He may not be from Los Angeles or New York City, but his hometown of Chicago is a booming hub for entrepreneurs, and streetwear designer, Joe Freshgoods, has certainly made a name for himself beyond the third coast. His talent for storytelling, eye for art and passion for his hometown are a big part of why the Freshgoods brand has thrived over the years.
Image: Hive Society
He Started Storytelling Through Apparel
Freshgoods went to the prestigious Lane Tech High School, on the north side of Chicago, and told Black Enterprise that he’d always been into style and unique looks. “In those days, I was trying to look different so I could stand out from the crowd. I had my homegirl sew bandanas on my jeans, and everybody went crazy. I realized that people like something I had only thought of a few days before. That was my ‘aha’ moment.”
Freshgoods then went onto making t-shirts, that he sold in high school — but they weren’t your typical t-shirts. They featured celebrity mugshots, controversial statements about cultural icons and a Rihanna that he now says he’s “slick embarrassed about.” He then got started interning at a streetwear store named, Leaders, which is where he would start developing his business acumen and friendships with local hip-hop artists, most notably Chance the Rapper. “People act like Joe just appeared out of nowhere,” Vic Lloyd told Complex. “But he is a direct legacy of a whole part of Chicago streetwear history and culture that people don’t know about.”
His Entrepreneurial Chances Paid Off
Freshgoods’ trial and error process in starting his own business went through having a tough time with wholesale to having no sales rep. He started selling directly to his customers via online and pop-up shops. He wanted a way to track his sales and also stay connected to people in Chicago. “The pop-up formula worked for me. I’m an example of staying true to my city, staying home and keeping it organic,” he told Black Enterprise.
“I come from that barbershop environment where it’s like we don’t really care if you buy nothing; you’re really coming in for the personalities more than the clothes. The clothes are like bait. You’re coming in to see the people that work behind the register,” he told Complex. “I think I come from that generation where the personality sells the product.”
He Keeps it Real in Chicago
His flagship store, Fat Tiger, was explained as a way to create a sense of community in the city, but also to collaborate on a larger scale. Partnerships included the McDonald’s “That’s the Mix ” campaign, Nike, adidas, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art and the Chicago Bears. He plans on working with more creatives in Chicago to pay it forward and help others to get their names out there. Pop-ups from Freshgoods’ label take place all around the country, from Miami to NYC, but he always makes sure to let people know where he comes from.
“My narrative is growing up and being from Chicago, making it in Chicago, and then making things in Chicago,” he told Complex.
He Has Celeb Friends
Freshgoods’ knack of keeping it real with the people has led to friendships with Chicago-based celebrities that came about before the fame and fortune did. From free t-shirt giveaways in the West Loop, hotly attended by Lupe Fiasco, Vic Mensa, Don C, and Dreezy to Chance the Rapper modeling his creations, his connections certainly have helped his business. But, Freshgoods told Complex that he’s always wanted to focus on regular guys and girls. “That’s who I make stuff for.”
Image: Black Enterprise
He Tries to Stay Unpredictable
“The big thing is being unpredictable,” he told Complex. “When I have one good idea, I don’t release that until I have two more ideas in the chamber. I don’t want to be predictable. A lot of people fail that way. Their stuff gets predictable.” This shows through his work as a storyteller and honing-in on what’s relevant in pop culture. And, in less than a decade, he’s made a name for himself in doing just that, through hard work and the love for his art.
But, it’s not really all about him at the end of the day, as he told Complex. “I want to use myself as that reference point for other creatives here [in Chicago],” he said. “Because I feel like I’m just like a lot of people in Chicago. Not to be cliché, but I just work hard. We all do. No one here has rich parents. Ain’t no drug money propping us up. This is all here because of hard work. You look at everything that we built and do, it’s nothing but hard work. There’s a lot of people that I have to be responsible for. I’m focused on the work.”