Joe Freshgoods Addresses His Biggest Fans And Biggest Haters

With the release of his Michael Jordan-inspired New Balance 650s, the designer talks about the love for the project and the detractors.

Joe Freshgoods / Via Joe Freshgoods

What if I told you that the first photo where Michael Jordan posed in his now-iconic Jumpman form, he wasn’t wearing Nike sneakers? In fact, he was wearing New Balance. That’s God’s honest truth.

In a 1984 photo shoot for Life magazine, a pre-professional Jordan was wearing a white pair of New Balances as he glided through the air. The photo, which was subsequently licensed by Nike and Air Jordan 1 designer Peter Moore before creation of the Jumpman logo, spurred a 2015 lawsuit that photographer Jacobus Rentmeester brought against Nike. ​​A judge in Oregon district court dismissed the lawsuit, and the photographer lost his chance to cash in big.

The story wasn’t lost to the annals of sneaker and sporting history, however, and nearly 40 years later it inspired Joseph Robinson—known to most as Joe Freshgoods—to rework the New Balance 650, a high-top basketball sneaker from the same era, and retell the Jordan story to the best of his ability.

Robinson dressed up the 650 in a white and grey leather, similar to Jordan’s New Balances, and added his JFG logo on the tongue and upper. He limited the shoes to 500 pairs and hand-numbered and signed their tongues. The story makes sense for Robinson to tell. He’s from Chicago and admittedly grew up on Jordans and not New Balance. He said when he first saw the Life photo he lost his mind and knew it was a story he had to tell. He packaged the 650s in a bag that read, “What if the story was different?” alluding to what could’ve happened if Jordan had become a New Balance guy.

The sneakers are a slight departure for Robinson, who has mainly worked on running silhouettes through his collaboration with New Balance since 2020, when they reworked the 992 at All-Star Weekend in Chicago. He’s put his spin on the 550, the low-top version of the 650, for his “Conversations Amongst Us” project with New Balance that highlighted Black employees within the brand’s corporate structure. But his most memorable work has been on the 992, 993, and helping introduce the 9060 to the market.

What makes Robinson connect with consumers isn’t just his designs but also how transparent he is with those who buy his goods. It’s sometimes to his downfall, where he finds himself responding to those online with questions or criticisms of his work or release strategies. He says he’s recently had to answer why his 650s retail for $185.

Robinson took the time to talk to us about retelling the Jordan story, dealing with fans and haters online, and what’s next.

So let’s talk about the sneaker.
I'm really just taking advantage of being the only person that can do certain things within the brand, as far as a collab partner. I think everybody has their own space and what they know they're good at. I come from bootleg. That was my thing of how I got popular. I think I'm getting kind of bored with storytelling—it's just I grew up on the street. So the street is like this green color. That's cool. I think the next three projects people see that, oh shit, this is some different type of storytelling.

So with this shit, it was just having fun. I gotta put this down but, you know, I'm at a place where I am blessed to have so many sneakers under my belt, but I still feel like [I have] impostor syndrome.

Even with the economy right now being kind of fucked, a lot of my shit in the next few years is gonna be super limited. I'm back on that 992 shit, where it's just, like, even if it hurts my bread, I'm just gonna be back on like these limited-ass drops, like hyper-local shit.

Joe Grondin really pushed for this to happen. I just don't think New Balance knew how viral it was gonna get. I think they thought that more people knew about this. I’m Team New Balance. Everybody knows that. And I think like, fuck it, I can tell this story because I lost my shit when I saw that picture and I didn't get a chance to do as much research. Like, how did he actually get those shoes? The photographer suing Nike and all that shit. It's just not that much information.

I think a lot of nerds [are] like, “That wasn't really a 650.” Well, I know that, motherfucker—it's just a play off of a story. The 650 is a weird silhouette. I didn't ask to do that, and nobody can push it on me. I was like, you know what, it's just a flex to have people line up outside for a 650. It's just cool to be able to tell a different type of story. I think for me it's important to just start conversations. I think a lot of times these stories live for a week and after that it's on to the next shoes. I think this is gonna be one of those stories that kids should know about. Like, this is fucking Jordan wearing New Balance. It's like, how the fuck y'all don't know about that? But I didn't either a year ago.

