Fifteen-year-old Trenton Lee found his purpose on the brink of suicide, he recalled, glossing through the pages of a portfolio chronicling the first months of his newly launched Kansas City wig business — a path that ultimately led him to a couch alongside TV and radio personality Steve Harvey.
“I was just at the lowest point in my life,” said Lee, founder of Trenton’s Luxe Couture, sharing the experience that led him to realizing his passion.
“I got bullied due to the fact that I played with hair because [kids] said that girls should do it,” he continued. “I wasn’t interested in football and basketball, so I got picked on and teased.”
Feeling defeated by his aggressors, Lee hid away his interest in hair for a period, turning to activities deemed socially acceptable for boys his age, he said with emotion.
“It didn’t work because it wasn’t me,” he said. “[I realized] nobody else can live my life for me. I had to get out of the depression storm I was and I had to be the best me that I could be.”
As long-lingering clouds of sadness and repression lifted, Lee found a familiar light, he said with a smile.
“I started looking up hair [again] and then I started wondering how Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, and all the celebrities were changing their hair everyday. I was like, ‘They can’t possibly be dyeing their hair every single day.’ So, I looked to see what they were doing and they were [wearing] wigs.”
From there, Lee’s new mission — creating and outfitting clients with custom wigs — was forged. Bringing with it an unexpected dose of fame, explained his mother, Gianina Jennings.
“I had reached out to a friend of mine who I went to school with who [had been bullied],” she said. “He put together a beautiful documentary … it has a host of 25 or 30 different actors, actresses, scholars, writers, the Blue Man Group — [people who] are explaining to Trenton as a child, that a lot of people do go through [bullying].”
One of the stars featured in the anti-bullying message was actor, comedian, and St. Louis native Cedric the Entertainer, Jennings explained of the connection that unexpectedly elevated Lee’s talents.
“He comes down to the Legends a lot to do comedy shows, and basically he reached out through social media and said, ‘Hey, I really have a strong feeling for this kid. I don’t know who he is, but I want to meet him,’” Jennings said of the chance encounter.
The connection led Lee to an appearance on Steve Harvey’s nationally syndicated daytime talk show, where he was awarded a $20,000 scholarship by Sally Beauty and an opportunity to learn alongside one of his role models — Ted Gibson, renowned celebrity hairstylist.
Watch Lee’s appearance on “The Steve Show” here.
“It’s kind of weird because you’re used to seeing people on TV and then they’re hugging your son. You’re like, OK, this is weird’,” Jennings laughed, revealing Gibson’s team told her Lee is a child prodigy.
“They said, you know, you’re gonna have to have the right people around you,” she continued. “They said, ‘This can go wherever you want this to go.’”
As Lee’s star rises, both he and Jennings want the world to know that skills and clients don’t always equate to a booming business, they said.
“We need a lot of financial help too at this point,” Jennings revealed. “A lot of things have honestly been — in a positive way — robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
So far, Lee has just been breaking even on his creations, he revealed.
Garnering support from the startup community and an understanding of business are among the young entrepreneur’s goals as he moves his company forward and navigates ways to balance the sudden exposure — further fueled by his nearly 7,500 Instragram followers — he and Jennings said.
“Maybe on the outside it looks like, ‘Oh wow, they’re really doing it,’” Jennings said. “I think that’s even how it was presented on [‘The Steve Show’]. It looks like he’s already making money, that It could be an instant gratification and a move that could happen overnight.”
While Lee hopes to one day style the tresses of celebrities — an aspiration he’s fully aware will take him out of the fold of the metro — he isn’t shying away from the idea of building his company with a Kansas City base.
“I would love to have [Kansas City be] like the foundation of everything,” Lee said. “I don’t know how Kansas City would like having, you know, Paris Hilton, or Michelle Obama pop in every once in a while.”