NFL Athlete and Entrepreneur Omar Bolden paves his own path while rehabilitating an injury and navigating the New York City fashion world.
On November 30th, I walked into REINGE for my first day of work carrying my life in four large bags: two rollers, one duffel, and one backpack. With my new co-workers, office furniture, and racks of clothing already filling the showroom, my luggage quickly turned the space into an obstacle course.
Being up against obstacles is something I’m too familiar with. As an NFL player, I’ve had my fair share of injuries that have periodically kept me off the field throughout my career. With that said, my current absence from the game has sparked some curiosity in maneuvering in a new field—fashion. At this time of the year, I’m usually transitioning from my back pedal to a sprint on the football field, so moving to New York and making the transition from sports to fashion was not something that intimidated me.
Ironically enough, I vividly remember a time when I wasn’t so comfortable with fashion. As a child, I was conscious about my style when it was time to get dressed for birthday parties and family gatherings, because I was intimidated by my older cousins’ opinions. As much as we see eye to eye now, it was almost like our sense of style didn’t align then. It was too easy to see that the joke was on me, from “Omar, why is your shirt always tucked in?” to “Omar, why don’t you loosen up your shoes a little bit. You’re choking them so much they look like they’re on life support.” They say you only know what you’re exposed to, and experience is the best teacher in life. I didn’t realize it then, but those interactions were prepping me for who I was becoming. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
When I was in the 9th grade, I saw the Harlem rapper Cam’Ron wear a pink fur coat with a baggy, pink T- shirt while talking on a pink Nextel phone. In urban culture, oversized tees and fur coats were cool, but wearing pink was not. He also had on two big platinum rings and a chain to match.
At that moment, I was like, “Yo, you can really do what you want to do. If you’re confident enough, you can wear whatever you want to wear.” I didn’t have that confidence right away. At the time, I was only fourteen, but he made me realize that you can do what you want with style as long as your bravado existed.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been into fashion. I couldn’t afford to always get new clothes, but I had a vision for what I wanted to do and what I wanted to wear. It seems I had champagne taste on a Kool Aid budget. All throughout high school, my friends and I did Fresh Friday every Friday. On that one day of the week, I’d put together the hottest ‘fit that I had. My personal style gradually developed as I gained more financial independence, so when I got a job at Best Buy, the Friday ‘fit would come more often than Friday. I was dressing up on Mondays and Wednesdays too.
This investment in style carried over into college when I attended Arizona State University. The first thing I fell in love with, in terms of fashion, was what I put on my feet. When I was younger, I never had the new pair of shoes I wanted, so in college, after my rent was paid every month, any extra money in my pocket was donated to this dope, low-key skater shop that had every shoe: Adidas, Nike, Vans, you name it. I always wanted to be fresh, and as long as my kicks were fresh, I was good.
I had a sense of style, but I hadn’t found my style yet. I entered the league in 2012 and although it was a fairly easy transition, the lifestyle was very different. The NFL parking lot is like a car show, and the locker room is like a runway. Like so many of these guys, I briefly thought that in order to be fresh, stylish, and fly, I had to buy everything designer. I went crazy on Balenciaga, Giuseppe Zanotti, and Louboutin shoes. It wasn’t until midway through my second year that I realized I wasn’t being true to myself. I was just wearing these brands because I could. I do have to thank that part of my life for where I am with my style, because now I realize how easy it is to be influenced.
These days, I prefer to shop on my own. With football, I’m always part of a team, which I love. But when it comes to fashion, it’s me. I’d rather do my own thing than be influenced by other players’ or my friends’ opinions. My style is versatile, and I take real pride in being able to go from a suit and tie to street style to casual chic. I try to bring different looks to events, for sure. If there will be a potential photo op, you better believe I put some genuine thought into what I’m wearing. I want to look good, and regardless of what style I choose I want it to look effortless everyday.
It wasn’t until 2014 that I thought I might be seriously interested in fashion, more than just getting dressed in the morning. I wanted to poke my head into the industry to see what was going on. Those thoughts constantly crossed my mind, especially as I started thinking about life after football. I’ve never thought that football was my endgame; I always knew I would do something after. And then I faced adversity. The game was taken away from me due to injury after the 2016 season.
I was released by Chicago (Bears) in July, and that left me in an interesting space. I was back home in LA by early August, which gave me a lot of time to think and to have quiet introspection about real life. Even though I was rehabbing daily and working to get my body healthy enough to play, I realized I would be out for at least a couple more months. Soon enough it was September, and New York Fashion Week was around the corner. I’d always wanted to attend, but never could because of my game schedule. Prior to being released, I hired Rob Wilson as my publicist and told him I wanted to make the trip to Fashion Week. He lined up a few events for me to go to, and a couple of meetings to attend, which turned out to be a major investment in myself.
When I first arrived to New York City, I met with Kevin Flammia, the Founder and CEO of REINGE. In their SoHo showroom, he introduced me to the brand’s concept of high-end fashion for the athletic figure. Their use of a body scanner and its data to revise sizing was something I’d never seen before. That was the start of my relationship with REINGE.
Four weeks after fashion week, I came back out to NYC and called up Kevin in my free time. I stopped by the showroom and we brainstormed ideas. It was at this meeting that he proposed the idea of working together. After careful consideration, I decided to take a leap of faith with this opportunity to see if the fashion industry is something that I really like. I was at a standstill with football due to my health and wanted to explore some other avenues. I was intrigued by the game of football, but I didn’t know I enjoyed playing ‘til I stepped on the field. I figured the same would be for fashion. Learning from Albert Einstein and staying “passionately curious,” I fully immersed myself in the industry to find out.
Everyday at REINGE is different. I’m working as the Brand Advisor to help coordinate events and curate social media content. I also have the pleasure of shadowing our designers, Jodi Ingham and Johnny King, in the studio.
One thing that I’m thoroughly enjoying is watching the designers bring concepts to life. It’s a lot more complicated than just sewing fabric together; it’s real work. I never thought about how much work goes into an everyday T-shirt, which is one of the things that intrigues me the most. Whether working with the seamstress, cut and sewers, or the marker, it’s fascinating to see how many people are responsible for making one article of clothing look great. This type of teamwork is something that I can relate to because that’s what sports are all about. I’ve had the privilege of not only playing in two Super Bowls, but winning one. I know what it takes to put forth a collective effort to accomplish one goal, and I intend on bringing that same mindset to REINGE. I have a feeling that through this process, I’ll find out where I want to fit in the industry. I’m in no rush.