There’s no shortage of dope clothing in Chicago—that is, if you know where to look.
Anyone who’s familiar with artists like Chance the Rapper, Jay-Z, or Lupe Fiasco know that they’re often sporting threads borne on the shores of Lake Michigan—and not just because everyone else is doing it. There’s a certain Midwest grit and authenticity that shines in the streetwear made here, and you can’t really find it anywhere else.
The Fat Tiger Workshop (FTW) is a testament to this fact.
Creators and designers Joe Freshgoods, Terrell Jones, and Vic Lloyd opened FTW a few years back, embracing the motto, “Built with strength. Carried by honor.” This level of authenticity and raw integrity seems to exude from the very woodwork of the store—and it’s no accident either. Speaking to co-founder Joe Freshgoods, he explained to me that although they have achieved some success as a business, they try to remain true to their roots and humble because they understand that most of their customers like to support the underdog. After all, they want to support people they relate to and understand as opposed to a big corporate entity. This mindset is crucial to what draws me and so many others to the many brands that form the Fat Tiger Collective.
If you live in Chicago and are a fan of streetwear, it is almost guaranteed you are familiar with Fat Tiger Workshop. Even if you’re just a fan of Chicago hip-hop, you’ve probably seen someone wearing their gear. They are undoubtedly one of, if not the most, prolific group of creatives in the world of Chicago hip-hop and fashion.
Though FTW is a brick-and-mortar store in the West Loop, it’s apparent that they represent so much more than that. In their own words, “The idea behind Fat Tiger is more complex than a simple retail space. FTW is a vehicle, not only for us, but for others to express their ideas and visions.” The store itself stocks entirely in-house, Chicago-made brands including Sensei, Squad, Lost Paradise, Vita and Don’t Be Mad (formerly DopeBoyMagic). Their love for the city they call home permeates throughout their products. After all, all three of the store’s founders are native Chicagoans, having met while working at Leaders, another prolific Chicago-based streetwear store.
Vic Lloyd, founder and resident streetwear historian, claims he got into streetwear as a form of escapism to avoid the harsh realities of Englewood, the tough Southside neighborhood where he grew up. His first foray into streetwear started with customizing Air Force 1s and Timberlands with Gucci and Louie Vuitton prints. The upscale designers caught on to his hustle and had his eBay store shut down. Unbeknownst to them, this ended up being a recurring theme throughout the group’s careers as they garnered a wealth of cease and desist letters for their designs (one of the most famous being from Rihanna).
Joe and Rello started their own brand, Vita, in high school together. Joe always knew he was going to end up in fashion. He did go to school for a little bit, solely for the sake of his mother, he explained. Eventually, he dropped out of Harold Washington College with intentions to travel as much as possible. By doing this, he cultivated experiences that helped shape his creative outlook today.
The Fat Tiger crew differentiates themselves from some of the other big names in a multitude of different ways. First and foremorst, by being on the frontline and being involved in their community. From DJing to throwing parties and events, to Joe’s management of Chicago rapper Lucki, they are truly involved in the community they have created.
The FTW crew is also known for their unique and creative, guerilla-style approach to marketing. All of the events and special releases they do are loosely planned, flexible and usually announced cryptically via social media. For example, for Kanye West’s recent Saint Pablo tour stop in Chicago, they screen printed satirical “fake” Kanye merch and sold it out of boxes outside of the United Center. This was hyped up exclusively through Joe’s Twitter. The cops eventually shut down their impromptu pop-up shop though. The experiment didn’t go well, Joe admits. However, this was not the point. He explains that the pop-up shop existed for the sole reason to tweet about it and say that they did it. This garnered a lot of attention on social media and the next day, he put the shirts on the store’s website to be sold.
It sold out within days.
The communal vibe in the store is palpable. From Vic’s point of view, Chicago is the greatest it has ever been in terms of opportunities, but the creative youth of Chicago have not yet noticed it. Hopefully, with mentors like these three spearheading the scene, some of these untapped opportunities will be taken advantage of in the future.
As far as the future for these guys? According to Vic, there is no specific plan just yet, they all just seem to go with the flow and follow their intuition considering it has gotten them this far already. In any case, everyone interested should keep a close eye on their moves in the future. Most of their new releases sells out quickly, and every event they have put on reaches capacity early. This all comes with the territory of working with something truly remarkable, though.