Chicago has its share of creative talent and amazing entrepreneurial minds carving a place this world. A city is known for being the mid-coast of business and trade deals—in the center of the country with bi-coastal ties between the West and East coasts. But, among our talent—the world of fashion has taken a back seat to other cities who boasts a thriving industry such as New York City and Miami.
In the last few years, gradually this perception has changed as more Chicago designers have broken out onto the scene with designs showcasing their individual’s voices through apparel.
The works of Fat Tiger Workshop is one of the hottest names on the scene among millennials and trend influencers. The brick and mortar boutique was created nearly six years ago by four designers—all sporting their lines.
Co-founders Rello Jones, Joe Robinson, Victor Pitre along with the brand manager, Des Owusu have taken the “bull by the horns” collectively coming together to bring together a philosophy of ideas without limitations and traditional approaches in a retail space.
Building a steady fan base from Vita Wintersport, Sensei, JoeFreshGoods, Chicago Over Everything, D.B.M. to Rello’s Lost Paradise “The Coloring Book” brands—the group of Black men from Chicago are making significant business moves.
Recently, Fat Tiger Workshop was selected to design the limited-edition clothing collection for the Warner Bros. film, “Rampage” starring Dwayne Johnson. All proceeds from the sales of the limited-edition collection benefit SocialWorks, a nonprofit organization empowering youth through arts, education, and civic engagement.
The Chicago MIXX sat down with co-founders Victor Pitre, brand strategist; and Rello Jones, head designer and creative director for the team to discuss their latest projects.
TCM: How did Fat Tiger become involved with the Warner Bros. film, “Rampage”?
Rella: The collaboration with Rampage came from a lot of companies checking for us being a younger store but we a long tenure in the business. If you want to have something refreshing, new and still have a huge impact—you come to Fat Tiger. We’ve been growing a lot. People have been reaching out wanting us to share with them with the city has given to us as far as the love.
TCM: Everyone is from Chicago, what side of town?
Rella: I’m out from out West. Vic from out South, Joe is from out West and Des and from the Southside.
TCM: Do you find there’s a stigma of being from a particular side of town?
Victor: With us, we found out a long time ago, no matter where you’re from if you’re good at what you do—you’re always going to shine. I wouldn’t look at where we’re from as a negative or hindrance. Where we’re from helps to make us who we are, helps us to move around and how to be smarter. Anybody who knows our roots should be happy we’re from there because you got some guys who are on their toes.
Rella: Being from the Southside, I grew up in one of the more violent neighborhoods—Englewood. I always use those childhood tribulations to make me into someone stronger—someone who I am today. I feel like you have to let where you’re from to be a part of you and not be ALL of you. That’s the piece all of us paint from, just because I’m from the hood doesn’t mean I have to portray that forever.
We wear where we’re from as a badge of honor. It made us who we are.
TCM: How did the group come up with the concept and name of the store?
Rella: When we sat down to come up with a name for a store, we were thinking about something like a band–as if you didn’t think of anything else when people began to say the name. Now in Chicago, when you say “Fat Tiger” it works out, people know it’s us. We wanted us to stand apart, not to use a name that had us affiliated with anything else.
Tiger represents strength and honor. That’s our mantra. We want to be honorable and stay true. We want to be from here for here.
TCM: The vibe reminds of the signature street era of the 90’s when African American designers had strong lifestyle brands such as Phat Farm, Wu-Tang Clan, Ecko. Was this the inspiration for creating a statement?
Rella: That’s our influence because out of all of us, I’m the oldest so I bring that element to it. I grew up watching Karl Kani, Phat Farm and other brands—they were Black excellence. We want to show that’s still out here. It’s a thing you can look at for inspiration. We want to do so much with the young and with the “Rampage” project and SocialWorks we’re giving the money back. We want to shape the future of Chicago. You know a couple of my mentors—Jam and Rich.
TCM: Yes, I was their mentor.
Rella: Yes, I know that. [we both laugh] You taught them, they taught me. I was in the music industry, but fashion was more my thing.
TCM: How does Chicago play out in the fashion industry when New York and Miami are very dominant in the U.S.?
Rella: I think now, we get a look. One of the biggest icons in the world is from Chicago, Kanye [West]. A person who is from here, now Chicago is not viewed as a ‘country bumpkin’ kind of town. We have world-renowned stores here. Our creative force is the best in the world. We have that on our back as far as people doubting us. Some of the most creative people hail from Chicago; we’re getting our fair share.
TCM: We’ve noticed celebrities, Lebron James, SZA and Quavo Migos wearing brands from Fat Tiger. Who are some other high-profile folks rocking your gear?
Rella: Chance wears our stuff. Vic Mensa and Taylor Bennett—some of everybody—even artists in other cities. We have a real story. Nobody gave us anything. All of us came up and hustled to be able to have a store.
TCM: What is some of the advice you can share with other aspiring designers and entrepreneurs seeking to make it in the business?
Rella: Person-to-person interaction is everything. Get out here; you are your spokesperson. You have to make those genuine conversations with people. People don’t want to put themselves out here to sacrifice for their business and their brand. They want it given to them, and you can’t do that. You want this to be successful?
You have to get out and get it and believe in yourself. It’s okay if it doesn’t work out. If you want to do it, you have to try to do it. Many people give up on their first try. I’m where I’m am because I didn’t give up. I ran somebody else’s business for ten years before I ran my own. Sometimes you have to follow to lead.
Check out Fat Tiger Workshop online: www.fattigerworkshop.com
Location: 836 N. Milwaukee Ave. | Chicago, IL 60642