May 1, 2017

Social entrepreneur Randi Gloss honors her community through its painful past

'GLOSSRAGS stands up for truth, justice, and liberation within black communities'

Social entrepreneur Randi Gloss founded GLOSSRAGS in 2014. She uses the brand to create a conversation around race and social justice. Photo by Vitae Photography

Social entrepreneur Randi Gloss launched her design house GLOSSRAGS in 2014 with a simple idea: the names of six, young black men—targets of racially motivated killings—printed on a T-shirt: “Emmett & Amadou & Sean & Oscar & Trayvon & Jordan & …” The T-shirts sold out quickly, people were talking, and a business was born.

The idea for the first shirt came from a poster Gloss created for the 50th anniversary for the March on Washington. Soon, she was creating T-shirts with more names on them, adding to the list: Eric, Tamir, Freddie. And the list goes on.

“This shirt, this living memorial, was something people were willing to bear upon their backs to keep from forgetting the lives that were taken too soon and the work that still needs to be done to create equality within the world we live in,” she wrote on GLOSSRAG’s website.

The shirt, part of the “And Counting” series, is on its ninth iteration with one version listing the names of young black women who have been victims of hate violence. She also has a “Stay Woke” collection which challenges wearers to be true to themselves, and another called “Four Darlings” which is a remembrance of the four little girls who were killed in the civil rights era Birmingham church bombing.

This year, the 26-year-old creator is launching the nonprofit GLOSSRAGS Goes Beyond. The organization will focus on working with underserved communities that have been the setting of violent tragedy and subsequent protests.

Follow GLOSSRAGS on Twitter @GLOSSRAGS, Instagram @RandiGloss, and Facebook.

This questionnaire has been edited for length and clarity.

Describe your community:

GLOSSRAGS stands up for truth, justice, and liberation within black communities. We recognize that women of color entrepreneurs, college students, and other folks have their eyes on us so we’re working to empower and inspire those communities too.

When did you start your community work?

I think my mother planted the seed of serving others within me from childhood. I remember not only going gathering gifts for Operation Christmas Child at church but also going to deliver gifts and spend time with a family one Christmas. God calls us to serve each other so I think that gaining the humility of knowing that I am blessed to have the type of life that I do and seeing others who have less really shaped me.

What inspired you to do this work?

Knowing my people’s history is so important. My parents would take my brother and I on field trips to civil rights museums before we were 10, and I remember watching the “Eyes on the Prize” series before hitting middle school. I knew what slavery was by the time I was five because I had the Addy American Girl doll. Our history, black history, but really American history hasn’t been an easy one. It’s a continual journey of survival, struggle, success—almost like a cycle. I saw those cycles reoccurring throughout my lifetime and eventually decided that I could do something about it.

I won’t apologize for being black and proud, or for creating goods that help others feel the same, and calling attention to our struggles.

In 2013, there were a lot of parallels being made about Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till. At the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington that August, I carried a sign with the first five names of the brothers memorialized on the “And Counting” collection on it. There were so many stares and people stopping me, asking to take a picture of the sign. When I got home, I thought about how the sign could be more. A few months later, in April 2014, GLOSSRAGS was born.

Gloss first created the “And Counting” series for a sign she carried during the 50th anniversary of the March in Washington. Since then, she has made it a signature piece in her GLOSSRAGS collection. Photo by Othello Banaci

What ways are you helping to make your community thrive?

Staying unapologetically black. I won’t apologize for being black and proud, or for creating goods that help others feel the same, and calling attention to our struggles.

What do you love about your community?

I love our creativity and our resilience. We create while we’re up. We create while we’re down. We create while we’re oppressed. There’s no stopping that.

What’s one thing you want outsiders to know about your community?

I hate that this still needs to be said but Blackness isn’t a monolith. There isn’t one way to “be black.” Being black doesn’t sound the same way, look the same way, act the same way so throw your stereotypes out the door.

What leader or leaders inspired you?

There are so many! Angela Davis, Diane Nash, John Lewis, bell hooks, Dr. King—I can hardly pick! I also think about people who inspire me like one of my mentors, Joe Freshgoods. He’s about to open the third iteration of his clothing shop, which is really much more than just a clothing shop, it’s a community center, a safe space, a place where a lot of different people come together and dope things go down.

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers

Margaret Myers is the editor of The Renewal Project.