I don’t think a lot of people knew the story. When I first posted about it, people said, “This is New Balance trying to capitalize on Jordan.” How did you feel about that?
People don't know the money of shoes. I don't make that much money on 500 shoes from what I'm used to. I don't think people actually ever really do the math. That's why I refuse to do [your] podcast, ‘cause I'm gonna be on there talking about money. I break it down so real that I'm just afraid to just talk publicly, but we're not capitalizing on a certain brand.

When I saw that, I was just a little weird because that's not the case. It's just more so just one storyteller. I think New Balance does have a lot of hype right now. I don't think we need to steal hype from another brand. A lot of kids also thought I photoshopped that, which is crazy as hell. I see you said something on Twitter. I appreciate it. This is the first drop in my sneaker career that I haven't paid attention to no comments, and it's actually like, this is such a beautiful place to be at. Just to drop a picture and just put your phone in your pocket and smoke a blunt and go about your other business and pick up and you see people cover it.

I think the 9060 taught me that, because that shit went so viral and it pissed a lot of people off, but I'm proud of how I am about telling my story and put my phone back in my pocket. I don't really care what people think no more, because just as long as people talking, it's a 650. We're talking about a 650. As a collaborative building my portfolio up with another brand, you have the 9060. If you love it or hate it, that's probably one of the most successful New Balance. The first time a partner debuted a shoe. That's probably one of the most successful moments in a super bootleg shoe. The hood loves it.

You got the 992, which in about four or five more years, that might be the one of the most expensive New Balances of all time. These little pockets of wins that we're gonna be talking about in like 10, 20 years. You might not see it now, but [in] 20 years, like, “What the fuck? How the fuck Joe convince New Balance to bring this shoe back?” I care about those moments to tell my kids over money. Friends come and go. I'm like an underground rapper. I’ve kind of been growing up forever. I'm not trying to do the wrong move where it's just like, “Joe got thousands of pairs of shoes that sit.” I don't wanna do no shit like that ever.

I know you always used to be transparent with consumers and respond to people online. But lately you’ve been quiet. I feel it can be a double-edged sword where people can take advantage of you being honest.
My new thing is voice notes. People say no screenshots, but they still can screen record. This kid just commented 10 minutes ago. He said, “$185 for 650s?” I said, “They're signed with the handwritten number. Like, how much should they be?” I'm pretty sure he's gonna take that and put it in his blog. I don't do it as much, but every blue moon I really just want to communicate with people. I try to do that because I don't want people to think that I'm just an open book.

Well, you know, you're actually the perfect person to talk about this because I see you can clap back a lot, and I feel like that. Because homie to homie, I was gonna text you a couple of weeks ago like, “Bro, you should because you have a big voice.” I think if you are a leader in your space, you got haters. People are gonna like you, people don't like you. Not because they met you, you did that bad, but it's just like, Complex is the corporation, you know, like, “Fuck him. What did he talk about?”

You kill people with it. It's just that sometimes people don't care; you retweet somebody and I could tell you’re pissed off. It's just sometimes people just want a response and then you kinda make them famous. It happened a few times yesterday. I DM’d somebody back just asking a question, and they'll just be on my dick. “Oh shit, my bad, bro. Big fan of your work. I'm gonna delete it.” I'm just like, “You don't have to delete it, bro. I just wanted to ask you a question.” I do think sometimes we really just do that shit just to have a public dialogue. I just think sometimes you just can't show that you're frustrated [by] talking to people.

That's like my thing, is just like, if I wanna continue to grow, I have to be OK with people doing this and just talking to me. That means it's a great story and it's a great product. If I don't get no negative comments, I get scared. It's like, “Oh shit, this is not gonna work because there’s no negative comments and nobody cares.” And when I see negative comments now, it's just like, “Yes, this is one of them.”

What's next?
This is a mixtape. I really like to compare what I do to music. I love music. This 650 is just a mixtape. This is nothing that New Balance told me to do. I want people to know that this is a groundbreaking moment in my career where it's just like, oh the brand trusted me to do the job.

Sometimes you can tell when the brand partner finally gets the key to do what he wanna do. You know, sometimes the brand tells me what to do, not tell me what to do because I can combat that. But for me, this is that moment where it's just like, this is not an account—they're not gonna start on 650 more. This is like literally me having fun. This is literally a mixtape I dropped that 16 people might like it or hate it. This might be the first time [in] my career I don't make a top sneaker of the year. Like, I'm OK with that, but I do have a big, big, big project of the year done in December. This is just like a little mixtape appetite just to kind of get back into the conversation on YouTube and maybe make a couple of end-of-the-year lists.