From rapper to fashion designer, Philly 12-year-old builds brand using Instagram

Trey Brown, founder and CEO of SPERGO, finalizes the shipment for his AW18 collection at 30th Street post office. (Erin Reynolds for WHYY)

Trey Brown, founder and CEO of SPERGO, finalizes the shipment for his AW18 collection at 30th Street post office. (Erin Reynolds for WHYY)

Standing on the porch of his Delaware County residence, Trey Brown wears a wide smile of excitement. In the world of social media — where profiles sometimes don’t correlate with reality — he is a mirror image of the motivational videos that flood his timeline. From Trey’s upbeat voice to his black, fitted SPERGO T-shirt, he is exactly as he appears online.

Now, as his brand approaches its first anniversary, the 12-year-old must decide between pursuing entrepreneurship full time or being a normal kid.

Trey is a fashion designer, motivational speaker, and Instagram influencer in Philadelphia. Since January, he has successfully managed SPERGO, a unisex clothing line that now ships around the world. Part of the brand’s success is due to Trey’s marketing skills. He uses Instagram as a staple selling tool — and a major outlet for his motivational speaking. His desire to empower others has created countless life-changing opportunities, including a chance to travel the world with the Paradigm Shifters.

 

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The opportunity blossomed from an impromptu trip to Los Angeles with his mentor, Nehemiah Davis, an author, entrepreneur and philanthropist born and raised in Philadelphia.

Hosting events throughout the country, the Shifters organization helps African-Americans advance through entrepreneurship and spiritual enlightenment. While in LA, Trey worked closely with organization members Derrick Grace, 19keys, Pop Darby and others.

Trey has also traveled to Shifters events in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., where  he spoke on a panel along other members of the organization. Whenever the group is in Philadelphia, Trey is included in their events. His mother, Sherrell Brown, says the organization sees Trey as a great addition.

“Just as much as they inspire the people who come down to see them, they are just as inspired by Trey as well,” she says.

‘He sees no limits’

If you ask Trey about himself, he’ll immediately start discussing his brand. It takes a moment for him to ditch the businessman persona. But asked about his new school, a smile revealing a missing tooth appears across his face. He relaxes and lets the 12-year-old do the talking. On top of loving pizza and fashion, he also likes to play basketball and spend time with family and friends.

 

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Long before SPERGO began, Trey was fixated on becoming a success. His mother, Sherell Brown, said she noticed when he was just 7 — it was his preference for the color gold and desire to watch films with a champion protagonist.

“He was always a seeker of knowledge. He always loved powerful people when he was young,” said Brown.

Trey’s attention to influential figures, particularly hip-hop legend Biggie Smalls and other rap artists, sparked his desire to be powerful. Rapping lyrics in the mirror at 7 years old set the stage for his first career adventure. Despite his age, Trey navigated the music industry like any other hungry artist. At 11, he dropped a song titled “Where Ya At.”

“If I had a great day at school, I would write about something great,” he says. “But if I had a bad day at school, I would write about how I could make it better.”

His school environment has influenced more than just rhymes. His love for fashion comes from being able to add his own twist to a basic school uniform. One day, he’ll wear a pair of cheetah-print glasses; on another, a new pair of sneakers.

Thinking beyond becoming an overnight music success, he monetized his growing fanbase into customers for his unisex clothing line. On Trey’s 12th birthday, he invested a percentage of his birthday money to start up SPERGO. The brand’s name derives from  his appreciation for sports and personal heroes.

He started with a small order of 16 Jerzee brand T-shirts, which sold out in a week. The collection initially consisted of just black, blue, and red logo printed shirts. Now, the brand sells everything from sweatsuits, cold weather jackets, and statement headbands.

As his collection expanded, so did his customers. SPERGO now ships both nationally and internationally.

The recipe for the brand’s success is simple: a sprinkle of determination mixed with a natural love for fashion.

“He is fearless. I couldn’t be consistent with entrepreneurship because of different things, but with Trey? He sees no limits,” said his mother, looking at her son with unmistakable pride.

 

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Trey’s audacious spirit allowed him to gain mentorship from a few Philadelphia entrepreneurs, including Jordan Johnson, the owner of Jordan Johnson’s Gourmet Seafood.

During a networking event earlier this year, Johnson was approached by a business-savvy Trey who was on the hunt for new connections. A conversation between the two led to Johnson becoming Trey’s mentor shortly after.

“He reminds me of myself when I was young and had that kind of energy,” said Johnson.

Big decision awaits

Sherrell Brown is no stranger to the challenges of entrepreneurship. Her own business venture consisted of handmade clothing, and her eye for fashion is clear from the elaborate chandelier earrings she wears. Balancing motherhood and a business is not easy, and her business has taken a backseat.

 

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After a long week of teaching fifth-graders and tending to her household, Brown usually wakes on Saturday to a long text message from Trey with his itinerary for the day. Her child’s belief in maximizing time means that the duo carefully sketches out their weekends to keep on top of the business.

Trey usually does most of that, leaving little room for his mother to worry about him finding a balance with it all.

Her only concern is his large appetite for pizza.

“He really loves pizza, so that’s probably one rule. That’s the one thing that I really have to stay on him about,” she said.

Meanwhile, her maternal instincts kick in forcefully whenever Trey suggests a new  business venture. Most recently, she’s battling her own fears as the family weighs whether Trey should chase entrepreneurship full time. While she’s reluctant to give her permission, Brown says she doesn’t want to get in the way of her children’s dreams.

Brown’s household is abundant with talent. She also has a 6-year-old dancer and an 11-year-old basketball player who she wants to experience life differently than she did — to not postpone their dreams they way she did.

On the other hand, Johnson thinks that Trey might be moving a little too fast. While managing a restaurant and a few other businesses, Johnson has a clear-eyed view for the not-so-glamorous side of entrepreneurship. One of his many teachings includes the logistics of owning a business — managing licenses, taxes, and insurance.

All things are possible, but according to Johnson it’s going to take “baby steps.”

 

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The Brown family has until January to decide if Trey will join The Paradigm Shifters full time. Although there are a few things to take into consideration, Trey knows exactly where he sees his brand in five years.

While currently completing one of his biggest orders yet, he’s manifesting the Lamborghini he’ll get once he gets his driver’s license.

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