These 2 Chicago Streetwear Brands Found National Success By Keeping It Local

Fat Tiger and Chicago Native want to inspire the next generation of artists

'Designers really support each other here,' Freshgoods says of Chicago.
Instagram: @fattigerworks

Streetwear is more than just a fashion statement. It’s a culture, one that’s exploded in recent years. Fueled by social media hype, in-the-know fans line up for hours to score T-shirts, sneakers or hoodies when their favorite streetwear brands launch new lines. A 2017 Piper Jaffray study found that apparel preferences among teens is shifting towards streetwear brands like Supreme, which was valued at $1 billion when the Carlyle Group purchased a minority stake in it last year and whose recent collaboration with Louis Vuitton generated $117 million in sales.

But beyond the fashion capitals of the coasts, Chicago is putting its stamp on the streetwear scene with two of its own: Joe Freshgoods, co-founder of Fat Tiger, and Juan-Elias Riesco, founder of Chicago Native and owner of Nini’s Deli.

Freshgoods, whose Chicago friend Chance the Rapper wore his line on the Grammy stage, collaborates with brands like Nike, Adidas and McDonald’s, and his Fat Tiger store also serves as a workshop for young, local talent. Similarly, Riesco has built a community for young artists through his popular west side empanada shop, Nini’s Deli, and his Instagram account, juanyworldwide, where his Chicago Native gear is sold.

Although Freshgoods and Riesco’s paths to success were different, for both, their Chicago roots run deep.

The magic of social

Freshgoods started selling his T-shirts in high school, then learned more about the business and entrepreneurial side by working at Chicago streetwear store Leaders before launching his brand, Dope Boy Magic (DBM), now called Don’t Be Mad, which took off through YouTube and Facebook.

“I came up with Dope Boy Magic because I wanted to show people you can start a brand for 80 bucks,” Freshgoods says. “I’m a product of the internet. I wouldn’t be where I am now without social media. I learned the value of getting people hyped, before the hashtag bubble and before it got corny.”

In 2012, he really put himself on the map with a hat that said, “I Wanna F*** Rihanna”—a hat that he says he wouldn’t create now.

“I created that in my early 20s, and I’m 32, with a daughter now,” Freshgoods says. “It taught me about the cease and desist game [Rihanna served him with one], and it taught me about using the internet to sell a product. People wanted to buy it because I made it.”

The original Fat Tiger store opened in 2013 in Logan Square, and the current west side store sells the Don’t Be Mad line, plus other Chicago brands like Vita, Squad, Sensei and Chicago Over Everything. Freshgoods also sells his line and brand collaborations at pop-ups in cities around the globe.

The designer capitalized on another pop culture moment after Kanye West announced his run for president at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards by printing up “Ye 2020” shirts that were ready to sell on Wednesday following the Sunday night show. “I wanted to show how quickly I could get stuff made,” he says. “I saw the show, then said, ‘Watch what I do.’ I had the mock-up the next day, Twitter went crazy, and by Wednesday, there was a line outside of my store for it.”

Chance the Rapper gave his friend Freshgoods some love by wearing his “Thank You Obama” line, created to commemorate Obama’s last day in office, while accepting the Best Rap Performance Grammy in 2017—photos that were quickly picked up by Vogue, GQ and other fashion media. “I was there when Chance was bubbling still—we watched each other grow,” Freshgoods says. “The Thank You Obama stuff was a good message. Chance felt the same way, and it ended up being life changing for me.”

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