No brand is doing it like New Balance right now. Backed by names like Aimé Leon Dore's Teddy Santis (New Balance Made in USA creative director), Kawhi Leonard, and Storm Reid (brand ambassadors), the Boston-based sports apparel and footwear brand truly doesn't miss.
For its latest power move, New Balance updates its relationship status with another noteworthy player on its dream team: Joe Robinson, aka Joe Freshgoods.
Like everything that Joe Freshgoods does with New Balance, "Conversations Amongst Us" is rooted in storytelling.
Under the creative advisory of Mr. Freshgoods himself, the campaign will tell a new story of the Black experience, emphasizing crucial dialogues that connect the community while inspiring the next generation of Black creatives. In other words, Joe doing what Joe does best.
While the campaign is already goated by its creative lead alone, an apparel and footwear collection will add a tangible angle when it drops alongside the campaign via New Balance's web store and sockists. Designed by Black Soles, New Balance's all-Black associates group, the collection is blessed by Freshgoods' Midas touch.
To seal the deal, Joe brought New Balance together with Community Goods, an organization that provides students hailing from underserved communities with opportunities in art and creativity.
Specifically, New Balance donated $100,000 to Community Goods to benefit its programming efforts, which include mentorships, community events, and internship opportunities.
"Conversations Amongst Us" hits differently for Joe Freshgoods. While he is keen on storytelling, evident with his prior NB collaborations, this latest campaign is not a Black History Month highlight; it's real life.
The following interview has been edited and condensed.
Highsnobiety: How did "Conversations Amongst Us" come to be?
Joe Freshgoods: I don't want to say this was planned (and I may get in trouble for saying certain things), but I think we're in a place in culture right now where a lot of brands feel pretty guilty, like "yo, we gotta do something."
But my relationship with New Balance has been very organic from the start.
When I did my first shoe with them for All-Star Weekend 2020, the goal wasn't to keep going. It was like, "let's just see what happens." I think from there, we've just been knocking everything out of the park.
I'm very big on storytelling. I'm very big on keeping Black culture Black. I want to refrain from saying Black History Month because it's not about that. I just want to make sure I can tell some really impactful stories and focus on the Black community in 2022.
I am very excited that this is something that's going to be throughout the year. It wasn't like a planned PR stunt to do something for Black History Month.
I wouldn't have done it if I felt like I was being taken advantage of, like "oh Joe, you're the Black person, so why don't you do this?" Everything happened very naturally.
How does it feel to work with a brand as big as New Balance?
Well, you know, I'm from the hood, the West Side of Chicago. Being able to work on footwear, bottles, and a lot of other things; I'm very grateful and blessed to be in the position I'm in.
My goal has always been to show the youth that you don't gotta move to NY or LA. I still live in the hood. I'm very proud of where I am now.
I vividly remember drawing some shoes in third grade, and my teacher ripped it up and said, "You're not gonna be making shoes." I'm very petty, and I remember every time somebody did me wrong throughout my life since I was a kid.
I made myself an influencer but I'm not really an influencer. I'm not an athlete. I'm not a rapper. I didn't grow up wearing New Balances.
So, to be working with New Balance, a very prestigious brand, and what they present in the culture... this whole relationship was super natural.
I learned about the brand in real-time and New Balance, in turn, has watched me grow. I started out with just one employee about two years ago, and now I have like seven or eight.
New Balance was very key to my growth.
Again, I've been signed to every brand, so I'm somebody that can speak for this. New Balance was able to coach me and help me — basically, we helped each other. We all did stuff for each other. I'm introducing New Balance to a whole new consumer that wasn't really on NB before.
What we did for All-Star Weekend has never been done before, like I made the whole city of Chicago talk. We had a line of 2,000 people outside in the cold.
It's a mutual "you scratch my back, I scratch yours."
What can fans expect from the campaign and collection, with you leading as creative director?
"Conversations Amongst Us" is exactly what it sounds like.
When I do things, I oftentimes think it's like an inside joke.
When I say "inside joke", I'm okay with a large group of people in culture understanding what it means but I'm also okay with a lot of people not understanding where I'm coming from either. That's where that education part comes in.
When it comes to New Balance, I've had the opportunity to chat with the Black employees, like Black Soles.
