Style
Where the runway meets the street
Shanita Sims

Young designers typically work their way into fashion institutions, but Recho Omondi would rather work her way around them. It’s not that she considers herself an outlier, she just doesn’t have time for the niceties of the fashion world. The most important thing for Omondi is honesty, raw honesty that manifests in her designs, interviews, and her podcast, OMONDI Presents: The Cutting Room Floor.

Omondi was born to Kenyan parents and raised by her dad in various places around the American Midwest. She studied fashion design at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia before moving to New York and building her titular brand OMONDI from the ground up. “My dad recently said, ‘You’ve always been so confident — I have no idea where you got it from,’” she says. “I guess that’s just how I was made.”

Her unflinching confidence allows her to push boundaries, whether through her much-discussed N-word sweatshirt, which Issa Rae wore on an episode of Insecure, or her decision to work outside the fashion week schedule. She did show at New York Fashion Week once, in 2015, but later told Coveteur, “It just didn’t feel good. It felt dead and archaic.”

Omondi started the podcast not only to have a place to get nerdy over fashion but also to demystify the industry. “Business of Fashion is a podcast that I love, but they’re all so formal and academic,” she says. “I wanted to bring it into more a pop culture context where we talk about ‘real’ things.”

Her podcast ranges from facilitating beefs between The Fashion Law‘s Julie Zerbo and Diet Prada, to breaking down exactly what a stylist does with AWGE fashion director Matthew Henson, who is A$AP Rocky and The Weeknd’s stylist. A recent episode was titled “What’s a Creative Director,” something Omondi believes needs explaining “since everybody thinks they are one.”

The designer is often labeled “outspoken,” yet that description paints a picture of an enfant terrible whose ill-thought-out public statements ultimately prove self-detrimental. Omondi, by contrast, appears to know exactly what she’s doing. She isn’t defined by her call-outs of important figures, but she doesn’t shy away from them either, especially when pointing out racism in the fashion industry.

When Miroslava Duma and Ulyana Sergeenko ran into controversy for using the N-word and subsequently delivering a less-than-convincing apology, Omondi’s voice was among the strongest. “They think them using the N-word was the problem, but what the apology said was that they don’t even understand what the problem is,” she told Teen Vogue.

Collection 3
Cary Fagan / Recho Omondi
Collection 3
Cary Fagan / Recho Omondi

OMONDI Presents: The Cutting Room Floor represents a natural progression of Omondi’s brand and another vehicle through which she can freely speak her truth, as well as the truth. In episode four, Omondi converses with the legendary Bethann Hardison about a fashion industry still struggling with diversity and talks to Diet Prada in episode five about the lack of merit she sees in Virgil Abloh’s work (“I don’t care that he’s the ‘first black designer’ if his work isn’t that great”).

In episode six, Omondi discusses Vogue with writer (and occasional Highsnobiety contributor) Mikelle Street. Following the magazine’s first-ever cover shot by a black photographer for this year’s September issue, Omondi and Street exchanged ideas about the esteemed publication’s intent and why it still seems so out of touch with the world. “What do you guys [Vogue] even believe in?” Omondi asks. “What do you stand for? Are you guys really trying to pivot the face of American fashion and help the younger talent really thrive?”

Omondi insists she doesn’t say things just to generate controversy. “I’m not really in the business of arguing or debating my point of view just for the sake of,” she tells me. “If something strikes me as noteworthy to comment on, then I do. But once I said it, it’s dead.”

Such comments might lead some to brand her — celebratorily or otherwise — as confident and/or unapologetic. But she’s confident because she knows herself and her vulnerabilities, and she’s unapologetic because she has nothing to apologize for.

“For so long the gatekeepers have been a certain type of person, and now… I don’t wanna say I’m a gatekeeper, ’cause I’m not — but I’m informed,” she says. “I’m not just commenting for the sake of commenting.”

Omondi knows her stuff, and perhaps more importantly, she knows her value — something important in a world where diversity is still seen merely as a PR-friendly platitude. Her creativity and uncompromising attitude, artistically and otherwise, set an example for people who wish to succeed in industries where they are rarely represented in an engaging or meaningful way.

The Cutting Room Floor is Omondi’s way to prove that voices like hers belong in fashion. Voices that are brutally honest, true to themselves, come from diverse perspectives, and most importantly, know what they’re talking about.

Words by Elliot Sang
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