We have something in common. Just like our founder, you have a background in design – which is very rare in fashion media. Could you tell me about your design experience and your first shift toward podcasting?
I went to Savannah College of Art and Design, and I got my degree in fashion design and pattern making. I had a brand for five years, and really started the podcast in the middle of that. I started the podcast in 2018 for fun, as an outlet to talk about how difficult it is to run a fashion business.
It’s something you see more now, fashion brands that become content studios and content studios that make product. Both players now want to do both. But at the time, it wasn’t as common. This is the advantage of being a small business – you can be agile. No one told me I shouldn’t start a podcast, I just went and bought the equipment.
“Out of the entire industry, fashion design and manufacturing are the parts that everyone knows the least about.” – Recho Omondi
You’re right though, part of what makes my interviews a little bit different is that I am coming to them from the lens of a designer, which very few fashion journalists can do. That is why I love 1 Granary so much, it really caters to the student and to the creative, and the challenges of being in that role. When I first started out in fashion, there was nothing to guide me. It was very confusing. I had big dreams and big ideas. I even had money, we had investors, so that wasn’t the problem. But there were so many other roadblocks.
My background in design lends me a very unique perspective on how to interview people and what to ask, regardless of their specialty. It’s not like I only talk to designers. I do find that out of the entire industry, fashion design and manufacturing are the parts that everyone knows the least about.
When you made the decision to close your brand and fully transition towards podcasting, was it difficult to let go of that “dream”, of your career prospects in design?
Surprisingly, no. It was not difficult. It felt like a very natural, seamless transition. If anything, I felt like a huge weight was lifted off me. I closed my brand in 2020, during COVID, so that was a very natural time to close the business. Because we were such a small company, I’m not sure we would have survived COVID anyway. Maybe if I had fought for my life, but that wasn’t something I wanted to do.
Running a fashion business is very asset-heavy and capital-intensive. You need machines, inventory, computers; a lot of stuff to run that business. To me, going into media felt so much lighter. I didn’t need anything. Maybe my higher self, or my subconscious self, had already begun paving the way for that transition.
“I was trained to be a good designer, not to be a good employee.” – Recho Omondi
How do you look back on your education now? What do you take with you from it, and what was lacking?
I’ll start with the good. I went to Savannah College and we had incredible facilities. Anything you wanted to do, you could. Whether you were in videography, photography, graphic design, industrial design,… there were state-of-the-art facilities. It’s very well-funded, and if you’re the type of student who is self-taught, you can learn whatever you want – everything is there.
As far as my education in fashion goes… I think this is common, but I was trained to be a good designer, not to be a good employee. And even if I had been trained to be a good employee, I certainly wasn’t trained to be an entrepreneur, which is who I am. In some ways, every single person who is creative is an entrepreneur.
That is what we hear everywhere. But I’m intrigued by how you use the word “entrepreneur.” What does the word mean to you, and how do you link it to a creative career?
I didn’t know that I was an entrepreneur, I still feel very uncomfortable using that word, but I did always know that I was creative. That was the thing I had no imposter syndrome about.
But what is an entrepreneur? Over the years I’ve learned that I am one. I guess what I mean by that is… I don’t want to be employed by anyone but myself. To me, that is a very last resort. If nothing works out, if I’m without work, if I’m broke, I will go get a job.
When I was a designer, I didn’t want to be a designer for someone else. When I started in fashion journalism, I didn’t want to be at the New York Times. I never saw the employer as the goal. That’s not to say that that’s a bad goal, but I always found that limiting. Over the years, I realized that I don’t want a boss. I want collaborators. I value structure, and all the things that come with working, but if I’m going to be working for the rest of my life, I would so much rather work for myself. That is the most sensible thing to me.
There are a lot of sacrifices to that, but it depends on what your value system is. And the two things I value the most, I have: one being time, and the other being ownership over my own ideas. I don’t know if anyone can relate to this, but it’s very painful and frustrating to have an employer whom you believe very strongly is going in the wrong direction and you can’t do anything about it. That, to me, feels like a very uncomfortable situation to be in.
“I get more fulfillment from building something slowly and making my own mistakes. I’m good at that.” – Recho Omondi
Do you speak from experience here?
No. I’ve heard my friends talk about it. And even with my very tiny podcast, you’d be surprised how many people try to strongarm me to get what they want. You have to be polite and respectful to everybody, but there is a part of me that really values being able to stand my ground.
It depends on what your value system is. You need to decide what life you want. Not everybody wants to be a multi-trillionaire and take over the world, and in that same vain, not everybody is cut out to think about work all day long, like I do. Over the years I’ve learned that I’m an entrepreneur, and over the years I’ve learned that I get more fulfillment from building something slowly and making my own mistakes. I’m good at that.
Do you feel like you are sacrificing security?
Well, I’m not sure there ever is such a thing as job security. People tend to have this idea that you have more job security if you work for someone else, but with the number of layoffs that I have seen, I’m not sure that is true.
