By Jasmine Shaw
For the Birmingham Times
At age 29, rising model and actor Randy Bowden Jr. leads a life that illustrates profound resilience.
“Growing up in Birmingham was definitely an experience that cultivated the man I am today,” he said. “At times, I was bullied a lot for being different, whether it was my clothes or the fact that I wasn’t athletic like most other guys.”
These days, Bowden can be found walking New York City runways and showing the world how love wins on BET’s “Hustle in Brooklyn,” a show that follows the professional and social lives of some of today’s most influential personalities. The Ramsay High School grad cherishes his Southern roots and grew to develop a sense of confidence that cannot be denied.
“Working in fashion is extremely difficult because the atmosphere is always cutthroat, so it definitely gave me a thick skin,” Bowden said. “From long hours with no pay to your bosses talking to you any type of way, that’s just how the industry flows.”
Love for Music
Despite being known as a man of many talents, Bowden frequently showcases his love for music. As a grade-school violinist for Birmingham’s Music Opportunity program, he allowed his passion to thrive by performing as part of the concert band and orchestra, as well as the Alabama Youth Symphony.
“I come from a long lineage of musicians,” said Bowden. “My dad is a jazz saxophonist, and every one of my siblings has played an instrument and still sings to this day. Music, especially during my [days of being bullied], really held me down to get through everything I was going through.”
Bowden began his career at the University of Alabama (UA) as a violin performance major, but an unwavering desire to follow his passion led him to switch gears after freshman year.
“I pondered what else I could see myself doing, [and] fashion was the only thing that came to mind,” he said. “Once I started the fashion program, I knew I would be hungry for a rise in the fashion industry.”
Bowden eventually landed an internship in New York City with Marie Claire magazine and Diane von Furstenberg, a world-renowned fashion designer known for her signature wrap dresses and broad influences on women’s fashion.
After graduating from UA in 2012, Bowden returned to Birmingham and worked at Saks Fifth Avenue, gaining professional fashion sales experience. Though he values the South, Bowden held tightly to his dreams of experiencing life in other cities.
“I knew I wanted more than what Alabama gave me as far as my surroundings,” he said. “Pictures and shows of New York made me thirsty to get involved in something more.”
As Bowden prepared to move to New York City, his peers were worried. Overcoming doubts through prayer and preparation, he gathered wisdom from close friends to stay grounded.
“No one outside of the few people who had made the transition successfully could really relate,” he said. “My circle of friends, we are all in the creative industry, so seeing projects they are working on makes me want to work harder, as well.”
Bowden hit the ground running in New York, aiming to build his skill set through a variety of positions at high-end fashion retail stores across the city: “I worked as a men’s specialist at Sandro Paris, a press assistant at 3.1 Phillip Lim, and an agent at Soho House New York,” he said. “Seeing myself rise in what I want to do makes me stay motivated.”
“Work for Myself”
Over time, Bowden has come to learn that there is no perfect job in the fashion industry, so he now invests in entrepreneurial pursuits, recognizing the new endeavor as one that comes with great responsibility.
“The hardest thing about working for yourself is not knowing where your next check is gonna come from, [but] I have become wiser in the fact that I need to work for myself and myself only,” he said.
With goals of opening a creative agency and increasing clientele over the next five years, Bowden works to create a legacy that inspires others to be courageous and confident.
“I want young men and women who are struggling with accepting themselves to know that it is OK to be different, to feel differently about things, and to have the confidence to think as such,” he said. “With my platform, I want to raise that awareness every chance I get.”
Bowden has more than 40,000 social media followers and is intentional about remaining humble as his audience continues to grow. He chooses to recognize his journey as a reflection of the love from people he cherishes most.
“I am still the same Randy, with or without the following and platform,” he said. “My family, my friends, and my boyfriend, Marco, are my biggest support system. They challenge me when I’m unmotivated and encourage me when things don’t seem so well.”
Bowden encourages up-and-coming creatives to never let anyone detour their dreams. He credits his faith for pushing him forward, knowing that nothing worth having in life comes easily.
“[I have a tattoo of] my favorite [Bible] verse, Jeremiah 29:11—‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”