Between encouraging you to “Believe Women” and reminding you that “Good People Disobey Bad Laws,” Vanessa Toro wants you to do better. She wants you to be an intersectional feminist, and know that you’re problematic. (We all are, but we can work on it.) Toro thinks you should have your senator on speed dial, and she encourages the Latinx community to wear their pride on their T-shirts. Rabble and Rouse is her to-the-point line of political apparel, and in a market that’s increasingly saturated with opportunistic corporate co-opting, Toro’s tees are the real deal.
The brand’s mission centers on the idea that “what you see, you think. What you think, you become.” And Rabble and Rouse acts on its ideals, too: 20 percent of its profits go to a rotating roster of nonprofits, including ChopArt, a multidisciplinary art program for homeless youth; Access Reproductive Care Southeast, and New American Pathways, a resettlement program for refugees. The latter was the beneficiary of all sales of R&R’s Immigrant tees.
Apart from knowing a purchase can do some good, comfort and design add extra appeal for Rabble and Rouse. No “tacky, terrible font, or boxy” statement shirts here; the feel is soft (tri-blend coziness), and the look is sleek. Colombia-born Toro is an artist, currently VP of creative design at a high-profile advertising agency in Atlanta.
“One of my biggest pet peeves is protest shirts or any kind of statement tees just being like tacky, terrible font, or boxy. None of them are actually good-looking,” she tells me.
Since launching R&R with her partner in the fall of 2015, the landscape has changed for clothing like theirs, and Toro has evolved the line along with the times. Always at the root, though, is the phrase with which she started: Give All the Damns, sparked in response to the onset of “giving zero fucks.”
“I’m not seeing it as much right now, but certainly three, four years ago, was this give zero fucks, I give no fucks. Look at this empty field of fucks. I’m like, why are people so proud about not caring?” she says. “What is so great about not being invested? Not having skin in the game? To me, it just seems like a privileged, asshole-y kind of thing.”
“I’m flawed as fuck, but I’m going to try every day to be a better person than I was yesterday.”
Dismissing judgment about not meeting society’s norms is one thing, she adds, but generally, people should care – about politics, about social issues, about the good (or bad) they’re doing in the world. A shirt emblazoned with Do Better – her life philosophy – followed after.
“I kept finding myself saying that to everything… I hold myself to that. Everyday I get up with that in mind: I’m not perfect, nobody is. I’m flawed as fuck, but I’m going to try every day to be a better person than I was yesterday,” she says. “I’m not in competition with anybody other than Vanessa Toro.”
This year marks a decade since she relocated to the so-called Capital of the South from NYC, and Toro remembers falling in love with the city within the first few years. The art world there was “grimey” and cutthroat; Atlanta felt welcoming. Coming from the duality of living in Colombia until she was 5, then living in Providence, Rhode Island, and going back to Colombia regularly, for the first time in her life, Toro felt at home in the ” city of transplants.”
“I grew up working class, kind of poor, and also grew up in South America. So I have a very limited and interesting view of what it means to be Latina or Black or these things, and Atlanta upended that,” she says. “To see people of color in rural areas, that’s just not something in the north, right? Like, people of color stick to the city by design but also by choice. You would never think of going to the country; it’s like, that’s not for us. But here … you can find anything, anywhere.”
Toro makes note that areas outside the city, though, do make her “feel some kind of way.” Atlanta is the “little blue bubble” in a red state with a history of racism, after all. But Georgia is also one of the top 10 US states with the largest Latinx populations, and growing – representing and celebrating that is also part of Toro’s mission.
“Bilingualism is just a part of my everyday; I didn’t learn English until I was like 5,” she says. “Being in the south, there’s just an interesting additional layer… It’s not like being in LA or Chicago, where you see Chicano culture or whatever. Here, I just don’t ever see anything that’s mine, and definitely not Colombian.”
So Toro unveiled a shirt bearing a phrase to explicitly address that: Berraca. “That’s a distinctly Colombian word. That’s not something you’re going to hear—you might hear it in other places, but it might mean something else,” she laughs. “It’s kind of like chingona; it’s basically like a bad bitch: a tough, confident person.”
In R&R’s Cultura line, there’s a chingona shirt too, plus Frida Taught Me (a personal hero since she was 14, Toro says), a stand against gentrification and ICE (el Barrio se Defiende), and one that’s fitted specifically for her new southern home: Hola, Y’all.