Welcome to Unbuttoned, a conversation with grown-up creative people about how they made it, their process, and any advice they’d give to those dreaming to create something of their own.
If you ask Recho Omondi where she’s from, she’ll say, “Nowhere.” And she’ll be telling the truth — the Kenyan-American was born in Nowhere, Oklahoma, a small town about an hour outside of the state’s capital. Omondi, a designer and the creator and host of podcast The Cutting Room Floor, grew up bouncing around various towns in the Midwest before she landed in New York City, the place she now calls home.
During her time in small towns, Omondi danced and played piano, joined the theater club at each new school, and pored over all the fashion magazines she could get her hands on. After studying at Savannah College of Art and Design, she moved to New York and worked as a patternmaker at a variety of brands including Calvin Klein and Theory. In 2013, she launched her eponymous label OMONDI, a love letter to her Kenyan heritage, and saw her work in noted publications like W Magazine and on the silver screen through Issa Rae’s show Insecure. While running her label, Omondi saw a dearth of fashion criticism; the industry was recycling the same designers, the same ads, the same brands. Moments between meetings, during happy hours, and on nights out were filled with exchanges about fashion with her colleagues and friends. In 2018 she decided to formalize those conversations and launch her podcast about the industry, The Cutting Room Floor.
The twice-monthly show has featured interviews with up-and-comers and industry stalwarts: Michelle Obama favorite Christopher John Rogers, Gap and Old Navy executive Mickey Drexler, and fashion’s Internet patrol Diet Prada to name a few. Omondi has been championed as an interviewer for her directness, her desire to get to the root of issues, and her willingness to push her guests, unearthing beyond where other media outlets may cut the tape. As an interviewer with a technical design background, she can ask questions that some journalists may not even know to ask. She has created, in her own words, “Fashion’s only fashion show.”
Teen Vogue sat with Omondi to discuss her relationship with the Internet, what her fashion utopia looks like, and her biggest takeaways from the podcast so far.
Teen Vogue: I’m curious about your upbringing. You moved around from place to place a lot as a kid. Was there anything that provided stability for you during all those moves?
Recho Omondi: My family is Kenyan and I grew up in the Midwest. We moved around a lot, high school was the only time in my life where I went to the same school for four years. We traveled a lot, since my parents are Kenyan we were going to Kenya a lot, and we were in Europe a lot because my dad’s siblings were in Europe. Different places from Belgium to Stockholm to Bangkok. There was a lot of traveling – that was maybe the main difference between me and my peers. International travel was not very big with the people that I knew.
You asked what provided stability if there was a through-line, and this sounds funny, but I was the constant. I said this in a previous interview, that you are the constant, and everyone else is the variable. I learned that pretty young. [Moving] teaches you a lot – you’re a lot more agile, you learn about navigating different types of personalities and different types of people. I’ve learned not to take anything too personally. And I also learned that people only know what they know. People are working within the stratosphere of what they’ve experienced and what they know. I think when you jump into lots of different pockets, in different cities, different towns, you feel like you’re an observer of different things. Whereas I think people who have never really left their hometown, or only know the world that they know, it’s different. I think they feel that their life is real life and there is no other life. Whereas if you’ve seen a lot, and you’re eight years old, going to this school from this kindergarten class to this first-grade class to a new city to a new state to a new state to another state to Paris to Stockholm to Kenya to Nairobi to the village where there’s no Internet to Oklahoma — when you’re seeing all of that at age nine, ten, eleven, I do feel blessed in that way. Like, Okay, there’s more to it than me. I think it makes you more open to other ways of being.
I love product and designing product, but we had entered a time in which there was so much product already out there. So I thought, How can I actually be of service? Having seen so much, and still being curious, I realized [the podcast] is a more serviceable job, it doesn’t harm the environment, it’s a much more lean operation. It was a natural closing of one chapter and resuming of another.
TV: After studying at SCAD, you moved to NYC and started working in design. Being a non-white person in fashion can be a huge challenge. What did you encounter at the various brands you worked at?
RO: It was a very different time, even though it wasn’t that long ago. There was not room for all of the conversations we have today around people of color, around body positivity. None of these liberal ideas were there. Everyone knows this, and that’s what’s so fascinating, that everyone acts like they don’t know this. But we all knew that the industry, especially at the luxury level, was about pedigree. And it’s always been that way. It’s for the aristocracy, the bourgeois, moneyed women, society women as they used to call them. It was a very linear, pretentious, discriminatory pipeline to get to any kind of prestigious job in fashion. We all know that. To see it pivot is very interesting. The same people who upheld those standards are now scrambling backward, and almost trying to absolve themselves as if they never participated in this. That’s what’s fascinating to observe because, for people like me, I’ve been here for over ten years. I’ve been watching most of these people, even though they never saw me. It’s very much Perks of Being a Wallflower vibe. Did I feel safe in these spaces? I guess I can say I never felt unsafe, but I felt unseen.
Source by www.teenvogue.com