When it comes to streetwear, art, and all things that are generally cool in Chicago, there's no bigger name associated with the scene right now than Fat Tiger Workshop. This Black-led, proud-Chicagoan collective of creatives and brands that includes Joe Freshgoods, Rello, and We All We Got is hotter than hot in the Windy City right now, and a perfect representation of what the Stadium Goods Block by Block initiative is all about: creating and doing great things for your own community.
So what exactly is Fat Tiger Workshop? Who all is in it? What do they do? To find out everything you need to know about Fat Tiger, we asked A.Z. Nega, the group's Project Manager that's in charge of making everything run smoothly. The glue that holds Fat Tiger together, if you will.
First, please introduce yourself. What should everyone know about A.Z. Nega?
Hey world, my name is Asmiet Nega but everyone calls me A.Z. I’m the tall Eritrean goddess over at Fat Tiger Workshop. I’ve been in the game for some time now and I was blessed with opportunities to work with some really cool people. The few things to know about me is... I love love love food, it is the way to my heart. I don’t like mixing my liquor, just give me some ice and I’m cool. The last thing would be that I’m a grown-ass kid. When it’s time to work and get shit done I can be very serious and focused, but when the work is done, I’m usually somewhere being silly or trying new things. This summer I got hooked on riding my bike, rollerblading and doing puzzles. Now I’m creating my list for things I want to do during the cold months in Chicago.
In your own words, what is Fat Tiger Workshop?
Fat Tiger is not only a fashion staple in Chicago, but we are also a creative hub. When people look at us, they see a clothing store, but we are so much more. I look at Fat Tiger like a fashion house/agency. Each of the brand owners have to come up with ideas and designs for each drop, but it doesn’t stop there. As a team we have to come up with ways to bring those designs to life and that can mean anything from photo shoots, visual merchandising, planning an event or going to different cities and creating a pop-up experience. Fat Tiger is this big umbrella that has no limits on what it can cover, from fashion, music, art, education, we’ve dabbled in it all and continue to find ways to be better and bigger.
What exactly do you do at Fat Tiger?
My job title is the Project/E-commerce Manager but depending on what is going on, that can change. Fat Tiger has a total of 7 brands which run totally different. It is my job to make sure each brand's vision is executed properly and that can be a simple drop or a full-blown event. Every day is different, so I come prepared to wear different hats. I do a lot of planning, organizing, executing and managing.
How many members are there in Fat Tiger Workshop? Is it a concrete team of people or do some float in and out over time?
We are about 12 deep when it comes to actual members. But there are more people that are a part of the Fat Tiger family. We are a concrete team for the most part, but we will hire people here and there depending on the project and what needs to be done and that’s usually because nobody on the team is experienced enough in that field. We are truly blessed, though, because we have a lot of talented people in our group, so a lot of the time we figure everything out in-house.
What art forms or mediums do you work in personally?
It just depends on what projects I’m working on, but my superpowers are bringing things to life. I am a creator, I love building things, creating experiences, bringing visions alive and organizing. I always have my laptop, notebook or sticky notes on me to plan and organize things out. But when it is go-time you will find me in full-blown grind mode. Some days you will find me painting statutes and preparing for an art show and other days I’m on Illustrator or Photoshop creating signage or creating a layout for a pop-up. I don’t limit myself and I like that all my days and weeks are different.
Are you originally from Chicago? How do you think the city has shaped you as a person and creative?
No, I was born in Sudan because of the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, but I grew up in Arlington, VA. Shout out to the DMV area! I’ve been in Chicago for 8 years now and I’ve learned a lot from this city. Especially for me to be so used to the east coast. I’ve lived in Philly, New York and traveled all up and down the coast. So, moving to Chicago was totally different for me. From the weather, people, and even dealing with how the city is segregated. It was so different from what I was used to.
