By John Moorehouse
There’s an old Yiddish proverb that translates to, “Man plans, and God laughs.”
It also sums up the personal and professional path of Keddrain “KD” Bowen.
When Bowen first came to Northeast Tennessee to play football for Tusculum College, he figured he would leave the area as soon as he graduated in 2003.
After graduation, when Bowen started selling urban clothes from a display cart in the Mall at Johnson City, he reckoned he would work for about six months, build some experience and go get a job putting his sports management degree to use.
Instead, Bowen still has a presence in the Mall at Johnson City. After pivoting to sportswear long ago, his Fanatics 101 company has stores in both Johnson City and Asheville. He’s also a motivational speaker and, as of March of this year, a published author. That’s when The Dream is Free hit shelves and major online retailers.
Bowen has held several events to promote the book, and each time he signs a copy, he adds the phrase, “Win the day.”
“Life’s going to happen,” he said in an interview with The Business Journal. “You’re going to have different things, different obstacles come up. You’ve just got to treat them like speed bumps.”
After initially selling urban clothing out of the trunk of his car,Bowen was compelled to seek out a vendor space in the Mall at Johnson City.
“I had to go in like five times before they’d ever give me a yes,” Bowen recalled. “I get the hesitance of the person. Here I am. I’m 22 years old. I’m bringing a bag of urban clothes in a market that’s 8% minority.”
Back then, Bowen called his business “KD Urban Wear.” After less than a year, Bowen started branching out into sports wear and sports memorabilia: hats, jerseys and the like. Eventually, he had two sales carts.
“It’s a lot easier selling sports in the area than selling urban clothes,” Bowen said.
In 2006, Bowen got his first in-line store – a traditional retail storefront – but in Morristown. He eventually moved that store to Johnson City, and has maintained a presence in the mall there for 19 years and counting. In the early 2010s, Bowen not only branched out to a second in-line store, but in a second state—setting up shop in the Asheville Mall.
“One of the best compliments we get is from people that travel outside the area. When they come in, they say, I’ve never seen a store with such a big selection,” Bowen said. “When you walk in, you won’t know we’re locally owned.”
Countless hours and miles on the road going from store to store… and COVID-19 threatened to take it all away. With malls closed in 2020, Bowen lost his revenue stream. On top of it all, Bowen also went through a divorce during the pandemic. In the midst of all that stress, he sat down and started writing what turned out to be a chapter in his new book.
“I had an option to sit in the corner and cry or I could end up, you know, trying to still be motivated,” Bowen said. “I didn’t even like writing papers. And I end up writing a book.
“I wrote it in a way I was talking to a younger version of myself,” he added. “What would I have told a younger version of myself, that they could do, to prevent them from going through as much hardship or headaches? So, I wrote it from that perspective.”
Bowen also adapted his apparel business. He moved his Asheville location away from the traditional mall to the outlet mall. Paycheck Protection Program loans and grants helped, too.
“My philosophy is, I work hard, treat people right and trust God for everything else. Some things I can’t control,” Bowen said. “COVID wasn’t fun, but it made you think.”
And he has come out the other side of the pandemic with more tools in his professional arsenal. In March, to align with the release of his book, Bowen received his coaching certification from the John C. Maxwell Team. He’s actively taking bookings for speaking engagements, while also promoting his book. His speaking and coaching help to fuel interest in the book, and vice versa.
For him, whether communicating verbally or through the written word, authenticity matters.
In a world full of knockoffs, he strives to be the genuine article, one day at a time.
“You’ve just got to try to win the day,” he said “The hour. The minute. Whatever you do you’ve got to find a way to win. Find a win. You made your bed. You picked your kids up on time. Find the win and hopefully you get enough momentum to get on a win streak.”