With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are sheltering in place while unemployment spikes and businesses are struggling to stay afloat. For local businesses, life is especially hard. Thankfully, people want to help.
The global agency R/GA launched Merch Aid to connect prominent designers and businesses, especially those without logos and brands. Designers create custom illustrations and Merch Aid places them on t-shirts, tote bags and prints, and sells them online. All of the profits go back to the local business to assist with overhead costs and staff compensation while they’re closed.
It’s a hit. They’ve raised over $140k for businesses in NYC — and they’re expanding to the Austin and LA markets in May.
Pairing famous designers with local businesses
Merch Aid focuses on supporting businesses from different boroughs and industries, especially those that are falling through the cracks of government aid. They’re connecting designers with magazine newsstands and cinemas, barbershops and dry cleaners.
“We started this initiative because we saw our city struggling and so many people’s daily lives drastically change. It has been such a bright spot to be able to provide an outlet to business owners and designers during this time. We’ve been overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response from people wanting to get involved, and can’t make plans fast enough!”
– Alexa McClanahan, producer
Jeff Close + La Morada in the South Bronx
Sara Meadows + Keg & Lantern Brewing Co. in Greenpoint
Gabi Lamontagne + Black Seed Bagels in Nolita
Matt Wiley/Bill Bragg + Casa Magazines in the West Village
Matt Starr + Punjabi Deli in the East Village
Felicia Liang + Jing Fong in Chinatown
Some collaborations sold out in hours. Several businesses have approached the designers that designed their merch to form lasting partnerships and continue to sell the designs after Merch Aid is no longer needed.
Building a website quickly when it matters most
The initial collection of partnerships benefitting local NYC businesses proved immensely successful. They were launching a new collaboration every day and building out FAQs, shipping details, and organizing volunteers. Almost 8,000 visits per month meant they needed something to handle high traffic. Then they decided to widen the project to include businesses in Austin and Los Angeles.
The team knew they needed a way to include more contributors to the website — it could no longer run with developers alone. R/GA switched over to Contentful to handle these demands. The agency continues to run the site for free, expanding their products to help more and more businesses.