Creatives raise tens of thousands of dollars for COVID-19 relief with custom merchandise
The coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 50,000 lives in the U.S. and continues to shutter businesses across the country. But amid the crisis, creatives are rising to the challenge to help others in need.
Besides donating masks and spreading creative messages of social distancing, some agencies are designing and selling custom merchandise that have and raised tens of thousands of dollars to support businesses and Americans heavily affected by the crisis.
Dylan Hattem is founder and CEO of DS Projects, a digital agency he started when he left the ad tech world three years ago. In between doing work for clients like Adidas, Airbnb and Budweiser, Hattem has launched the COVID-19 Merch Initiative, a fundraiser that gives 100 percent of the proceeds from custom merchandise to local restaurants and restaurant groups across 20 U.S. states.
So far, sales are just shy of $90,000. “With the shared challenges felt across the board, togetherness and support has never been more important,” says Hattem.
Hattem began the effort in March by selling one comical T-shirt that read: “Bought this T-shirt and stayed the fuck home.” It sold online for $40 and Hattem promoted the work on LinkedIn and Instagram at its own account @buythistshirt. In six days, the shirt sale had raised $40,000. In three weeks, it raised $63,000.
Hattem than began to partner with favorite local eateries in cities across the U.S. like Hattie B's in Nashville, The Flower Shop in New York, Grant Central Market in Los Angeles and Broad Street Oyster Co. in Malibu to sell custom shirts with their logos on the back and the original statement on the front. There are now 18 different restaurant T-shirts on sale for $40 each at thist-shirt.com. Hattem is using small, independent manufacturers on the East Coast to produce the shirts.
Hattem's initiative continues to add more partners. A special T-shirt has been created for organization Feeding People, which provides meals to healthcare professionals in New York City; retailer Krost has created $30 custom hats to raise money for the restaurant fund; and the Food Bank of New York and vintage apparel retailer The Vintage Twin is donating 10 percent of its proceeds to the effort.
Restaurants were a logical choice for the initiative considering that more than 8 million of their employees have been laid off or furloughed, according to the National Restaurant Association's COVID-19 impact survey released on Monday. The survey interviewed more than 6,500 restaurant operators and concluded that the industry is expected to lose $80 billion in sales by the end of April. Local family-owned eateries, which make up so much of the culture of neighborhoods, are in danger of closing. According to the National Restaurant Association, four in 10 restaurants have closed already.
Another similar initiative from three R/GA staffers supports all types of small businesses, especially brick-and-mortar stores that have had to close during the pandemic. R/GA Senior Copywriter Chloe Saintlan and Associate Creative Directors Zack Roif and Matt Woodward started Merch Aid, in which designers and artists work with New York City businesses to create merchandise to sell on a Merch Aid site.
Matching T-shirts for $25 and tote bags for $20 are sold online at getmerchaid.com and represent New York City gems like Harlem Doogie Day Spa and Astoria Bookshop.
After two weeks, the effort has brought in more than $45,000, distributed among 12 small businesses. It’s recent collaboration with the city's Punjabi Deli and artist Matt Starr sold out in three hours.
“The impact Merch Aid is already making has blown our mind,” says Roif, who adds that the site is seeing hundreds of requests from designers and businesses and a 32 percent purchase rate. He says expansion is planned into two new markets: Los Angeles and Austin.
Roif says the team decided to focus vital community shops that are often overlooked. “Many places like dry cleaners, nail salons, hairdressers, flower shops, gyms, bodegas and delis are also shuttering and they lack the community, resources and networks of some of the trendier, more conventionally ‘hip’ places that are more socially savvy.”
More creatives have launched their own merchandise in the past few weeks to raise funds for causes affected by COVID-19. Freelance graphic designer Malcom DeCosta is selling T-shirts, hoodies, phone cases and even socks printed with “Coro-no-virus” on his website Malcolm Designs. They range in price from $14.99 to $44.99, with 50 percent of the proceeds going to the CDC Foundation.
Trevor Kinkade, another freelance graphic designer, is selling T-shirts, mugs, posters and stickers that represent all 50 U.S. states on his website Trevor Kinkade Design. From the $4.50 stickers to the $25 shirts, all proceeds are going toward Feeding America.