© Bryan Allen Lamb

The Designer Bringing Chicago to the Fashion World

The fashion designer is the big brother that Chicago's clothing game deserves.
By Bryan Hahn
7 min readPublished on
Joe Freshgoods in Chicago

Joe Freshgoods in Chicago

© Bryan Allen Lamb

When asked what he would put on a business card for a job title, Joe Freshgoods pauses before answering, "Umm … shit … That's the reason why I don't have no business card."
It makes sense that Joe Robinson can’t define his life’s work as one all-encompassing position to fit on a small piece of cardstock; he’s got a hell of a lot going on. On top of his skyrocketing clothing brand Don’t Be Mad (formerly Dope Boy Magic), Joe somehow finds time to DJ, consult, manage artists, teach and hold the title of coolest dad around. Yeah, he’s one of those people who actually squeezes every second out of the 24 hours in a day. Joe continues to be ahead of the creative curve, capturing the hearts and minds of America’s youth today; he’s one of the most in-tune yet eager-to-learn creatives coming out the gates strong from Chicago.
Don’t Be Mad is one of the fastest growing guerilla apparel operations. It constantly sells out garments and lines, making DBM’s designs often imitated but never duplicated. Joe possesses a unique talent: being able to say more with less. His rise from a local legend with the "I Wanna F*ck Rihanna" beanies to earning the nation's respect with his Thank You Obama collection is inspiring to say the least.
Raised on the West Side of Chicago, Joe was the "oldest young" kid in his family — two younger brothers on his mom's side and six younger siblings on his father's side. He was surrounded by a lot of '90s hip-hop and R&B, courtesy of his mother who “was one of the moms that bought everything that came out on CD.” But while she got him into DMX, Joe’s uncle showed him local Chicago group Crucial Conflict and Cleveland's Bone Thugs and his dad introduced him to the hustle of JAY-Z.
But it was Juelz Santana’s “Dipset” music video that would inspire Joe and his work for the rest of his life. In that video Cam'ron wears a pair of jeans with pink bandana lettering that is still burned in Joe’s brain. "That bandana print has been a staple in the hood for 30, 40 years,” Joe says over the phone. “I just knew that I would be coming to school wearing something nobody in the world, for a fact, was going to have on. And that's the feeling I like to give with some pieces [now]." With the muse secured, transfer paper from Office Max became Joe’s tool of choice for his own work.
With only $80, Joe started his own brand, Dope.Boy.Magic, with friend (and self-taught graphic designer) Terrell Jones in 2009. After he realized that flipping his own shirts under the counter while working other retail jobs was more lucrative, Joe and the crew hustled their way to opening up a legit brick and mortar — Fat Tiger Workshop — in Chicago’s Logan Square in 2014. Since then, he’s counted Malia Obama, Chance the Rapper, SZA and 21 Savage as fans.
With Joe's glo up came the good and the bad. And even the bad was a blessing masked in disguise. Brand Dope Couture, founded in 2007, had threatened to sue Joe multiple times — each time more pressing — for the usage of the word Dope in Dope.Boy.Magic. Joe kept it moving by slickly changing the brand to Don't Be Mad, a diss forever aimed at Dope. But the parallels between Joe and your favorite rapper don't end there.
Joe takes on current events with sly commentary and a well-placed punchline. While few were more outspoken than Lil Wayne on the damage dealt by Hurricane Katrina since releasing "Georgia ... Bush," Joe turned Kanye West’s rant at the VMAs into a T-shirt the next day. He also knows how to make the largest impact: Sometimes Joe will print up a punchline, short and to the point. Other times, a piece of his has a deeper layer that Genius would have a field day with.
And then there are the teasers. Down to previews on social media, both rappers and Joe tease their rabid fanbases regularly to let everyone know when to expect new releases: "Even if you don't think my shit is that good, you gon' know about it," he confidently closes.
(It’s also worth noting here that a kid also commented to him that his "Thank You Obama" collection was the "hottest record of the year.")
Aside from a personal crusade to get Chicago at the top of the conversation about the most influential fashion cities, Joe wants to help the city’s creatives in conversation with each other as well. At his new store, Joe plans to host monthly workshops as well as open up a coffee and magazine shop as a meet-up spot for creatives to simply hang out. He wants to foster an environment of learning from peers and new businesses. The urgency is palpable in Joe’s voice: "It's cool to be Black right now. I'm just trying to push entrepreneurship in my city a little more and people think you need so much money. You don't."
The new Don’t Be Mad location will also be a noticeable graduation from his already sizable store in Logan Square. "Most of my stores have been mom and pop, some do-it-yourself, go to Home Depot, buy some wood and make a table out of it,” he glosses over, thinking about the future. “With the new store, people are going to visually see our growth. Before you even touch a piece of apparel, people are going to say, 'Oh wow, these guys are doing it big now.'" Always with his hands in a few pots a the same time, Joe will be starting an ad agency — in addition to his two new spaces and designs — to help present his brands in a streamlined way to the world. How’s that for growth?
Just like with his work, Joe’s able to be the most profound through the simplest of phrases: "Clothes is clothes." This is something that the designer has lived by for years. When Joe visited Vogue's office in NYC last year to attend a panel on diversity in fashion, he laughs that he psyched himself out by being "a guy who puts pictures on tees and so-called dad hats" in a room full of high fashion bigwigs. But once people found out that he was behind a particular, strongly worded tee, everyone couldn't stop themselves from talking to him. His niche as the bridge builder between the kid on the south side who wants to wear a funny tee to class and a designer at a premier fashion house, had revealed itself and is ready for the next level.
Joe Freshgoods is for Chicago, by Chicago.
Joe Freshgoods

Joe Freshgoods

© Bryan Allen Lamb

Three great pieces of advice Joe Freshgoods got and followed.
Study an OG
"Corey Gilkey from Leaders. Watching how he moves, I don't think people give Leaders that much credit. They helped start a lot of careers in Chicago. I took a lot of notes from him — learning how to talk to employees, hype people up. He was dope at what he did."
Trust your own ideas
"Vic was just telling me this. One and a half months ago, I was unsure about what direction to go into. He ensured me to do my thing. Don't change nothing and keep giving people your ideas. You don't have to ask 10 people. Just do it."
Go crazy
"Chicago Twitter told me to go crazy so I go crazy."