Don C loves Toronto. The streetwear designer has visited the city countless times—and not just on tours back when he was Kanye West’s manager. Prior to the pandemic, the Chicago native would regularly fly out to the 6ix for its famously uproarious Caribana festival. Good memories were forged.

“When I was single, I used to love it for more reasons,” he laughed during a recent chat with Complex Canada. “But, I mean, it’s really the people. That’s what I think makes most cities—the people, the restaurants, the culture, the way that people treat you, the shopping. All that stuff accumulated together makes Toronto real fun.”

Judging by his huge smile and kinetic energy while sitting down with us at a local Foot Locker, Don was having plenty more fun in the Big Smoke. He and the footwear retailer have teamed up to launch All City by Just Don, a new lifestyle line inspired by the spirit of community. Best known for his premium takes on NBA jerseys and shorts, the designer keeps his vision intact with the new collection, offering a range of high-quality, ’90s-indebted hoodies, T-shirts, sweatpants, and jackets with basketball motifs and Just Don branding. It’s the luxury sportswear he’s known for, but at a more accessible price point. To mark the drop, he’s been hosting a series of creative summits at key Foot Lockers in North America.

The designer’s stop in the 6ix last week coincided with another important Toronto-Chicago link-up: Drake and Kanye West squashed their beef after meeting at the Certified Lover Boy’s mansion. Don, who is Ye’s longtime BFF and who, at the height of the conflict, appeared to take a shot at Drizzy on Instagram, seemed elated about the news when I brought it up. “Man, that was awesome,” he said. “I think it’s just amazing that people can put their differences to the side and do something [positive.] And I’m super happy that it’s for Larry Hoover, you know what I’m saying?”

We caught up with Don at his summit in Toronto to chat about the new collection, Kanye and Drake making peace, setting better examples for the youth, and why he’s uninterested in maintaining a public persona.

Don C signing a wall in a Foot Locker in Toronto
Image via Kevin Ramos

So, you just launched the All City collection in Chicago. What made you want to choose Toronto as the next stop?
Aw bro, it’s so important. I love the city. It’s got a Midwest feel that I’m used to, but then it’s also a way to like, make this an international exercise but not go that far [laughs]. So we want to say this was a global release but I didn’t feel like flying 12 hours. Nah, I’m joking, but I love Toronto, man. I mean, you’re from here, so you know the importance of Toronto when it comes to culture. The T-Dot. 416, you know what I’m saying?

What do you love about Toronto?
When I was single, I used to love it for more reasons [laughs]. But, I mean, it’s really the people. That’s what I think makes most cities—the people, the restaurants, the culture, the way that people treat you, the shopping. All that stuff accumulated together makes Toronto real fun. And a lot of times I come here for a music festival or an event, so then it makes it even more fun.

So you’ve probably hit up Caribana.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, Caribana and OVO Fest are at the same time, so I’ve been coming to Caribana maybe since like ’04. It’s been quite some time that I’ve come out here for Caribana.

Good times.
Absolutely. That’s why I said I love this city [laughs].

“I’m glad that people can put their differences behind them and just grow culture more and set more positive examples for the younger ones.”

Tell me about your vision for the All City collection that you’re launching.
Man, All City is just a privilege for me, to be able to work with such an amazing, historically cemented partner like Foot Locker. And they gave me the opportunity to be able to deliver Just Don, a brand from my umbrella, [in a way] that can speak to more people than everything else we do, which is more like collaborations or capsule collections. Even with my main line, I’m not able to penetrate a lot of stores. So I really had to seize this opportunity because it’s a dream come true. To be honest, I’m very self-conscious when people from my neighborhood tell me they love the style of my product, but they can’t participate. It makes me feel weird, you know? Like, aw man, I do want my people, my cousins, and my family members to be able to participate in what I’m doing. So this really feels good.

