Teen entrepreneur expands business

Published 3:10 am Wednesday, July 8, 2020

At age 19, entrepreneur Zyreke Williams already has two businesses.

Like many good ideas, the momentum to start his first business emerged from adversity — Williams’ uncle’s death in 2015.

“For a while, I was really down,” he said. “I needed a way to express myself. One day, I made a hoodie. I was online, just playing around and when I wore it, it just felt right.”

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So at 17, Williams started Heartless Apparel while a student at Smithfield High School.

People liked what he created, and their positive feedback inspired his momentum. “I kept pursuing it and I’ve been taking it seriously ever since,” Williams said.

The apparel line includes shirts, hoodies, socks and shorts with a youth-oriented, edgy streetwear vibe. “I try to expand into everything and anything in the category of apparel,” he said. Everything is sold online only, and for now, he’s the sole proprietor.

“Everything from production to promoting, it’s all just me,” he continued. “I started on my birthday two years ago, and since then, it’s grown, and in the past two months, it’s grown rapidly. I’ve had sales out of the country and a lot of sales out of state,” Williams said.

Williams said he’s inspired by Virgil Abloh, the founder of luxury fashion label Off-White; he’s also artistic director of men’s wear for Louis Vuitton. “(Abloh) took his brand very far, so of course, I look up to people like him.”

Williams said his goal is a $30,000 profit on clothes this year, and “to expand — to do better than I did yesterday. That’s my daily goal, to do better and do more than I did yesterday.” 

He’s applied some of the lessons learned during four years as part of Smithfield High’s football team to his multifaceted business interests. “Responsibility, hard work, all that. My coaches taught me a lot about life, just in general. I take everything that they taught me and try and incorporate it into my everyday life. They taught me a lot.”

As major retailers wrestle with avoiding or surviving bankruptcy, Williams said Heartless Apparel has grown during the coronavirus pandemic, driven by an overall surge in online shopping and spending.

From a business perspective, “the virus helped tremendously. I know that sounds odd, but it did. It made me think outside the box for a way to get sales.”

The company name, Heartless Apparel, is intended to be thought-provoking, not cold.

“After the tragic situation I went through, (the name) is basically like an oxymoron for life,” Williams said. “When you meet people, they’re laughing, smiling, stuff like that. But behind the scenes, there’s things that they go through that you can’t see. So I take that perspective and put it into my clothing. I’ve got a message to spread, and it’s a great message.”

Williams would eventually like to scale up the clothing business. He’s also ramping up his latest business venture, and it’s a family affair. Williams recently signed a contract to purchase Carrollton-based Titan Mobile Home Supplies.

Williams’ father, Micahel Williams, has long worked as a contractor and in taking over Titan along with his brother, Saavon Spratley, “we just think it’s a great opportunity to bring the family together and work hands on and work as a family.” Titan provides parts and service for manufactured homes.

“When they had an opportunity to purchase this business, him and his brother, they just got together and they went with it,” said Williams’ mother, Toshika Spratley, who will manage the recently purchased company. They’ve planned a meet and greet for September to introduce themselves to the community as the new owners of the business.

Williams said he is proud to have grown up in the Red Oaks Mobile Community. His first job was at Hardee’s and he also worked at Tractor Supply but neither one of them inspired him in the way that starting and owning his own business has.

“I would work jobs, I would do it, but I didn’t feel it,” he said.

Williams also plans to enter the real estate industry and is working to get his license. Building a career by working for someone else, he said, isn’t something he aspires to. Rather, he seeks to inspire others.

“I like the fact that he’s motivated, and he’s driven and he stays out of trouble, so that’s my main goal. And I do see him making it,” said Toshika Spratley. “I think he’s going to go where he needs to go.”