Randi Gloss, then 22, pored over the stack of colorful handwritten signs that would soon be carried by foot, almost 1.6 miles, at the August 2013 March on Washington. The 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech was in just a few days, and around her, mentees of a friend's after-school program busily sketched their own designs.
She paused, re-reading the words she scrawled vertically down the sign in front of her: "Emmitt [sic] & Amadou & Sean & Oscar & Trayvon. More than just black faces in tragic places."
"That hit me in the chest when I did that," Randi said, knowing this sign had to be hers. She had no way of knowing, however, that one year later, this sign's straight-forward design would be the backbone of her future GLOSSRAGS clothing label.
She said, "It was a very simple way to address a complex issue - that issue being about black violence, whether initiated by a police officer or an individual."
A few days after the sign writing, Randi began the march with her mother, her friend Malcolm and his mentees. Immediately, she realized she was on to something. "Every 10 feet or so, I was getting stopped for folks to take pictures of the sign," she said. "I think [the design] grabbed people's attention because it wasn't something new. It's not a fad. It's really happening, and it's been happening."
As soon as she got home, she grabbed an orange Post-it and sketched out a T-shirt design.
"That's always been a part of me - that creativity aspect," Randi said, reflecting on the moment a few years later. "I was no Picasso, but I could sketch out a T-shirt."
Randi reached out to her mentor, Peter Chang, with her proposal. After figuring out a rough business model, Peter gave Randi $500 to start GLOSSRAGS, the clothing label that would house her shirt design, now called "And Counting."
In April 2014, Randi debuted her tees (black unisex cuts with white writing) at the Broccoli City Fest. At the end of the day, she sold half her inventory. Six months later, the "And Counting" shirt was bought 500 times in more than 25 states. In that time, the number of listed names has also swelled - from 6 to 17.
Now, what keeps Randi going is the shirts' ability to raise awareness about the issue. "There's a big general lack of knowledge, so any conversation is a productive conversation," she said.
Recently, a student reached out to Randi through Instagram, sharing what happened when he wore his "And Counting" shirt. A man approached the student and asked, "Are you going to be next?"
"The man thought they were basketball players," Randi explained. "There's a large demographic that doesn't know what's going on, and there's a large portion that do know some of the names but not all of them."
Randi understood she needed to tell more of these stories, and she joined The Millenial Trains Project to take the next step. The nonprofit guides young entrepreneurs on a literal train ride across the country, where they can spread their message through grassroots efforts at each stop. Randi invited individuals from Los Angeles, Austin, San Antonio, New Orleans, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. to come forward, so she could record their stories about what it means to be black in today's society.
The collected stories will be released later this year as weekly web series The Conscious Chronicles.
Maintaining GLOSSRAGS at her home base of Washington, D.C. is no easy feat, especially as the company grows from shirt selling to nationwide storytelling. But Randi finds the positivity in watching young people take part in the movement. "That gives me hope because they're not backing down," she said. It lets them know we have a long fight to continue engaging with, but we're not going to go quietly."