Joe “Freshgoods” Robinson has another story to tell.
The designer, who calls himself a poet who just happens to make clothes, is turning a brand collaboration that fell through into a fundraising initiative for Chicago, his hometown that’s central to everything he does.
Robinson signed with Adidas in 2018. The plan was to produce and release two sneakers and an apparel collection, however, due to a few factors, the deal fell through. But Adidas produced the collection before the relationship dissolved, and Robinson was able to retrieve the product, which he is now selling today, September 4, at a drive-through fundraiser in Chicago outside of the Fifth Third Arena where the Chicago Blackhawks practice.
All of the proceeds will go towards the Children First Fund, a non-profit that works directly with Chicago Public Schools. Robinson has selected two schools on the West Side of Chicago, where he's from, and is hoping to provide each student with the laptops, tablets, and headphones they need for remote learning.
“I’m trying to be the unofficial mayor of the West Side of Chicago,” says Robinson over the phone. “We live in a very charitable society right now, which is super dope. But I don’t want to donate to organizations that already have a shit ton of money, you know? For me, I want to be in control of that, and with Chicago, we need so much.”
The Adidas apparel collection includes four pieces that were meant to tell the story of his life and brand. The towel speaks to an earlier time when Robinson was making shorts out of towels; the short-sleeve T-shirt, which features the Adidas trefoil logo covered with “I Used to Bootleg Yall,” signifies when he used to make faux Adidas jerseys; and the back of the sweatshirt is aptly covered with “Joe 4 Adidas, the underdog strikes again.” His daughter wrote some of the script that appears on the product. The line also includes a pair of cargo track pants with blue, yellow, and red stripes.
Robinson says he’s priced the goods 40 percent below their retail value. The towel will sell for $50, the pants are priced at $60, the T-shirt retails for $40, and the sweatshirt is $80. Customers are limited to one item per person, but purchasing and the entire collection will cover one student’s tech bundle. Earlier this year Adidas released pieces from the collection on its site, without letting Robinson know, but took it down when he reached out. Because of that and an interest in sustainability, Robinson says retrieving the collection from Adidas wasn't hard.
In the lookbook for this capsule the model is wearing a pair of unreleased ZX Torsion sneakers Robinson worked on with Adidas that will not be for sale. Those were meant to represent his journey in Chicago and its harsh winters, hence the black colorway and the water stains. He produced tweaked version of the Continental 80 with Adidas that signified his grandmother’s plastic-covered couch, a familiar relic in Black families. There were big plans to recreate his grandmother’s house at ComplexCon to celebrate the drop, but that obviously couldn’t happen.
"I'm not mad," says Robinson when asked about the collaboration not working out. "I just happy that people get to see my art."
Robinson is open about what went wrong with Adidas. He says communication was bad, timelines kept being pushed back, and he started to feel like he wasn’t a priority on a talent-heavy roster that includes Pharrell, Beyonce, and fellow Chicago-native Kanye West.
“I know I'm not Kanye. I know I'm not Pharell. I know I'm not Beyonce. But at the same time, I know what I mean to people and how much heart I put into what I do,” says Robinson.
But Robinson says everything worked out for the best. Because the Adidas partnership fizzled, he was able to make a splash at NBA All Star Weekend earlier this year with New Balance—his 992 sneaker was a hit as was the "No Emotions Are Emotions," Kawhi Leonard tie-in—which he says changed the trajectory of his career.
“In my opinion, I have one of the top 10 shoes of this year,” says Robinson.” “Nobody’s perfect, but New Balance listens to me. It’s not, ‘Hey Joe, you do this.’ It’s, ‘Hey Joe, what do you want to do?’ And that’s the thing with collaborations. A lot of times, unless you’re Travis Scott, or Kanye, they tell you what model to pick. They tell you what stores you're going to be in. So I was always intrigued by working with a brand that's going to listen and let me do me.”
Now he's able to host a safe, socially distanced in-person event. Robinson likens the drive-through operations to Portillo’s, the Chicago staple known for its hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. Shoppers will be able to enter at the South Gate, request what they want from an attendant, pay by card only, and then retrieve their products all while remaining in their car. The city of Chicago is helping ensure the event is safe by closing down a few surrounding blocks.
Since the pandemic hit, Robinson has introduced Community Goods, a charitable brand, and dropped products that raised money for small Black-owned businesses in Chicago and The Greater Chicago Food Depository. He’s also released a few products with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and a series of New Era hats focused on cities in the Midwest. That partnership was supposed to include a series of pop-ups. Business has been good, but he’s hoping he can recreate this drive-through experience in other cities.
“Pop-ups are a good 40 to 50 percent of my business and a part of my brand presence is meeting Joe,” says Robinson. “With the New Era collaboration I wanted to bring attention to the Midwest and show bigger brands that you can put out good products in St. Louis, Detroit, Kentucky, and Milwaukee and they can pop.”
After this event, Robinson says he’s taking a little break before the holidays to spend time with his daughter, and helping out Chicago however he can.
“Community and fatherhood, that's pretty much it,” says Robinson about what’s on deck. “All the clothing and stuff is cool, but Chicago is really going through a lot. People really trust me. People depend on me. So I'm just shifting a lot of my efforts into figuring out how I can help Chicago.”