New Balance’s ‘Conversations Amongst Us’ campaign celebrates the ways we engage and communicate in the Black community

OPINION: Chicago-based designer Joe Freshgoods and New Balance’s the Black Soles created a line that celebrates Black traditions in unique ways.

Kawhi Leonard in a video for New Balance's "Conversations Amongst Us" campaign. (Screenshot/YouTube)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Unless you’re a sneakerhead or into urban fashion stylings, you might not be aware that New Balance has been killing the collaboration game over the past few years. Collaborations with Casablanca, JJJJound and Bodega have been the rage for enthusiasts, but the Aimé Leon Dore (Teddy Santis, ALD’s founder, is now the creative director of New Balance’s Made In USA subdivision) and Joe Freshgoods’ collaborations have been making all the noise. And in the case of Joe Freshgoods, that volume isn’t coming down. 

In March, Freshgoods (real name Joe Robinson) was named the creative director of New Balance’s “Conversations Amongst Us” (CUA) campaign, which, according to New Balance’s website, “looks to the natural conversations, verbal and non-verbal, happening in the Black community as a way to connect, reflect, and express shared thoughts and experiences.” Together with the Black Soles—an employee-led New Balance community focused on increasing representation and amplifying Black voices inside the company and throughout the footwear industry and, in particular, Kevin Trotman and Jordan Johnson for the CUA initiative—they created both apparel and shoe items (a 550, 574, 2002R and a Kawhi Signature 2) that speak directly to that concept in styling, materials and presentation.

The presentation in particular is my jam. Why do I say this? Well because they dropped two separate marketing videos that speak to two innately Black everyday occurrences—“the nod,” an exchange between Black men as a marker and indicator of respect and acknowledgement and the way Black women big one another up in the most sincere, esteem-lifting manner of support and encouragement. The videos are titled “The Nod” and “Nails.” 

Let’s start with “The Nod,” a video featuring Joe Freshgoods and NBA superstar and New Balance signee, Kawhi Leonard. Joe walks into an office of sorts where Kawhi is already sitting waiting. Joe and Kawhi recognize one another but without even saying a word have an entire conversation about the drip they’re both…dripping in—Joe in his NB 550s and Kawhi in his KAWHI Signature 2. 

Real talk, and my sneaker folks (especially) can feel me because this is a real conversation that I’ve definitely had with various individuals in certain spaces JUST because of the mutual shared respect because of the kicks we both had on. It’s also VERY Black. I honestly have no idea if white people (who didn’t come up around Black people) do this and frankly, I’m fine if they don’t. 

I love the fact that a nod, in various angles and degrees of neck moving, can elicit so much non-verbal conversation. Like most things in life, I blame slavery and white supremacy for creating the need for Black folks to have to perfect non-verbal conversation. It’s the reason why I can shoot a look at my kids that speaks so many volumes, they might stop talking. Salute to the culture. I love it; also, I specifically love that a white woman came in and couldn’t pronounce Kawhi’s name especially because he’s one of the most famous and popular players in the NBA. But I do wonder if non-basketball fans would know who he was; is Kawhi Black famous? A question for Michael Harriot. Moving on.

The second video, “Nails,” features actresses Storm Reid, Shay Lewis and Cassie Osuji in the restroom. According to New Balance: “To many, it may just be a pit stop in the day, but for Black women, it’s a sanctuary. An extension of the beauty shop, where women can come together and reveal the innermost parts of themselves and uplift one another in the process. Whether it’s admiring her poppin’ nails or her fly fit, sharing what her stylist did with her flawless knotless braids, or simply a welcoming smile. The restroom is often the place where women remind each other that they are that girl.”

Storm and Cassie are talking when Shay comes in lookin’ but ultimately is curious about Storm’s nails. They all can appreciate the outfits they have on and make sure to let each other know. That conversation where you hear and see Black women making sure others feel seen and acknowledged is one that lives out each day on social media. It’s nothing to see a Black woman post a picture of herself and then see a litany of comments letting her know just how many different types of ways she’s absolutely killing the game and the social media. It’s quite fantastical to see; it’s not uncommon to see men talk and wonder why we (Black men) don’t do this to one another. This video? Nailed it. Pun intended. 

What I love most about this series, aside from the actual releases, is the campaign being creatively directed, put together and represented by Black people, talking about something innate to our culture that feels genuine. The conversations we have in our community being used as a means for inclusion in the shoe-and-apparel game isn’t an easy task to pull off, but when you have truly creative Black folks at the helm, you get a solid product. 

Salute to Joe Freshgoods, the Black Soles and everybody involved. The “Conversations Amongst Us” capsule releases today, April 15, on New Balance and retail partners.

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).

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