On the heels of the one year anniversary of Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, activists across the nation continue to rally against chronic police violence on unarmed black men, women, and children. As incidents of police brutality proliferate, one millennial is fighting to keep the victims’ names alive in the public consciousness, using style as her weapon of choice. Entrepreneur and activist Randi Gloss, a 24-year-old Washington D.C. native, is helping to mobilize the Black Lives Matter movement through her clothing line, GLOSSRAGS. Gloss’ “And Counting” series of t-shirts list the names of the black victims of police violence, bringing awareness through wearable activism.
“The shirt makes people uncomfortable,” Gloss tells The FADER over the phone. “ It almost immediately and definitively causes some sort of reaction. You’re going to get questions, people looking at you sideways, stares.” The shirts run around $25, the profits from which are put back into production, to continue what the GLOSSRAGS site calls "the fight against amnesia." "With over 3,000 “And Counting” shirts circulating in 47 states and six countries, GLOSSRAGS’ impact is growing in proportion to the resistance movements. “If you’re going to wear the shirt it’s a commitment,” Gloss says. “It’s a responsibility you take on by wearing it.” We spoke to Gloss about her brand’s mission, and why it’s important during this pivotal time in America.
Tell me about the beginnings of GLOSSRAGS and the “And Counting” shirts.
RANDI GLOSS: My friend Malcolm Clybourne hit me up one day and asked me did I want to make signs for the March on Washington’s 50th anniversary. I made a few signs and there was one that said, “Emmett & Amadou & Sean & Oscar & Trayvon. More than just black faces in tragic spaces.” When I wrote that, I was like, “Whoa.” I went to the march with my mom and every ten feet or so someone would me ask to stop to take a picture of the sign or I’d see a very visceral reaction [to it] on people’s faces. So when I got home I got a marker and a neon post-it note and sketched out a t-shirt with the names on it. In February 2014, I reached out to my mentor, an art exhibitionist, and I told him I needed $500 for 100 shirts and I’m like, “I really I think I’m onto something.” I started selling them on Instagram and at Broccoli City Fest with my best friend Nia Keturah, who also helped me to design the shirt in our pop-up “Revival Shop.” That was April 19th 2014. Of the 100 shirts I had, I sold 44 that day and went on to sell the rest of them by the end of May.
Why’d you choose to include the ellipses after the names?
I wanted to do something that was very thought out. I had originally ended it with a period after Trayvon but then I learned about Jordan Davis. I hit up one of my friends, a poet from Chicago and he asked me, “Why don’t you do an ellipses?” It made perfect sense so I went with that. It was wildly foreboding because we started with six names and in the beginning of September we went up to nine with Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Ezell Ford. Then we went up to 12 and now we’re up to 17 on the men’s shirts and ten on the women’s shirts and I thought that was kind of crazy.
Why do you have a seperate shirt for the men and for the women?
The #SaveOurSisters shirts are not set up to reinforce a gender binary. It’s a more efficient way to organize the list. Black men are being killed at a higher rate than the black women and it created an interesting way to compare. The ways in which black men and women are killed are different, so drawing those contrasts is worthwhile. We want people to get upset and be in the streets for Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, and Renisha McBride too. The only reason I knew about Rekia was because I went to school in Chicago and she died the same year as Trayvon but got basically no media coverage. Those discrepancies are concerning, and that’s what we are going for unity in the movement and putting the same amount of energy into the lives of these victims. I always feel like there’s more I could be doing, I’m definitely working hard.
When you started did you think the shirts would continue to be fill up with so many names?
I don’t think so. Going into it, I knew that this was very much a symbolic list. There were [and are] many people who lost their lives to [police] violence aside from these names. I think for me the most shocking thing is I made it through 2014 with two versions of the shirt, the original shirt and a Volume 2 and now I’m on Volume 8 and 9. The odd numbers are the men’s names and the even numbers are the women’s. So to be at nine now, it means in 2015 there has been at least one new person every month. I felt like I couldn’t keep up. That realization was really hard for me. I had a point where I did break down.
What are some of the emotions you experience when you have to add more names to the shirts?
They vary. I feel like I’m surrounded by death, in a sense. I deal with these names everyday, I’m touching the shirts, I’m looking at the names, I’m researching them. After Freddie Gray died, I’d signed up for a 10-mile race in Philadelphia and I hadn’t trained, I really wasn’t prepared, and I’m thinking, “What’s gonna get me through?” So I wore a dri-fit version of the shirt and got a 4x5 index card and I wrote, “& Freddie,” with his birth and death dates. I pinned it, just stared at it and started breaking down. My friend looks over as we were running the race and realizes that I’m crying. It was just really hard because I said, “I can’t keep up. I cannot keep up. Every time we turn around they keep killing us.”
One time I dreamt I was kneeling over Mike Brown’s body and I called the police and they arrested me on a crime I didn’t commit. I woke up and I was very startled so I texted Deray McKesson and asked, “Have you ever dreamt about them?” He said, “Often enough.” It was really striking; this is my job and this is my life and it is very consuming. It was like when you’re becoming fluent in another language you start dreaming in that language.
What’s your motivation in continuing to commemorate the victims, despite the emotional tax?
The desire to change how black people are treated in this country. The struggle of being black has such an entrenched history. From Civil Rights and the death of Emmett Till, we still have a lot of work to do. [“And Counting”] is a part of that work and calling people to have that conversation. A lot civil rights leaders were effective to a point, but you cannot legislate how a person thinks. This is not a formal legislation, it’s a piece of clothing, but it’s also much more than that. It’s a long and painful process, it’s challenging and sometimes it can even be violent, but this work requires change from all sides.