All City collection by Just Don
Image via Kevin Ramos

Yeah, it’s really cool that this line is accessible to more people, which you don’t always see. Do you think that’s one of the drawbacks of streetwear culture these days—that it’s way out of reach for a lot of people?
Man, when it comes to street and culture, I’m like a civil rights activist. Like, I was there for the civilians, you know what I’m saying? All the kids that can go to all the fashion shows now, they don’t understand that I used to have to protest at the fashion shows to get in. And now everyone’s welcome. So sometimes I’ll be feeling like Jesse Jackson or something. Like, I literally used to sit on the floor and be like, “Naw, we walking in here!” I had to do things like Rosa Parks, like, “Naw, I ain’t getting up! I’m sitting here.” And so now, we take it for granted that we can all be a part of everything going on. It wasn’t like that just a very short time ago. So, I feel like we’ve been fighting too long for us to be a part of this, where everyone can participate. Some people are being teased like, “Oh, you ain’t got this” and all that, and it’s like, man, everybody should be able to have the best swag. Everybody should be able to be fresh. Everybody should be able to feel good and confident.

You’re bringing it to more of a ground level. I like that.
When I was coming up, people that I looked up to, they used to son me. They’d tease me because I was a fan of theirs. That was a culture of rap in the ’90s where people thought it was cool to be an asshole. One of the major things I always felt was that if I’m ever given a position of importance, I definitely would never do that. I want people who are a fan of what you do to feel welcomed. I used to meet rappers and they would treat me like I was a goofy because I was a fan of theirs. I was like, “Nigga, what’s paying your bills?” I didn’t understand that, but that’s just arrogance. And I’m happy that more positive influence has changed that in culture.

You’re from Chicago. This collection is inspired by your city. Do you feel there’s a lot of connections between Toronto and Chicago?  I mean, they must call them twin cities for a reason.
Absolutely, man. The vibe is definitely the same. We got the parks, the cultural buildings that make the backdrop of the city, and the diverse pool of people, but it’s less segregated here than in Chicago, so I like that more. That’s one of the things I’m encouraged about with the younger generations, is that they’re more integrated. I mean, that’s what makes Toronto great to me: the people. Even when I walked in this store, I said man, this doesn’t feel like a traditional Foot Locker, this feels like a Toronto Foot Locker—it feels like a loft space or something. It feels more modern. I feel like this is one of the cities that’s like a model city for the future. And I notice every time I come here, it’s always a lot of construction going on. So I feel like the city must be getting bigger and bigger all the time.

Don C being interviewed by Complex Canada
Image via Kevin Ramos

Some might say there’s too much construction here! Well, speaking of progress and Toronto-Chicago connections, there’s been some pretty big news about two rappers who squashed their beef the other day…
Aw yeah, Drake and Ye? Man, that was awesome. I think it’s just amazing that people can put their differences to the side and then do something [positive]. And I’m super happy that it’s for Larry Hoover, you know what I’m saying? So you know what it is. I come from the community where the Gangster Disciples originated. So I know everything about growth and development, and it’s really good to see people put growth and development into practice and take something that’s a negative situation and turn it into something positive. So man, I’m really excited about that. Hopefully I can get tickets to the show on the 9th of December, so I could go and see it and support the Free Larry Hoover project.

Yeah, it’s really dope to see Drake and Ye make peace. I think that whole situation between them goes back to what you were saying about rappers—sometimes they’ve just got this machismo or ego thing to get over.
That’s all it be. Like, when people get into it, it’s also people admiring one another and they don’t know how to admit it. And so, when people are a fan of somebody and if somebody does something to you to turn you off, you react negatively. But really, you are fan; really, you admire them. So many people, we cover up our feelings to try to feel superior, but really, to me, feelings is the realest thing you could display. It’s how you feel. That’s what makes us special, to me: your feelings. Because your feelings are very specific to you. And so to me, feelings are something that make people special and people always try to hide their feelings. They’re always trying to portray themselves as an avatar. They want to portray themselves like the character that they want to portray. Like, “Oh, that’s my representative,” you know what I’m saying? [Laughs] But I’m like, naw, I like realness. Because usually, something quirky about somebody, other people might gravitate towards that. When it comes to even attraction to the opposite sex, I used to like girls that had a weird, quirky thing about them—something that they feel self-conscious about, but I would like it. It would be attractive to me. 

“If you a nerd, anything you’re being teased about now is going to be your advantage later in life. When I was a kid, a girl with a big booty got teased. Now women spend money to get it.”

