Innovation

With Every New Police Shooting, These T-Shirt Sales Skyrocket

by Nick Pachelli

July 12, 2016
Photo courtesy of GLOSSRAGS

In April of 2014, the first “And Counting” T-shirt from social activist brand GLOSSRAGS listed black men killed in recent police shootings: Emmett & Amadou & Sean & Oscar & Trayvon & Jordan. 

Today, Volume 9 lists Emmett & Medgar & James & Amadou & Sean & Oscar & Travyon & Jordan & Eric & Mike & Ezell & Akai & Tamir & Anthony & Walter & Freddie & Brendon &...

GLOSSRAGS founder Randi Gloss is about to add two more: Alton & Philando. 19 names in total. They’re running out of space.

The list grows, the Helvetica font shrinks—GLOSSRAGS has had to hold orders to update the list—and the function of the simple shirt, a wearable symbol of racial injustice in America, becomes even more complex.

Following the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, GLOSSRAGS shirt sales spiked by over 500%. This came as no surprise; Gloss’s company was inundated with orders after other high-profile events over the past two years such as the killing of Mike Brown in August of 2014; the grand jury declining to indict Derrin Wilson in November of 2014; and the Baltimore uprising over Freddie Gray’s death in April 2015. 

Last week’s events also reignited the trauma Gloss has experienced in years past. “I was exhausted,” she says. “I didn’t want to add any more names, and I couldn’t print one volume without having to bump up to the next one. It’s hard to describe the feeling…I feel so deeply when I’ve never met a person on my shirts. I’ve met their family members, but not the people themselves.”

Gloss created the “And Counting” shirt in 2014 with a nod to the Amsterdam-based graphic studio Experimental Jetset—remember the "John & Paul & Ringo & George" paean to the Beatles? The 25-year-old Northwestern grad instituted alternating volumes of the shirts—odd numbers for men, even for women—to honor both the brothers and sisters lost to police violence. As time went on, sheadded names to the shirts from subsequent shootings, while working odd jobs in Washington, D.C. Initially, critics targeted the company for profiting off tragedy, but Gloss countered through action, as she carried the dialogue surrounding each shooting beyond the national news cycle.

“First and foremost is forcing people to remember,” Gloss says. “Making people uncomfortable, too, because feelings drive people to action more than legislation will ever be able to. I want the shirts to elicit feelings and compel people to act.”

Keeping each name alive in the national consciousness and “fighting against amnesia,” are challenging feats when 569 people have been killed by police in the U.S. in 2016 alone and strikingly raw smartphone video may be desensitizing mass culture to violence against black people. 

“I want the shirts to elicit feelings and compel people to act.”

And with the growing canon of black lives lost, GLOSSRAGS is faced with the question of longevity—for how many more years will the company continue adding names? But despite the barriers, a headstrong Gloss remains committed to her work at the intersection of tragedy, activism, and commerce, producing an emotionally charged symbol of grief and protest that’s now embedded in the story of race and law enforcement in America.

The shirts currently sell for $35, and profits are going toward continued production—as well as the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, for which GLOSSRAGS is an ambassador. Gloss also hopes to start a GLOSSRAGS scholarship fund in the coming years.

On the future of the GLOSSRAGS brand as a whole, “Our efforts are focused on everyday black lives in America,” says Gloss. “You hear about the crime and drama, but not what it’s like being black everyday in this country. Anytime we are struggling or being marginalized, or even trivialized, there is a story that needs to be told. I want to be the voice for those narratives.” 

Gloss plans to continue her work as she moves to the West Coast this fall, while “And Counting” shirts will surely hold their place at rallies, protests, court hearings, and conversations across the country.  

For today, GLOSSRAGS looks to its next volume of the iconic shirt—a shirt that will be slightly different from its predecessors.

“I think Alton’s and Philando’s names will have to be on the back. Right now, the 17 names run the full length of the shirt and I still want people to be able to read it from a distance,” says Gloss. She recalls a sobering fact—the font on Volume I was equivalent in size to three names on Volume IX. 

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With Every New Police Shooting, These T-Shirt Sales Skyrocket