Joe Robinson, a.k.a. Joe Freshgoods, is a Chicago-born and based designer and Creative Director. Because of Robinson, we’ve been able to see a new side of New Balance that includes amplifying the voices of their Black employees, setting a great example of what corporate should look like in streetwear — since Black culture is what drives streetwear. He tells ESSENCE, “I wanted to make sure that I really hold true to my values. I’m not the type of person that works with people and change my direction up. From my commercials to my lookbooks to my storytelling to my product, everything is rooted in Black storytelling. So I can make all this black stuff and not have, you know, the brand is on my side.”
This year marks Robinson’s second year as Creative Director of New Balance’s “Conversations Amongst Us” campaign. This year, it includes a speaker series entitled Sharing Spaces: An Open & Honest Community Gathering. Robinson says he’s over panels. “I’ve done eight panels. So this isn’t like a ‘Hey, let’s go hire all the cool Black artists and put them on a stage and dance.’ This is more so of a very open conversation, a Q&A. I don’t think most people get to listen to the designers in that’s in my space and what we deal with, and I’m gonna keep it real, too. I think for better or worse, sometimes the brands hate me for this, but I keep it very real. These are gonna be really dope conversations throughout different parts of the world. So I’m very excited about that.”
The speaker series is traveling to Boston, his home base in Chicago, and then the U.K. The importance of having a presence in those places is because of New Balance’s origins being in Boston, which happens to be where a majority of where the company’s Black employees, called “Black Soles,” resides. Robinson sees the significance in him being their spokesperson. He’s been inspired by conversations that they’ve had with one another and observed their interactions of encouraging one another and supporting and sharing resources and information, so he came up with “Conversations Amongst Us” for New Balance. He knew he didn’t want to just make cool shoes that sell out, he wanted to keep the community growing and thriving.
This past year at New Balance has been full of celebrating Black culture and the Black experience. In 2021, through “Conversations Amongst Us,” Robinson and the Black Soles team dropped a small film that was an “if you know, you know” kind of message. “It was just how Black men get all weird about giving each other props, but the head nod can mean so much. So, those commercials were like, if you get it, you get it. And if you don’t, oh, well. And I really f*ck with New Balance for letting me do that. Because it was one of those things where it was just like, they have to trust me because it might not have made sense to the people higher up.” On top of that, he made sure that everyone on the Black Soles team was credited, which surprisingly doesn’t happen often.
Speakers at this upcoming event include Trayvon Bromell and some of the Black Soles team. Legal Counsel and Black Soles Chair at New Balance, Demeka Fields, tells ESSENCE about her excitement for the event and working with Robinson, “I am looking forward to sharing the stories of Black Soles members with the community and hopefully inspiring the next generation of Black storytellers, creatives, and business minds to take the next steps in accomplishing their dreams. I am also looking forward to celebrating the continuation of Conversations Amongst Us and the impact that it continues to have within the community…It’s motivating and inspiring to work with Joe Robinson on efforts to push forward Black voices within New Balance and within the community. Joe motivates Black Soles to think bigger and to be vocal and strategic when developing ideas of how Black Soles can combine our voices with his voice and influence to make a substantive impact.”
The first event will take place on March 8th in Boston at New Balance’s original stomping grounds. All in the hopes of making sure teams like Black Soles become a normal thing throughout all of corporate in streetwear.