Yeah, I feel that. Like, they have a flaw or something but it ends up being kinda hot.
Yeah! So I just think that’s what makes people special and I think it’s dope. And to divert back to the Chicago-Toronto thing, I’m glad that people can put their differences behind them and just grow culture more and set more positive examples for the younger ones. 

That’s the thing. The example they’re setting is huge, especially for Toronto, because there’s just been so much gun violence here.
And that’s so not part of Toronto culture, I don’t feel like.

Don C being interviewed in a Toronto Foot Locker
Image via Kevin Ramos

I mean, it shouldn’t be.
But it’s turning, right? The younger generation, they see it in the videos and they want to duplicate it. And that’s why I keep on saying, we gotta keep setting better examples, because the shorties is watching. And we want to show them that you’re not a goofy if you’re not a killer or you’re not a gang member. Like, you still fly. You’re still doing fun things, you can participate in activities and sports. Education is cool, you know? Art is cool, designing is cool. I tell all these people, man, every last gangsta and gang member, when you talk to them when they in jail, just ask them what they wish they did. Ask every last one of them. Don’t none of them say, “Man, I’m happy I committed a crime and I’m up in here for the rest of my life. This is how I’m representing.” Not one of them say that. They all say, “Man, go to school, get your education.” So, learn from other people’s mistakes and examples. We don’t have to sit in a cell to learn our lesson. We can learn from all the thousands of examples before us.

Absolutely. 
I just keep encouraging people, man: Gravitate towards the things that keep you out of trouble, because that’s productive. That’s going to glow you up to be a mogul in the future. And you’re only a teenager for like six years. So bro, your glow up as an adult is everything. Don’t even trip on this. If you a nerd, anything you’re being teased about now is going to be your advantage later in life. When I was a kid, a girl with a big booty got teased. Now women spend money to get it. They put their life at risk for something that they teased people before about. Like, you think Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk weren’t nerds in school? Goofies! So embrace that goofiness [laughs]. You might be the richest man on the planet one day. Then no one calls you a goofy no more. Then the rappers honour you. You know how quick them rappers be kissing up to them rich billionaires that’s some goofies? They be kissing up to them because they respect their paper. They respect their position. And you only get there with hard work, displaying your talent, and being you. No one gets to the top following.

So when you think you gonna ostracized or canceled for doing what you want to do? Do it, man, because you gonna be a leader in the future. And guess what people do to leaders? They follow them. So lead with responsibility and don’t lead people to the end of a cliff that they fall off of.

Don C signs a Nike shoe
Image via Kevin Ramos

I really like that. People should be more encouraged to lean into their weirdness.
Yup. I talk too much, I’m sorry. But I’m really passionate about this and I don’t talk a lot because I really don’t feel like I’m like… I genuinely feel like my importance is more in having these types of conversations with people who are better public leaders. I really feel uncomfortable talking a lot of times with people because I feel like I’d do better dropping jewels to somebody that people really look up to. Because when I’m talking, people are like, “Man, dude talking like he’s from Louisiana. His accent is weird, man.” I just feel like I’m not delivering it properly. But when I connect with people, they understand my message. So I just feel uncomfortable publicly conveying it, but I really like to have one-on-one time with individuals and expressing things. I’ll talk all day. But you see I don’t normally do interviews, because I just feel like, man, I could leave up out of here and mess up, and now people are stumbled by my performance versus the message I was giving. A lot of times, people, they don’t be really listening to the message, they be listening to the character who’s conveying the message. And so I would rather have my messaging be through my clothes or my designs.

Well, it’s like what you were saying earlier: some people hide behind these avatars. That’s never seemed to be your thing. You don’t seem like you’re interested in curating a public avatar.
Yeah, I’m just me. You know, somebody says something and I’ll just say what I think. And then sometimes I have to double take and say, “Oh my God, I shouldn’t have said that. That didn’t come off correct.” So I have to really be careful with that because the world today doesn’t allow you to be yourself. And that’s why I’ll be encouraging everybody, like, man, embrace yourself. I guess where it comes from is everybody is so judgmental; people are so afraid to be judged. And if people had the confidence that they wouldn’t be judged, I think they would be feeling more free to express themselves.