R/GA supports local businesses with Merch Aid

May 14, 2020


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 

Designer Hamish Smyth, for example, created a design for Harlem Doggie Day Spa. Famed Debbie Millman created one for Astoria Bookshop in Queens. Other collaborations have included:

  • 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.

You can help too

Buy some merch yourself on Merch Aid, build your own response site or build one for a business or non-profit organization in need. We’re in this together.

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