I enjoy hearing you describe your career and the way in which you carved out your own path. I think many of our readers will relate to that. I also see it as part of a new generation of fashion criticism, one that is rejecting institutions. Two generations ago, the strong critical voices, I’m thinking of Menkes, Horyn, Blanks, etc., were attached to these big media institutes. But today, interesting voices are on YouTube, TikTok, and Substack. They have their own independent channels and reject the institute. Does that ever feel like a sacrifice, to not be accepted by bigger brands or publications?
That is a good question. That feeling of rejection can only happen if you want to be inside. If you don’t want to be inside, then there is nothing to feel rejected by. Being independent feels so much more empowering than being on the inside.
I don’t think it’s necessarily about rejecting the institutions because everybody has to work together. In order for me to really do what I do, there cannot be an absolute rejection of the industry. Because I still want to talk to everyone and learn from them. I just feel very sovereign in where I stand and where my values are. When you know that, it’s easier to engage. The beautiful thing about this industry is that it’s very big. Everybody has a job to do, and I don’t think anyone’s job is more important than someone else’s. Even if I don’t want to work at a major publication, I see the need for the people who are there. Even though I don’t want to work at a luxury house, I see the need and I love looking at the runway shows. We all have to coexist together. It’s not about rejecting the industry, but about deciding how you want to exist within it.
“Being independent feels so much more powerful than being on the inside.” – Recho Omondi
You have chosen a relationship of independence.
Yes, because I want to be able to say what I want to say. I would be so filtered if I worked somewhere else. I wouldn’t be doing an interview with you, I can tell you that. I would be part of a machine. I would cover trends, celebrities, runway, and clickbait. Those things already exist. If you want that, you can find that.
I’ve found that the best way to engage with the industry is to have sit-down, one-on-one, long-form interviews in audio because print could never handle the kind of conversations we have. We’ve only just now entered a space where that form of content can exist. Podcasts are the new blogs. Everybody has one, but if yours is good, it can break through the noise. It’s a low barrier to entry to create that type of content, just like blogging was, and all of it was to combat legacy media. You can make an entire living out of a loyal audience on the internet now.
“You can make an entire living out of a loyal audience on the internet now.” – Recho Omondi
Talking about your audience, how much do you want to measure or stay in touch with their feedback – and does it ever surprise you?
I’m not sure that our relationship is one of call and response, it’s more – this is what I like, this is what I’m doing, and you can come if you want.
They have given me feedback about the audio quality being very poor. They wanted me to do video content, so we invested in new material to do that. I’ve taken their feedback to increase the quality of the show. When we moved to Tik Tok, people were very excited. “Oh my god, finally!” Because for a long time, I didn’t really show my face. So, me showing up in that way is something they responded well to.
“On Instagram, for so many years, you could thrive with zero personality. Whereas on TikTok, if you don’t have a personality, you’re not going to perform very well.” – Recho Omondi
The decision to “show your face” – was that thought through, did it come organically, did it scare you at all?
Yes, it definitely scared me a bit. It was organic timing-wise, but I still struggle with it. That’s the fashion girl in me, the one who prefers to be demure, understated, and a little mysterious. A big difference between the fashion world and the media world is that sense to be reserved and letting work speak for itself. There are a lot of fashion brands and designers that prefer to deny a public profile. It is not my natural inclination to be on camera, so I didn’t feel that was necessary. I felt it would be much more powerful for my voice to speak.
Now, it did make sense to transition to video.When I first got on TikTok, I just wanted to figure out how it worked, and then I got 10k followers in the first 30 days. I realised this actually makes a lot more sense for me than Instagram ever did. I struggle with Instagram. I never really caught the beat. On Instagram, for so many years, you could thrive with zero personality. Whereas on TikTok, if you don’t have a personality, you’re not going to perform very well. If you have something to say, if you have a sense of comedic timing, if you have something educational, if you have something of some substance, you can do very well.
Our next challenge is launching on YouTube, and turning it into a real show. That feels very intimidating because I see YouTube as the silver screen.
“It is a very delicate, nuanced, unspoken thing. In fashion, it is much more valuable to be recognized by the industry than it is to be recognized by the public.” – Recho Omondi
I’m excited to see you there! I’m stuck on what you said about people who work in fashion not being inclined to draw public attention. It surprised me because, in my experience, so many designers do like attention. But you might be right. In fashion, people want to be recognized by their peers, but not by the public. I think it’s this idea of exclusivity… In fashion it’s cool to be recognized by insiders, and a bit uncool to be recognized by just anyone. We want to be Michelle Lamy rather than Karl Lagerfeld.
Absolutely. It’s a very nuanced culture. I have talked to media companies about a fashion podcast, and it’s hard for me to explain the culture because the same rules don’t apply.
To your point, if you’re someone from outside the industry, and you get enough followers, the fashion industry will acknowledge you. Why else would it have embraced Emma Chamberlain? If you get the numbers up, trust me, they will come running. Generally speaking, in fashion, it is much more valuable to be recognized by the industry than it is to be recognized by the public. They’re just completely different currencies.
You don’t shy away from talking about your personal life in your interviews. You bring up your doubts about motherhood, for example. That is something an older generation of fashion critics would never do. If it happened, it would be in women’s magazines, which look at fashion through a personal lens, but if you wanted to be a respected critic, you would have to keep your personal life out of it. I find it very interesting that you brought those two together.
