As soon as you walk into Rebel Bred clothing shop in Wilkinsburg, you know something is different, because in a world often focused on hate, showing kindness is a form of rebellion.
“Society is going in a direction where we’re praising the wrong things,” says Nathan Brooks, owner of Rebel Bred. “If a fight breaks out, people will cheer and record it on their phone rather than step in. I want to be the one to help somebody out and be nice. That’s the Rebel Bred way.”
Five years ago, Brooks launched the streetwear brand that aims to educate, uplift and inspire. The brand’s T-shirts, hoodies, tracksuits and accessories — with messages such as “Lead by Faith, Not by Fear” and “For the Love of the People” — were so popular online, he opened a brick-and-mortar store in November at 608 South Ave.
The items that Brooks sells — and the space itself — honor important figures in Black history and his own Mon Valley roots. Artist Camerin “Camo” Nesbit painted a mural inside the shop that features Harriet Tubman along with the eagle that is the brand’s logo (inspired by the sermons of Brooks’ father, who is a minister).
As one of nine children, Brooks used his creativity, spirituality and historical knowledge to separate himself from the crowd. But he didn’t embrace fashion until after a stint at Penn State studying hotel and restaurant management, when he decided he could serve the community better by offering positive messages through apparel.
Inspired by fashion icon Ralph Lauren, as well as the Instagram influencers who showcase their thrift shop hauls, Brooks designed a few T-shirts, set up a photoshoot and unleashed the images on the Internet.
Like its eagle logo, the clothing line took off.
He partnered with Bridgeway Capital’s Creative Business Accelerator to further his outreach and boost his professional skills. Formed in 2016, the accelerator empowers creative businesses to contribute more actively to equitable economic growth.
When Lovett Sundries moved to nearby Penn Avenue, Rebel Bred took over its former space, joining Knotzland, BB & Bur Pastry Kitchen and Bakery and Fungus Books in Wilkinsburg’s business district boom. In addition to his own designs, Brooks sells products from local makers.
Events held at the store are meant to educate as much as they entertain. The Rebel Bred Millennial Mixer will take place on March 5 from 7 to 10 p.m. Charelle Unique will host the festivities with a mix of karaoke, comedy and spoken word poetry.
Brooks is also helping to organize a May 14 block party so neighbors can mingle and folks from outside Wilkinsburg’s borders can get a taste of what the borough has to offer.
“Wilkinsburg has really great growth potential. That’s why I accepted the opportunity to open up here,” Brooks says. “The people are very proud people. I can relate to that.”
As he works on an upcoming spring/summer collection, Brooks says Rebel Bred will add more athletic wear to the mix, such as leggings, windbreakers, swimsuits, shorts and duffle bags; items that look good in the gym and on the street.
He’d eventually like to expand into the adjoining storefront and open a juice bar or some type of health-oriented business that ties into his brand.
Guided by faith instead of fear, Brooks continues to trust his instincts.
“It takes courageousness to embrace your destiny and be your own true self,” he says.