I’ve always been a hustler, but Chicago taught me a different way of hustling and it definitely took me out of my comfort zone. I was blessed to have met the Tigers before I moved here, so I’ve always had a great support system. But as a black woman in Chicago, I definitely had to learn how to hold my own and come from under the shadows. I’ve always liked being behind the scenes, but Chicago forces you to show your worth because there are a lot of people fighting for your spot. Being the first woman to hold an upper management position at Fat Tiger was a big deal. There were guys who didn’t understand why they didn’t get hired over me and also other women who felt like they deserved it more. At first, I took it to heart but then I just let my work speak for itself and now we are here 3 years later. We’ve added 3 more women to the staff (Shout out to the lady Tigers!) and went from a team of 7 to a team of 12. The East coast raised me, but Chicago definitely plays a huge part in who I am today.
What do you think is distinctly “Chicago” about the ethos and aesthetic of Fat Tiger Workshop?
Everything about Fat Tiger is Chicago, from the different brands and what they stand for to the way everyone represents when we go to different cities for events and pop ups. Most of the designs that are created for each brand is influenced by Chicago whether it is past or present. I’ve always admired how the guys represented Chicago. The Southside usually gets a lot of the shine and Des and Vic are great ambassadors. But Rello and Joe always do a great job at representing the Westside.
What is your favorite project that Fat Tiger has done?
Damn, that’s hard. I love each project differently. They hold a special place in my heart, but if I have to pick my Top 3 in no particular order, it would be…
Complexcon Chicago: It was our first time having a booth at Complexcon and we decided to have 5 different ones. I think I died twice that week (laughs). Going through that experience taught us a lot and made it easier for us to execute and run the two booths we had at Complexcon Long Beach.
NBA All Star Chicago: We had so much going on that week and we really shut the city down. Rello, Des and Vic had their adidas collab at Fat Tiger and Joe had his New Balance collab at a pop-up location. We had to organize and execute everything properly, so everything ran smoothly. It was great to see Chicago get that shine, especially since COVID hit right after that. We totally entered a new level after All-Star.
The third one is a tie between The Eat the Rich project and the Community Goods drive-thru fundraiser. 2020 has been a rough year, but we are blessed to still be here. So being able to work on projects that give back to those in need always makes me happy. Eat the Rich gave back to those having a hard time paying for groceries and bills during the COVID lockdown. The drive by fundraiser was to support CPS students in need of virtual learning school supplies.
Over the last few months, the fight against racial injustice and police brutality is now amplified on the national scale more than ever. Has Fat Tiger had any projects that are a direct response?
We are black in America. Our whole experience as humans has been to fight the fight for black peace and empowerment. Naturally that comes out in our art, but this is much bigger than fashion and clothes. We live the Black experience every day, while a lot of people view the Black experience from their windows.
I’ve been with Fat Tiger for 3 years but have been friends with all the guys for about 9 years. They have always been for the people and their community. One of the reasons why I love where I work is because I know there is meaning behind the projects we do. It isn’t always about just selling a product, we find ways to give back and plant seeds. Fat Tiger was created and is owned by black men, our upper management is run by minority women and our staff is a melting pot. We have to deal with this everyday no matter if it’s a trend or not, so our mission has always been to give back and play our part to create a better future for the youth. From raising money, give-aways, having free workshops and going to different schools to talk to the youth. As a team we try to play our part no matter what the trend is. Our goal isn’t to profit off of a cause but to continue showing people like us that a group of black people and people of color can get together and create something special.
What advice do you have for young People of Color trying to find their place and excel in the art and/or fashion worlds? If a kid wants to create their own version of a collective like Fat Tiger Workshop someday, how do they do it?
Create your own lane, don’t try to be like anyone else besides yourself. Team up with people who have the same vision as you and are willing to grind towards that goal. Don’t rely on anyone to give you the answers, research, study and experiment. The last thing is to be kind, the world has enough jerks.
You can follow A.Z. on Instagram here.
All photos courtesy of A.Z.