Welcome to Into Labels, a Who What Wear column that profiles the designers behind the brands we can’t stop talking about.
Back in December, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn–based Recho Omondi shared a picture of an embroidered sweatshirt with a list of first names that would resonate with any fashion lover in an instant. Isaac. Donna. Calvin. But they were all crossed out. “Sincerely, your successor,” her Instagram caption read.
“The T-shirt was very tongue-in-cheek, but I also meant it, too. I kind of treat them all like ex-boyfriends. There are people I love, but let’s be real,” the designer explains from her one-bedroom apartment, where we meet her and also where she runs her company. “It’s a new day in terms of perspectives, and you don’t need to be behind the new perspectives, but if you don’t, you’ll just get left behind.”
We have to admit that hearing these words from Omondi—whose eponymous brand comes from her Kenyan surname—further supports the fact that we’re in a whole new age of fashion. It’s one that not only needs to address the things that have not been working, but it’s one that’s ready and thirsty for a wealth of diverse ideas, leaders, and visuals to set the course of what the industry will look like in 10, or 50, or 100 years. “I feel like the rose that’s growing out of the concrete type of thing,” the SCAD graduate says. “There is no one that looks like me in this game—at least not in America.”
The Oklahoma-born designer is referencing the disproportionate number of black women who sit at the top of some of the biggest fashion brands in the world. And sure, Omondi tells us, she can see herself doing big business one day, but for the time being, she’s building her future—and her own fashion empire—in a way that’s not really following a single example of what came before.
“It’s not anything that genius. It’s actually just common sense,” Omondi explains about taking an uncommon business approach, which includes producing one singular collection a year, skipping New York Fashion Week (and therefore saving her small brand from a huge financial burden), and, despite the fact that she has a Who What Wear editor sitting in her apartment would have you believe, not seeking out press. It’s naturally come to her.
“The way that we”—her three- to five-person team, that is—“do things has to make sense for us.” While her approach sounds like such a no-brainer, with so many designers churning out no fewer than four collections a year, shelling out money to produce fashion shows with major social media appeal, and finding time to have a huge public persona, we ask her how she deals with the pressure, even if it’s from a system she doesn’t want to be a part of.
“There are a lot of young designers who feel that, in order to be a part of the system, they have to do it in that way, and I try to encourage them not to put that type of pressure on yourself. You’re not the multimillion-dollar company, so there is no reason to act as if you are, because you are literally not. It’s almost the same thing as young girls having self-hate or body image issues. There’s no need to pretend to be that girl, because you’re actually literally and physically not. You might as well get real comfortable with what you can do.”
All this said, Omondi is someone who’s far from comfortable with merely coasting. Her fourth collection debuted in November and is set to begin selling on her site this May. It’s a beautiful yet kind of tragic lineup of romantic designs set among a scene of waste and decay. “Everyone is so concerned with a pretty picture despite living in complete chaos or literally a toxic environment,” she says of its message—something that translates to environmental and waste issues in the world at large.
Of course, for a more entry-level price point—and frankly, the pieces that have become most iconic to the brand—Omondi is constantly offering its embroidered sweats with phrases both provocative and simply logo-based. “The embroidered text makes you feel like you were here in the studio,” Omondi explains of her best sellers, “which is how I want people to feel, especially because everything [in the industry] is mass produced."
What we really walk away with after meeting Omondi is that this personal touch is pretty much everything when it comes to her label—from the way she makes decisions to how she interacts with her customers and, soon, how she welcomes them into her own life.
"We just started a podcast that we are going to release in May, which is really exciting because I have a lot to talk about,” she says with a laugh. “I used to think that as a designer I should never talk, because that was, again, ‘the rules.’” She also tells us a video series is in the works. “I want to humanize the experience so that people don’t think that it’s so glamorous or whatever. Everyone is comparing themselves. Everyone thinks that they are not doing enough. I do it to myself, too. We are all getting poisoned from Instagram, and sometimes we need to take breaks from it. All of it can be very detrimental to your self-esteem.”
Considering her unique approach to her business, naturally Omondi's vision for success is just a personal and special to her. “I just have a completely different vision of what a fashion brand is. Fashion, to me, would mean clothing and product, but also music and concerts and experiences and storytelling. I want to build a fashion brand that is a touchpoint of the culture right now, and hopefully as long as I have the baton in my hand, I can still do that until I run out of ideas. And if I run out of ideas, then I’ll go, You guys got it. I did my 15 to 20 years in the game. It’s someone else’s turn!”