His story sounds like the classic American dream: a black teenager believes in his own abilities, does not let himself be deterred by resistance such as bullying and hostility at school, and finally rises through hard work with his own business, in this case human hair wigs, at only 17 years old into the world of the rich and beautiful. It’s the true story of Trenton Lee.
In an interview with the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND), he sits in Kansas City in the US state of Missouri in the house of his mother Gianina Jennings, who still supports him in the daily business of his online shop for handmade human hair wigs. Every few minutes, an e-mail notification can be heard during the phone call – new requests arrive. “I loved hair before I could even say ‘hair,'” says Trenton Lee. But how did a boy who is simply interested in hair become a successful entrepreneur?
He should be a real boy
It all started with the enthusiasm for dolls – or rather: for their hair. But not everyone liked that: “My father didn’t want me to play with dolls. My mom always had to secretly put them on me,” says Lee. From his father’s point of view, as later in school, he should do things that boys do. Getting up, playing basketball, playing football. The relationship of the parents broke up, the father left. But the expectation of being a real boy remained – at least in school. “In seventh grade, I was at my lowest point,” the teenager says in an interview. He didn’t know what to do, he was depressed. His mother got him out of there: She asked a friend from her school days, who was also bullied in the past and is now in show business, for help.
However, the friend not only had a few nice words for Lee, he organized an entire video from show business for him: actors, presenters and writers told Lee not to give up – and pointed out that many people had such experiences. “Once a year, I watch the video to show myself what I’ve been able to do since then.” And he has achieved a lot: namely, turned his hobby into a profession. Within a very short time, the teenager built up a company.
Of course, this did not run smoothly immediately. Mistakes happened, and Lee had to painstakingly save every single hairpiece. Today, he travels to customers on the West Coast every few weeks, adjusting the human hair wigs, which cost at least $1000, on site. He now does the schoolwork before or after, with his online school the teachers are flexible. At the same time, he makes wigs free of charge for children who suffer from hair loss due to chemotherapy, for example. He now has no time for those who bullied him in the past. In two weeks he will graduate.
Instagram helps with marketing
Appearances on television, mediated by the mother’s old friend, speed up the business. Just like Instagram: He now has more than 100,000 followers there. Through the platform, he also finds access to the influencer scene, where wigs are now commonplace. Among his clients is the rapper Blac Chyna. And the thing with Megastar Cardi B? He is said to have already made wigs for her. “Well, well, I made her one. But she didn’t wear them after all,” says Lee. He now speaks more cautiously than at the beginning, starts a sentence completely anew when he gets tangled. The young man quickly pushes back: “Cardi was wonderful. She helped me and through the meeting she gave me contacts.” But she didn’t wear the wig.
The wig trend has completely bypassed Germany, reports the Federal Association of Second Hair Specialists (BVZ) at the request of the RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland (RND). “Only about five percent of the wigs sold in Germany are fashion accessories,” says Chairman Rainer Seegräf. The rest would be bought for medical reasons. But in the land of unlimited possibilities, things are different: Already in the 1960s, the time of the great tower hairstyles, the USA was the largest importer of human hair. There was another boost after the turn of the millennium, when HD television demanded ever better styling techniques to maintain the illusion of perfect appearance. Stars like Katy Perry, Lady Gaga or Kylie Jenner finally brought wigs out of the taboo corner into the mainstream.
Successful already – and rich?
Trenton Lee seems to have arrived at his destination: In the meantime, he already orders prepared wigs to keep up with the high demand. He then processes them, especially the hairline, dyes and styles. But if you look closely, you will notice that the story is not over yet. He has already become successful with his wig business, selfies show him again and again with influencers. But rich? “I’m not broke,” Trenton Lee says seriously. “But I don’t earn much either.”
From the summer he wants to study entrepreneurship at the college. “I want to do everything right with my business,” says the teenager. And then does he want to move out? Trenton Lee looks surprised and laughs: “No, not at all. I don’t feel ready for that,” he says immediately. Then he doesn’t seem like a media-savvy businessman, but like a 17-year-old looking forward to life after school.