Joseph Robinson, better known as Joe Freshgoods, wants you to stop asking him when his second collaboration with New Balance—a pair of brown, green, and blue 990v3s—is coming out.
“This is like my sophomore album,” says Robinson over the phone, the day before he would drop the sneakers in Chicago first at the Garfield Park on the West Side where he grew up. “I treat all of this like music. So if my first album sold this and it was dope, then let me treat this like a perfect rollout. I can put all these shoes online, they can sell out in a couple of seconds, but I need you to understand the story behind everything. I’m like stories first, and then y’all can get the product.”
The story Robinson is trying to tell was beautifully depicted in the ad he released this week, which was directed Mike Carson and scored by Alchemist. It showcased being outside in Chicago on a warm, summer day—they shot the short film on his grandmother’s block. Many of the scenes felt familiar, like the uncle helming the grill wearing socks and sandals, or the Auntie asking the cousins to get together for a picture, or the mother telling her son he smells like “outside.” But in the grander scheme of sneaker marketing, Robinson says these types of visuals don’t typically happen.
“I just think that we are the top consumer for a lot of this, but a lot of the ads, a lot of the conversations are not for us, you know?” says Robinson, who also added that this is biggest marketing budget he’s worked with.
Here, Robinson speaks about the inspiration behind the ad and the sneakers, if he felt like he had something to prove to New Balance enthusiasts, and wanting to be respected beyond sneakers.
Talk about the ad and what you wanted to achieve with it.
I am proud and Black as you know. And I think the bigger I get, the more brands are starting to trust me with budgets. I think for me the type of relationship I’m building with New Balance, there’s more trust. I’m feeling way more comfortable talking about my Black experiences. I think sometimes a lot of brands force [Blackness] down our throat. I grew up in Chicago. I wanted to capture candy store moments or on the porch moments. Simple things like seeing the dude with the nice car, or getting your hair done on the porch. These are things that we all experience across the world. I get comments from people in Australia saying, “Yo, I felt this, I used to go to the candy store.” So I’m just feeling very comfortable talking about my experiences on the West Side of Chicago. And the biggest thing for me is just making relatable content. The shoes might’ve been hard to digest, but even if you didn’t like the shoes, my goal was to attach some type of emotional marketing to the whole campaign. And there were 78 Black people in this commercial. Everyone got paid. I even got my grandma a check because we shot her on her porch.
Why did you say the sneakers are hard to digest?
A lot of people are commenting and saying, “I didn’t mind the shoes at first.” And it’s certain colors that you haven’t really seen before. It’s like, “Oh, shit, I haven’t seen those three color combos together.” I love it. The brown represents the dirt, the green, the grass, the blue, the sky. So it’s not like I hit people with some fucking spaced out, weird shit. My goal is always to provide brands with a point of view they’ve never seen before, you know?
What was on the moodboard for the commercial?
This commercial is basically inspired by Scarface’s “On My Block” video, Crooklyn, and Moonlight. When I was coming up with this, I was thinking about the football scene from Moonlight, the Crooklyn opening scene, and the transitions from “On My Block.” That was the inspo for this.
I wanted to talk about the integration of the Washington, DC license plate. I’m from the DMV area so I loved that. Why was it important for you to include it?
That was Mike Carson, the director. I understand what DC means to New Balance. He was the rich uncle who just drove back from DC with New Balances in the trunk. Me being from Chicago, obviously my goal is to bring a new flavor and get Chicagoans wearing New Balances, but I wanted to pay homage.
So many people are talking about the uncle on the grill wearing socks and sandals. You mentioned the different Easter eggs in the commercial. Can you talk about more of them?
The commercial starts off showcasing my Community Goods nonprofit on the back of the T-shirt and my partnership with the Chicago Park District. I want people to know that Community Goods is here to stay and I have a lot of big things happening with Community Goods and New Balance. The porch moment with the Black dads; t’s kind of showing a different viewpoint of Black men. I think sometimes you see these moodboards and it’s like, ghetto Black girl, or like just hood dude. Or it’s like the slow-motion mean mug with the pan down of the shoes. And I was just like, “I’ve never seen Black dads on a porch. Let me just do that.” So showcasing Black dads and positivity. Also at the barbecue, how the guy was sitting down with the plate on his lap, which connects to that meme where Black people can make a table out of their legs. Another big Easter egg is, everywhere it usually says “Made in the US” from the box to the shoe, I changed it to “Made for Us,” which I know I’m going to get flack for, but I just have to develop thicker skin.
With the sandals, I heard that one of the higher-ups wanted to know why he wasn’t wearing New Balances. So it’s just like, sometimes you have to do stuff and it’s educating people in real time. I can see why people would be like, why did you do that? Why did you zoom in on him if he’s not wearing New Balances? But it just had to be there. And I appreciate New Balance for just staying out of the way. And it worked. I strongly feel like I have one of the best sneaker ads in a long time, you know what I mean? And this is just proof of concept for me.
That’s fantastic. Why did you want to work with Alchemist, Gunner Stahl, and Mike Carson?
Now I’m starting to have a budget and I get to work with my friends. I get to work with legends. So I’ve always loved Mike Carson’s work. I know a lot of these people will do stuff for me for free because of how we grew up in the industry together. But it’s like fuck it, you know? I got an opportunity to pay my friends. Gunner doesn’t usually do stuff like this. He’s like, in his own world with how he shoots. So just like bringing them to Chicago, having them come to the West Side. It’s like, let me stunt on everybody. Because I’m not like in LA or New York and on some “let me post all of my friends.” These are real friendships. Wale has my shoes because I dropped them off at his hotel. Everyone that has my shoes are people I’m cool with. And I’m not really going to be seeding crazy like that. I’m becoming anti-seeding ‘cause that’s kind of corny.