I'll be like, "Talk to me about what's going on," "Are you moving up within the company," or "Is it something going on that I can help fix?" It's just natural. They trust and believe in me.
New Balance could've picked a lot of people for this role... but, actually, not really. I'm one of a kind. I'm being too humble right now but I'm very blessed.
Going back to the question: I think "Conversations Amongst Us" is going to be something people have never really seen before. It's a different lens on the Black experience.
For me, it started with "Outside Clothes." When you think about footwear and sneakers, I'm just intrigued that there are so many stories that have never been told before. When you think about the Black community, we are the number one consumer for all this shit. For me, that's what sparked it.
You know, with "Outside Clothes," my team and I poured our heart into that commercial. I feel like we should've won every award last year.
To be able to shoot on the West Side of Chicago at my grandma's house and around the park district I grew up at, we threw a billion easter eggs in [that video]. I got my Spike Lee on. The reaction to that was like, "Yo, I've never seen that before." I was like, "Okay, y'all get it."
"Conversations Amongst Us" is about conversations, whether it's thoughtful conversations, barbershop conversations, hair shop conversations, or on the phone gossiping.
The biggest goal is to make sure I uplift my culture and bring on different stories that I've never seen before. We make all this shit cool, so I have to touch on these stories that can uplift everybody.
And I mean everybody, especially Black people, but I feel like everyone is going to be able to understand where I'm coming from with this.
How is the essence of "Conversations Amongst Us" communicated through the apparel and footwear collection?
It feels like Joe. The more I work with New Balance, the more I want to get people wearing New Balance clothes. Oftentimes, the shoes sell out first, and the clothes just sit on the rack.
It's so crazy people start my career off with sneakers. Nah, man, I'm 35 — I've been doing this since I was 16. When I started out, I didn't have any money, so I had to do with t-shirts and hoodies.
This is my first time creative directing something, so it's not mine. But it's going to feel like me from top to bottom.
It was a challenge. I had to remind myself: this is not my collection alone. It was a lesson learned.
The world "creative director" is so all over the place, like what the fuck does that really mean? With this project, it was like, "oh, this is what creative director means."
You approve stuff, and you have your input. Sometimes I have to take myself out of it and be like, "Joe, this isn't a Joe Freshgoods thing. This is me creative directing something for New Balance."
So, the collection feels like me. I'm very excited about the apparel and footwear. It's fresh and new. Also, it kind of keeps that trend. New Balance is on everybody's ass right now.
It's one of those things where you are blowing somebody out [in a game], and you have to take the starters off the court and put the reserves in. New Balance keeps leaving their starters on the court. Everyone keeps running it up. It's very exciting for people to see a different side of the Black experience.
Without giving too much away, I think by August, y'all are going to get tired of me. Y'all are going to be like, "Joe, stop. Another shoe? Another one?"
Last year with the supply chain and COVID, it messed up a lot of schedules and things that were supposed to drop last year are dropping this year.
So, "Inside Voices" is basically the follow-up to "Outside Clothes." It has nothing to do with "Conversations Amongst Us." This is all my Marvel Universe of Joe.
"Outside Clothes" is centered around what life is like in the summertime, no matter what hood you're in. "Inside Voices" is basically the at-home version, looking into the Black household. It was supposed to come out last year, but we're dropping it this year.
We don't have an official date... well, I don't want to say yet.
"Inside Voices" and "Conversations Amongst Us" are in the same Joe universe, but those are two separate projects.
What do you hope people take away from "Conversations Amongst Us?"
Anything is possible, and my voice is heard.
My rise to success is very organic. There wasn't a certain person that put me on. Everything I do is like opening a door.
Also, I want to inspire a bunch of kids, allowing them to feel like they can do it too.
With me in this creative director role, I want kids around the world to be like, "Yo, this is possible. I don't gotta be cool with this rapper. I don't gotta be cool to do this. I can follow those other footsteps."
Sometimes people get big and kind of hide where they come from. They don't really visit home again. As soon as I wake up and go outside, I'm still where I started out. Not saying I'm complacent but that type of stuff really keeps me grounded and keeps me moving.
So, after "Conversations Amongst Us," I really want to hope that people feel that impact and know this was made for them. I want it to feel like nothing they've ever seen before.