It was definitely conscious. Because I did not use to do that. In fact, I swore I never would. But, it was a conscious decision to start letting people in. Getting on TikTok totally transformed the way I saw social media.
This goes back to what we were saying about the nuance and culture of fashion. It has always been considered lowbrow to publicize your life in that sense. I think fashion sees that type of media personality as an influencer or celebrity. I was always very guarded about that because I wanted to be taken seriously, but once I got on TikTok, I got so inspired by how forthcoming everyone is. They are really rebelling against the idea of picture perfect. To me, that felt a lot more natural, it felt like a much safer space.
I’m a millennial and we definitely paved the way. We also believe in decentralized authorities, we also put our life on the internet, so what they’re doing isn’t necessarily new. But because we were introduced to the camera in a new way, as the first generation to move from desktop to mobile with a camera in our hands, there was still a sense that we needed to self-present. We very much editorialized the content, whereas they do not. It’s not so much that they’re doing what we didn’t do, they’re just not as aesthetically driven as we were.
When you go to TikTok you can get on there with braces and acne and your roots grown out. You can actually just show the process, and the reality is, there are more people who relate to that than there are people don’t.
“Sometimes it’s surprising to guests that I would have standards when I’m such a small podcaster. They’re not used to it, in fashion.” – Recho Omondi
I’m curious about how you select your guests. How strategic are you with the invites?
I rarely pitch anyone. Well… that’s not true, I’ve pitched Mickey Drexler, because I really wanted to talk to him, but the majority of the guests are inbound, and I also say no a lot. Because the spots are so few, we release an episode every other Wednesday, that is enough to keep us busy.
I do think about my job as a service role, so I ask myself the question – how could this guest service the audience? Does this person have something of value the listener can learn from? The guests need to be open to having an actual conversation. Sometimes it’s surprising to guests that I would have standards when I’m such a small podcaster. They’re not used to it. The assumption is that I should be grateful that they’re reaching out to me, but if we can’t partner, then it’s a no.
That is why I love 1 Granary so much because you champion the underdog and the essential worker. I feel very aligned with what you do. It’s about making great editorial content for people who are not the big guys. Young students need that validation, otherwise, they’ll be gaslit to the high heavens and think there’s something wrong with them.
“There are a lot of people who have capitalized on creativity, but who, in their spirit, aren’t genuinely creative.” – Recho Omondi
Fashion tends to attract people who are geared toward status and recognition. So, when that is not your goal, it’s rare to find people who think similarly. When you do, it’s a great feeling!
That is the best part of the journey. You really do attract like-minded people. For every person who rejects you, you attract two or three more people who see the vision and value what you value. That is so comforting. “Okay, I’m not crazy after all.”
How is your team set up? You’ve mentioned “we”… How many people are you?
And when did you hire your first employee?
The first employee I hired was during COVID. That was my editor, and I was with him for a year and a half. My current editor took his spot, I’ve been with him for a year. Then I have an assistant who mans the desk and does all the admin, bookings, emails, correspondence, etc. I do all the research and interviewing. And I edit together with my editor.
Can I ask about funding? Can you give us some insights on investments?
It’s totally self-funded. Patreon is the number one revenue source for the show. I also do consulting and commissioned work. I just did a book for A24 about HBO’s Euphoria. But the podcast is strictly funded by the listeners. They don’t realise it, but they bought all this new equipment. They bought the camera because they wanted better video.
How do you see your platform grow after that? What is something you’d really like to achieve?
I have very humble goals, I’m not going to lie. I want to be the one-stop-shop destination for interviewing people in fashion. There’s SHOWstudio, but I don’t find that very compelling anymore.
If I can sit down and interview creatives for the rest of my life, I think I can be pretty content with that. As long as they let me ask what I want to ask. I want to champion the creatives of the world. It’s a very scary and lonely road to be a creative person. There are a lot of people who have capitalized on creativity, but who, in their spirit, aren’t genuinely creative. Because anyone who is genuinely creative wouldn’t wish it on anybody. It’s a tough slot for that to be your calling. Creativity is very much seen as a service role for the entire world; that thing you take for granted. Someone is making music and cooking good food and making great clothes and styling your hair. But they’re “just” creatives. Most people don’t see those as “real” jobs.
Now, that is shifting with the creator economy, very different from the influencer economy. Now, because of these platforms, there is a way for creatives to make a way for themselves. I want them to feel that it’s possible, to feel encouraged. I started with 400 dollars of equipment and some relationships I had. With really shitty audio and no video, and I’m starting to get there.
I’m sorry, that was a long-winded answer.
Please, never apologise for talking too much.
I’m bad for print, but I’m great for podcasts! That is part of the mission, I want creatives to know they have a place in this world, and that they have value to bring. If anyone in fashion needs a place where they need to go talk, they come to talk to us. I want us to be so tried-and-true that we’re that thing you forget exists because we’re so reliable.
That is what I mean by humble goals. Aiming to service other creatives. Hopefully, I won’t piss off too many people in the process. [laughs]