But yeah, I’ve always wanted to work with Gunner and I wanted to see his point of view on something like this. With Alchemist it’s just like, who the fuck has Alchemist scoring their commercial? I’ve always been a big fan. “Hold You Down” with Prodigy is one of my favorite songs ever. So a lot of this stuff is like me being 13 and I’m like, “Yo, how are you doing this?” My best friend is my younger version of myself. I’m always talking to young me. The only person I’m trying to impress is 13-year-old Joe.
Oh, that’s really sweet. I want to talk about the scenes with the Black women. Was that about entrepreneurship?
I don’t like how sneaker brands approach Black women, you know. It’s just the same moodboard. All of this commercial was shot on my grandmother’s block. And I remember walking past the house on that block and you would see a girl on the phone getting her hair braided. Or hear them talking about what happened last night. It wasn’t like, stereotypical ghetto moodboard. I remember walking past that house with the older girls and it was just like that. They had entrepreneurial spirit and might not have even known it. So that was what I was trying to represent with that.
People are very eager for these shoes. And I see you interacting with people on Twitter who keep asking you when are the shoes coming out. Has this long rollout been purposeful?
I’m going to be honest. I don’t think people understand. COVID is fucking everything up when it’s coming to ports and shippings. Every sneaker release happening in the next few months is going to get delayed. Next year there’s going to be delays. So it’s a combination of me getting my concept together. But it’s also when you go to my website it says I’m crazy, I drop when I want to drop. And with me it’s like, y’all ain’t fittin’ to tell me what to do. Everything I do is like, you ain’t seen this done before. I’m like, “Thirteen-year-old Joe, do you approve of this wild shit?” And his response is, “Yeah, Joe, do it.” So for me, it’s a combination of me making sure I receive all my shoes. ‘Cause that was a big thing. And just getting my content. I have so much behind-the-scenes content. I’m dropping my lookbook today. Yesterday I dropped the campaign photos. I want people to, to take in everything. I announced that shoe via Sneaker Freaker three months ago. And for me this is the shoe after the magical shoe I dropped for All-Star weekend. This is like my sophomore album. I treat all of this like music. So if my first album sold this and it was dope, then let me treat this like a perfect rollout. I can put all these shoes online, they can sell out in a couple of seconds. I need you to understand the story behind everything. I’m like stories first, and then y’all can get the product.
What are you thinking about outside of New Balance? What’s happening with your line?
I think I’ve kind of mastered being the sneaker guy. This is a new version of me. My followers are increasing. I hate that people are finding out about me through sneakers, which is cool, but like, man, my story and how I came up I wanted to be respected for my quality and the clothes I make. Even now my clothes for this collection are really good. This is like my first full cut and sew collection. There’s no blanks. I didn’t use sweatpants that already existed. Everything is crafted how I wanted it to be.Even down to the button. So I’m trying to live in this space where I’m still independent. You’re fittin’ to find me in 50,000 stores. I’m gonna make my stuff a little bit more available. I feel like there is an open void for a Black designer to put on his people. And like a lot of stuff I’m doing next year is all around women. So for me it’s just like, oh, nobody’s doing that. Let me invoke politics. You know? ‘Cause I’m kind of rubbing shoulders with Chicago politics now because I’m in the nonprofit world. While I always wanted to just be cool, smoke my weed and just put out stuff, now I realized I need to study up more on what I want to do, be a little bit more elegant in my approach, but also remain relatable. And when you get bigger, you become less relatable. I don’t want to become a coon to the system of being used. I’ve turned down million dollar deals from brands that just wanted me to be their Black face. I’m very transparent about my journey to a fault, which I’m going to chill on. Because now my tweets are becoming news. So I kind of have to chill. But yeah, it’s working on my clothes, working on my community efforts, chilling with collabs. I’m really homing in on partnerships as opposed to one-off collabs. I don’t like brands using me one time and that’s it and then doing the same thing with bigger talent like I’m the test dummy.
Do you feel like you had something to prove to the New Balance enthusiast with the second collab?
Well yeah. Because everybody was saying, “Joe’s shoe is cold, but he designed off the inline shit.” For me, everything is a subtweet. It’s supposed to say 990, I changed it to JFG. I did things you aren’t supposed to do with New Balances. I took of “Made in the US” and put “Made for Us.” It’s like I’m going to show you motherfuckahs these aren’t custom. So yeah, I feel like I had something to prove because people are like, he’s a one-hit wonder.
What about the ice cream cone tongue?
I could have had the option to do a different tongue but that tongue is usually on the 993s.
Any other special details on the sneakers you want to talk about?
I’m a fan of the bottom of the shoe because it reminds me of the bottom of the earth. It’s my favorite part. That’s about it. I’m not trying to make it super deep. I’ve never seen these colors work and I’m a fan of that Bottega green. I made this last April. Even with the outside shit I was like, I think the world is going to be open. I miss outside and was thinking about what outside means to me. So Outside Clothes is pretty much me missing outside. I made this literally cooped up in the crib.
Will the sneakers be more widely available?
Yes. That’s all I’ll say. It will be more than 800 pairs, like the last ones.