Q&A: Brandon Marc Higa, Role Model for Success, PCHS ’99

Jun 13, 2010 | PC Community


Brandon Marc Higa is one of the most talented and intelligent Pearl City High School Alumnus that I have met to date. He is a graduate of the PCHS Class of ’99 and has earned a BA/MA in International Relations with a minor in East Asian Languages and Cultures from the University of Southern California. He also received the National Security Education Program – David Boren Graduate Fellowship Scholarship for advanced language study at Stanford University’s Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama.

Brandon Marc has a list of academic accomplishments as long as my arm and he is only 28 years old. He has successfully combined his experience in International Relations and Asian language studies with a professional modeling career that has allowed him to travel the world. Earlier in the year, he was selected to represent the United Colors of Benetton clothing line for their next ad campaign. Brandon Marc, along with four other models was chosen out 65,000 models that entered the international contest search. Most recently he was featured on the cover of Lots of which is an online fashion stylist’s magazine.       

                                                                                             Photo provided by: Tony Veloz

From an early age, Brandon Marc was taught the importance of a having good education and where it may lead him if he put in the hard work. Both of his parents influenced him in channeling their hard work philosophy down the right path. His mother, Mrs. Doreen Higa, is the Principal at the award winning Momilani Elementary School in Pearl City.

He credits both his parents for his academic achievements. He also gives credit to his mother for preparing him for his modeling career. Great job!

I have to say that I truly enjoyed sitting down with Brandon Marc to get to know him and hear his story. He is a true gentlemen and terrific person with a very bright and exciting future ahead of him. He embraces his family and friends and always keeps his heart close to home.

I hope you enjoy the following Q&A featuring Brandon Marc Higa.

Q: What was it like graduating from Pearl City High School in the year 1999?

A: “It was really exciting. I think with the number like ’99, it just sounds like it’s the end of the millennium, and although they gave that title to the class of 2000, it still felt like the class of ‘99 was really exciting.”

Q: Teachers that made a difference at PCHS?

A: “All the teachers were really helpful for me. The one’s that really stick in my mind is Mr. Horn, Mrs. Ochiae, of course Mr. Nakasone and Mr. Kamisato. Mr. Ken Sato was also there when I was there. Also, my French teacher, Marianne Smith, I’m sure she’s still there. I had her for four years. French and Band were both classes that I had for four years.”

Q: How involved were you in the PCHS Band program?

A: “My main activity was band. I played the Clarinet. Band Director Michael Nakasone was still there. I was heavily involved in the ensemble program and marching band.”

Q:  What made you choose to attend the University of Southern California?

A: “Growing up with my mom really promoting the arts through modeling and also academics, I wanted to go to an institution that was not only serious about their music program but somewhere that they offered very rigorous academics.”

Q: How was the transition from Pearl City High School to the USC?

A: “There was a big difference when I got to college because I’m the only person from Pearl City that went up that year. I didn’t know anybody else from Pearl City so it was really just being amongst many other students from Punahou, Iolani, and Kamehameha. I have to admit that there was sort of an intimidation factor to it. I thought if I’m coming from public school I really don’t know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised by my performance in class and the direction I got from my professors. I did switch from French to Japanese and from music performance to International Relations. It was a very, very good shift to International Relations.”

Q: What made you decide to focus on International Relations?

A: “Sometimes you just know, like during orientation, I went to a couple of information sessions offered by other departments and I met the director of international relations. I thought about it and I said that this is more along the lines of what I’m interested in.”

Q: Did you have any experience in high school connecting with students from different countries and cultures?

A: “When I wasn’t doing music I participated in some exchange programs in high school and one of which was to Okinawa. That for me kind of awakened my interest in learning more about my heritage. It became kind of a cornerstone of what my interest was and I really wanted to research this US Military Base presence in Okinawa and Japan.”

It was strange because with the Pearl City Band program we hosted the Okinawan students for a couple years and there was an exchange program with Fujieta, a smaller city in Japan. There were all these Japanese influences in my life but I wasn’t speaking the language.”

