JoeFreshGoods began designing clothes in high school as not only a way to make some money, but also to fill a void. Whatever he and his friends were missing in their closets, they created for themselves using blank t-shirts and transfer paper.
Now, the 30-year-old Chicagoan continues to fill a void, advocating for his city’s seldom-discussed fashion scene through his brand Don’t Be Mad (DBM), his Chicago-based store Fat Tiger Workshop, and, most recently, his “Thank You Obama” line, an ode to the Obama family and their tenure as the 44th First Family. The line, which includes a hoodie, two long-sleeved tees, two short-sleeve tees and a jersey, was most recently modeled by Chicago’s very own Chance the Rapper when he received his first Grammy for best rap performance.
Joe talks to Billboard about his collaboration with Chance, promoting Chicago globally, and the night that inspired his “Thank You Obama” line.
How did you come up with the idea for your “Thank You Obama” line?
I try to document life via clothes. I made “Fuck Donald” t-shirts first, but I felt like I was making money off negativity. So I recalled the time when Obama became president in 2008. There was a big ceremony at Grand Park [in Chicago] and I never experienced that much love and positive [energy]. I can’t speak for the rest of the world, but that night in Chicago was super special. I was like, “Yo, this black man is now the president. I can do anything.” Fast forward to now, I wanted to come up with a collection to embody the last eight years. It wasn’t really a political thing. I wanted to show my love and respect for the Obamas through my art.
What’s your favorite piece in the collection?
My favorite piece is the airbrush t-shirts. I don’t want to call it hood aesthetic, but I tried to put how I grew up in Chicago into my clothes. I did a lot of research on the Obamas to make these clothes, including finding out their wedding date. I felt like I was making merch for their wedding. The world seems to love the Malia shirt though.
Speaking of Chicago, how does your hometown influence your style?
I want Chicago to be such a big city. We don’t get much love in the fashion community like New York or L.A. gets, even though we have a lot of people in the fashion industry from Chicago. I never see Chicago from a worldwide point of view, so my goal is to bring the city’s distinct fashion sense into my clothing so people can wear Chicago on their back.
How does hip hop music influence your style?
I grew up in the hip-hop era in fashion. With my new clothes I’m about to drop, I’m really going to be pushing late ‘90s, early 2000s fashion. But [as far as building your brand off an artist], once you give an artist so much power, they’re able to say “We’re not wearing this anymore.” So instead of sending a rapper or influencer a box of stuff they don’t want, I wait until they hit me up.
How did you link up with Chance for your “Thank You Obama” collection?
Chance and I have a very organic friendship. I was probably one of the first brands to believe in him and he helped me out a lot. I remember him saying years ago, ‘Big bro, check out this music,’ and I didn’t ignore him. I was like, ‘Yo bro, keep going.’ When Chance was first doing his doing his tours, I gave him my brand’s tie-dye hoodie and he wore it every day. In his “Juice” video, he has the hoodie on. He didn’t take that hoodie off for like a year. One day, he came to my store, [saw the “Thank You Obama” line] and was like, ‘Yo, I want to model this.’ He has a good relationship with the Obama’s.
How do you feel about your brand expanding since the “Thank You Obama” collection?
I don’t want to lose my style to this hype. I loved being the underground person. Some kid came to the store today and was like, “I like that you’re blowing up now, but I don’t really want to wear your shit anymore because I feel like everybody is about to have it.” I was sad, but I just try to maintain the humbleness and a “You can do it too” vibe when I dress.
Who’s your biggest style inspiration?
I feel so shady when I say I don’t really look to anybody as far as style, but I like inspiring. I’m a big dude. You know how many weird messages I get from other big dudes like, ‘Yo, my guy, what size are those jeans?’ I want to show big dudes can be fashionable and comfortable.
Do you have anyone in mind for a future collab?
Since working with Chance, I’ve had a lot of big companies approach me wanting to collab, but I’m just trying to watch what I say yes to. I only want to collab with my friends and peers and make sure I’m staying organic and true because the money is going to come. I’m not really pressed about trying to make more.
What’s next for you?
I’m doing a big art show in Chicago called “Cut and Sew, Lol.” I’m also opening up a new, bigger Fat Tiger Workshop store and we’re building a classroom in the store. Once a month, I’m going to have people in the industry come to Chicago and talk to the kids. I’m really big on that. I feel like I have a duty with what I do to give guidance to a lot of young kids in Chicago. My customers are around 14 to 22, so I don’t want to make money off kids, especially the older I get, and not give back. I’m also releasing my summer collection for DBM. It’s going to be dope and people are going to be surprised.