There's a new way to help New York City restaurants and small businesses as they continue to struggle through the shutdown: literally wear your support on your sleeve.
Merch Aid, a project by R/GA—a design and marketing company based in New York—helps small businesses by teaming them up with artists to create exclusive merchandise. Merch Aid then puts the items up for sale on its website and gives 100% of the profits back to the businesses.
Local businesses that have worked with Merch Aid so far include, Astoria Bookshop, New Kam Hing Coffee Shop, Astor Place Hairstylists, Lighthouse, Harlem Doggie Day Spa, Metro Community Laundromat, Court Street Grocers, Magic Jewelry, Carmelo's, Sugar Hill Disco and others.
Recently, Black Seed Bagels teamed up with Gabi Lamontagne:
Nitehawk Cinema worked with Lauren Martin:
and Economy Candy collaborated with Zipeng Zhu:
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Zipeng Zhu x Economy Candy – "We have been around for over 80 years and plan to be around for at least another 80." Exclusive collaboration art prints now available online (frame not included) – 100% of profits directly support the business. Link in bio to purchase! . . . @zzdesign @economycandy #merchaid
Merch Aid runs the merch in collections and takes pre-orders so that it doesn’t keep extra inventory on hand that may not sell. That helps increase the profit margin, and therefore contributions to the businesses, co-founders Zack Roif and Chloe Saintilan, and producer Alexa McClanahan, say.
For most collections, Merch Aid releases include 10-12 collaborations, depending on how many businesses and designers they get on board and how many designs they get in time.
Each item, which is either a T-shirt or an art print, is set at $25 so that people can get merch by leading artists at an accessible price point So far, the entire project has raised almost $200,000 through several dozen partnerships between businesses and artists. It also recently expanded to Austin, Texas.
The initiative first started back when the shutdown was new and the fate of the city's small businesses was in question.
"We were devastated seeing our favorite local businesses being forced to close in response to COVID," Merch Aid said in a statement to Time Out. "While we saw an outpouring of support on social from locals wanting to help, for example, calling on others to buy gift cards, but we noticed that many small mom-and-pop shops didn’t have the background or resources to build an online retail presence to get them through this time, let alone be able to sell anything online. We saw an intersection between this need and what the creative community could do to support." Roif, Saintilan and McClanahan said they were surprised that "an incredible amount" of well-known artists and designers said yes right away.
And when George Floyd was killed in police custody at the end of May, Merch Aid and these designers pivoted to show solidarity and support for Black Lives Matter initiatives.
"We felt there was a role Merch Aid could play in getting donations to organizations on the ground," they said. Instead of launching the next business collection, they worked on a collection of partnerships between Black designers and nonprofit organizations supporting the Black community for a week.
"It’s run for a week, but in future collections we are definitely working to continue to support Black designers and Black-owned NYC businesses," they added. "The support has been enormous for this run of designs, and we think it’s really shined a light on an even bigger role Merch Aid can hopefully play in fundraising efforts outside of COVID. Merch aid is pandemic agnostic, and we’ve now seen the power it has fundraising for other causes as well."
For now, there's "a long way to go before NYC feels like itself again," they said. "And in general, this is a small thing we can do to help our community."
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