder of The Fashion Law, and The Cut’s Emilia Petrarca.
“I genuinely think I have a point-of-view that’s different and a bit refreshing because I’m not in bed with anyone,” Omondi says. “There is no one sponsoring anything I’m doing other than the customers. I don’t have anything to lose, so I keep it honest.” Though she’s been successful, she admits that she often feels like, in a way, she’s not supposed to be here. “There was no lane for me,” she says, noting that “there are no overnight successes if you don't start with at least $60,000. That’s what people don’t realize. To create a product in the world costs money, and the fact that I was able to garner enough money and investments to start this already makes me an anomaly. What Black person, who isn't already a celebrity, do you know that has an excess of money to start something? That doesn’t happen."
She adds: "There are no other Black female designers in America right now [save for Tracy Reese, Carly Cushnie, and Maki Oh]. There are people across the pond in London and such, but in America, especially with a sense of vibrance and youthfulness, they’re aren’t many of us. I think that’s why some people have supported in the way that they have so far.”
In March, Omondi and her team applied to the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund, hoping to push the brand even further. She finds out in July if she’s been admitted. “I didn’t do it to lose, so it’s time to turn up the volume,” she says, adding that the process has been quite rigorous. She had a meeting with her team of seven and told them to consider it “war time.” “We don’t have the luxury to not go hard. Right now, most people have summer Fridays. We have the opposite: It’s 8 a.m. until we’re done for the day.”
If Omondi joins the incubator program, she’s hoping to work with the CFDA to incite some new ideas about how the industry is changing. In the past, she's been critical of the organization; in an interview with Teen Vogue, she insinuated that the CFDA "does very little to support emerging designers like herself," and that she doesn't “feel that winning $300,000 from the CFDA is going to get me where I want to go. I need proper capital to make this vision come to life," she said. But she sees this as an opportunity to potentially disrupt the system that's currently in place — that includes the way designers release collections, as well as how they interact with and respond to their customers.
For the past couple of years, Omondi has spent time developing a certain structure for her business, releasing just one collection per year. “I’ve really been trying to find my footing,” she says, likening herself to a recording artist. “Men and women don’t need to be fed a collection every six months, they just need pieces. They already know what they like. If you were to ask a recording artist what’s their brand, you have to expect that their first album is going be wildly different than the fourth. I just want the flexibility to do to that as a designer." Omondi, the label, is autobiographical, but it's as much a reflection of Recho as it is her customers.
“When it came to the sweatshirt, I thought, 'who is really buying this?' It's likely a person of color who doesn’t have a lot of disposable income, but wants to participate in the brand," she says. I’m not talking to wealthy Upper East Side women who can drop $200 on a hoodie." After some back and forth on Twitter about the price of the piece (originally, consumers thought the cost was too high), she lowered it. Twice.
It’s that sort of thinking that allowed Omondi to build the six-figure direct-to-consumer brand she runs today — and it's the kind of thinking that will continue to push not just her own label, but the fashion industry as a whole, forward. “I grew up in theater and ballet, so I always joke my life has been in been three acts,” she says. “This is Act One (her Instagram confirms that). Act Two is my real, actual personality. And Act Three? I mean, we’ll see...”