Q: Would you say that after your first few weeks at USC is when the interest to focus your studies on International Relations and East Asian Languages and Cultures manifested itself?

A: “That’s really when I woke up and thought that international relations promotes bi-lateral relations, multi-lateral relations amongst countries and that inherently requires you to know foreign language and cultures. It was a very good chance for me to learn Japanese in college where it’s rigorous and apply that to my studies.”

                                                                                              Photo's by: Tony Veloz

Q: You have experience in US-Japan security relations through your fellowship studies in Japan. What is your opinion with regard to our military presence in Asia particularly in Okinawa?

A: “From multiple stand points it serves its purpose. It’s easy for me as an American to say that our country can enjoy our liberties and our right to travel to Japan and really enjoy a safe and comfortable travel throughout the orient because we have these bases there that provides that security umbrella.”

“On the flip side of it, hearing people’s opinions about how it affects a day to day human security, it gives me a fresher perspective that there are people that are negatively impacted.”

“I did some research here at the East-West Center on a couple of rape cases that happened. You just can’t put a value on human life and perceive security. It’s really tough because I feel as an American and also of Okinawan Japanese decent, it does come with some expectations and assumptions about what works and doesn’t work. My general attitude is I have a lot to learn about it, even after all the research and meeting experts in the field.”

Q: Modeling currently plays a big role in your professional life. How did you get started?

A: “I was modeling since high school. My mom actually got me into it. When I first started they teach you about grooming and etiquette. After that you learn about the basics and about what you do with castings, how you present yourself, what a photo shoot is. It’s the small things that mom did from early on that made a big difference later on like taking care of my skin, hair and teeth. I didn’t know that it actually helps you age a certain way. Right now I’m twenty-eight and most of the jobs in Hawaii go to younger men so people never assume that I’m my age. “

                                                                                     Photo's by: Michael Bonner

Q: Did being in Los Angeles while attending USC give you more of an opportunity to work in the modeling industry?

A: “It was in Los Angeles that the entertainment industry was very conducive to keeping up with that part. Even though I was not with an agency formerly at that time, there were moments where I did get shot for various magazines and other clients.  It wasn’t really something that I was that serious about though.”

Q:  How does it feel to be selected out of 65,000 other models for the latest United Colors of Benetton ad campaign?

A: “I think it’s a little bit surreal to tell you the truth. I go to sleep and I wake up the same person no matter what. I’m on a new fitness regiment as my real big challenge to age gracefully and being ready as a model. I’m always thinking about the daily challenges that I overcome like my diet and how I sleep, how much sun exposure I get. All of these things play a factor.

I think sometimes there’s like a stigma against models. It just the vanity, it’s the superficiality and I can confidently say that none of that is me. I take a much more academic approach to it just based on my education and knowing that my career in foreign affairs has taken me oversees to fashion capitols like Tokyo, Paris, Los Angeles, New York. It’s just the influence of everything. Market demand drives consumer perceptions and that ultimately trickles down to where the model itself is promoting an idea or product.”

Q: Would you say that you have the ability to present yourself with an intelligent perspective towards and beyond each clients campaign needs?

A: “When you see yourself as a vessel to articulate a specific idea or to connect with people in ways that maybe you didn’t even know when you’re shooting, it’s very empowering but it’s also the sort of perspective that I need to know that my approach is like a smart model and not like a poser. It’s right in thinking really beyond the concepts and what the editorial demands are for each project.”

Q: Is there anyone that you recognize as being influential in your decision to enter the United Colors of Benetton competition?

A: “Actually I have to credit my really good Stanford friend Dorothy. Dorothy just got in to modeling in Tokyo and she’s absolutely gorgeous. She’s from Taiwan; she went to Cornell and Stanford. She just wrote to me and said I think that you should enter this contest and I thought why not, I don’t have anything to lose. In 2008, I was a campaign model for this fashion that fights poverty cause in Washington, D.C. It’s a local cause there, but it’s a very, very big and a prominent event annually that takes place. Basically they promote ethical and socially conscience consumption in the fashion industry. The United Colors of Benetton was one of the brands that they named as promoting these standards. For me, do we know what eco-friendly fashion is? Have you ever heard the term?”

