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This T-Shirt restaurant fundraiser
Photograph: Courtesy This T-Shirt

These T-shirts are trying to save your favorite restaurants

Buy a tee, save a restaurant.

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Buying merch is always a great way to support your favorite local restaurants and bars, but you've got to admit: There's never been a better time to buy restaurant merch that also encourages people to stay the f*ck home.

The This T-Shirt initiative recently sprouted out of a pint-sized NYC creative agency, and now that message is spreading—and it's spreading 100 percent of the proceeds to a new batch of restaurants across the country every two weeks.

“When the crazy was just sort of starting, a lot of our projects were put on pause,” says Cassandra Aaron, a designer and strategy lead at DS Projects. “We wanted to figure out what we could do whilst all of this was going on and basically put our marketing skills to use.” 

The answer? Pivot their ad and creative agency into an apparel company—without any experience in the fashion field—and support mom-and-pop restaurants struggling through the shutdown. The design work is stylish and it gets the point across: Block text reads, "BOUGHT THIS T-SHIRT AND STAYED THE F*** HOME," complete with a logo or illustration from a rotating cast of indie restaurants.

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The project launched in late March, and it's already grown its own grassroots ecosystem: Shoppers order the shirts for their favorite participating restaurants at $40; the orders help sustain an American clothing manufacturer; all remaining funds get sent to the restaurants; these restaurants help spread the word for the project and often recommend other local restaurants for This T-Shirt to feature; the process begins again.

Each collection runs for roughly two weeks. There's no cap on the amount of shirts produced, but there is a cap on time, which creates a cycle for marketing and allows the next batch of establishments to benefit. The funds get pooled post-manufacturing (without DS Projects taking any sort of cut), then they're split evenly between the restaurants in each drop.

“We wanted to provide relief incrementally and quickly,” says Aaron, who weighed sending the proceeds to a centralized organization, but decided to keep This T-Shirt direct. “It was really important to us to help now, and to do and control what we can.”

The first collection raised just over $63,000, while within a few hours of launching the second collection, they’d raised $7,000—and it isn't just the donation rate that's growing. During the first round of shirts, restaurants from New York and Los Angeles benefited from the initiative; now, in its second collection, there are spots represented in Chicago, Honolulu, L.A., Miami, Nashville, NYC, Portland, San Francisco and Toronto. 

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You might spot famous institutions on these limited-run shirts—such as L.A.'s century-old historic food hall, Grand Central Market—or smaller, up-and-coming names such as Miami's lauded Palmar. And for those who aren't partial to any of the current restaurants in rotation (we get it, you can't play favorites), there's a tee that donates to Feeding People; a Frontline Foods donation option via the “NOT YOUR CUP OF TEE?" button on the homepage; and a hot new collab with fundraising fashion house KROST.

“Other initiatives have actually reached out to figure out what the secret sauce is, and it doesn’t feel like this weird competitive agency environment that we’re usually a part of," Aaron says. Everyone’s trying to help, everyone’s trying to do their part, and there’s been a lot of love, a lot of positivity. It’s been great.”

You can buy This T-Shirt apparel online, with tees priced at $40 each and hats at $30. Want to feature your restaurant? Email thistshirt@dsprojects.com to request involvement.

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