Q: Eco-Friendly Fashion?

A: “When I first heard it I was thinking I have no idea. None the less it was yet another thing that I had to approach to just like school, you research and you look at your credible sources. You really follow the cash flow to see where marketing is going, where product development is going and that’s where the smarts come in as a model. You just go and research and then you have foresight. Rather than just being a campaign model, they made me a spokesperson for it and I was really happy with that role. It really required me to be able to present myself well with the campaign. I swore to having clothing from labels like United Colors of Benetton, American Apparel, and Barney’s Co-op that promote these standards. Although 100% of their clothes aren’t compliant with it, they have specific lines that promote these causes. It’s kind of neat to just take that as a theme in your wardrobe and just challenge yourself and say I want to be conscious about these things because it does impact people on a global level. Sorry, it’s a long way to answer but that’s how I got to United Colors Benetton.”

Q: How important is it to be hired by a company that practices a certain level of ethical standards as well as giving you an opportunity to represent your Asian ethnicity?

A: “To be recognized by a campaign that celebrates diversity and to be really able to articulate in my own message that I am Okinawan American also of Japanese decent and I particularly like your company because of the ethical standards and to be recognized in turn by that, it feels like a good synergy.”

Q: “What city would you choose as the most ideal to advance your career in both international relations and professional modeling?

A: “I think New York would be the best place because it’s still the states and there are a lot of foreign affairs organizations that I would love to work for beyond just modeling work. There are a number of specific photographers and clients I want to work for in New York.”

Q: Does staying close and being connected to family influence your decision to work and live away from Hawaii for an extended period of time?  

A: “My mom and dad and my family is everything to me. To make it simple, that’s the whole reason why I’m here in Hawaii and not in New York. When I was making the decision to leave Washington, D.C., I really wanted to move to New York just because of modeling and the sort of work you can do with foreign affairs there. I just said I graduated from Pearl City High School two years ago and you really have to think, who do you become, what is your daily life like? My relationship with my mom is always really close since I was young. When I was growing up she was vice principal at Mililani Uka and from kindergarten to third grade she was there.  Dad spent a lot of time reading to me, helping me with my penmanship and really ingraining this value for education and a passion for learning that has kept with me throughout life.”

Q: How influential has your mom been in guiding you towards being successful in your career choices today?

A: “She would always do her best to give me the sort of life lessons and more importantly just the support and resources to achieve everything. In the grand scheme of things, who would have thought that at age sixteen going into some modeling opportunity that would translate into something this late in life. I feel like she does that with her students as well, where she wants to give everybody an opportunity to discover who they are. A lot of times it’s not who we’re told to be, whether its in the classroom, whether its through family or coaches expectations but sometimes you realize who you are just through yourself. I see that in my mom.”

Q: Advice to those who may be inspired by your story?

A: “I think that the most beneficial thing though in an issue like this is to really have a dream. It’s really something else to have a strong core identity and really know what you’re going for.”

                                                            Photo by Barry Villamil | [email protected]

Brandon Marc would like to recognize the following individuals for their artistic contributions:

For the United Colors of Benetton It's MyTime campaign, I have photographs with the following collaborators:

Photographer and make up artist (MUA) Tony Veloz

Wardrobe Stylist Walter Reed, T.H.E. Artist Agency

Hair stylist Soel Hassani for Urban Style Lab (DuPont Circle in Washington, DC)

Wearing:  Grey checkered shirt by American Eagle Outfitters in Pearlridge; Classic Burberry Black Label printed pants by Burberry Black Label (Tokyo, Japan); Shirt by Center for Men (Seoul, South Korea)

The photo in studio with the white collared shirt and tie, that was taken locally in a Pearl City based photographer's studio:

Photographer Michael Bonner

Hair stylist Thi Nguyen of W Salon in Ala Moana Center