Merch4Relief sells branded merch on behalf of restaurants and donates the profits to artists
Merch4Relief is a not-for-profit LLC e-commerce store selling restaurant-branded t-shirts, sweatshirts, hats and other merch and donating the profits back to the designers and the restaurants themselves – enabling them to support their workers during Covid-19.
Massachusetts-based co-founder Vincent D’Angelo launched the service on March 27, 2020 and has since created merch for and generated $185,000 on behalf of over 50 restaurants and supporting charities throughout the country.
Merch4Relief launched as a grassroots organization with a mission that’s close to its founders’ heart.
“We’re a small team doing this in our spare time,” says D’Angelo. “We all came from working in hospitality. Every single person involved has at some point worked in a restaurant, managed a restaurant, or run a restaurant.”
Merch4Relief – How It Works
The Merch4Relief program works like this:
A restaurant submits its logo and/or branded artwork to Merch4Relief, which then creates a t-shirt and/or sweatshirt design and posts the item to Merch4Relief’s online store. The restaurant (or anyone else) can then promote the item on their social channels. Customers and fans can then purchase the bespoke merchandise and it is shipped to their door.
If the restaurant does not have its own graphic design, Merch4Relief aligns the restaurant with one its many designers who will make a custom graphic Tee or sweatshirt for them.
After the sale, Merch4Relief donates 95% of the profits back to the restaurant. The remaining 5% goes to the artist who designed the merchandise, if applicable, or to One Fair Wage Service Worker Emergency Fund charity if the restaurant submits its own design.
Creating Merch, Supporting Artists
A key aspect is that all of the merchandise is designed by artists who are otherwise out of work.
“Many of our designers work in the restaurant industry themselves,” says D’Angelo. “A lot of the artists that we have on here would be unemployed otherwise.”
“It’s giving the artists a vessel to use their creative talents,” adds D’Angelo. “So, they’re not just a server. They’re an artist on the side, and now they’re getting to display all their cool artwork.”
Supporting Small Business
In addition to the restaurants and the artists the program is also supporting another small business.
“One of my good friends is based in the Boston area. He owns a small to medium-sized print shop. They have about six employees. The majority of their work is printing merch for concerts, sporting events and all of these things that are not happening because of Covid-19.
So they were facing having to layoff their entire staff without any work coming in the door. So, we basically put our heads together and said, ‘Hey, wait, why don’t we try to merge these two causes together’.” Says D’Angelo
Growing Demand and Growing Pains
So far Merch4Relief is active in Boston, Chicago, LA, NY, Philly, Portland, Seattle, and San Fran, and is growing rapidly.
Word of mouth growth is expanding quickly as new restaurants and new artists climb on board.
“We pretty much wake up every morning to an inbox full of people reaching out to see how they can be a part of the project,” says D’Angelo.
Scaling the operation, designing the art and fulfilling the orders is quickly becoming a full-time endeavor.
“We have a little bit of a backlog for some places, so we’re not able to say yes to everybody right away,” says D’Angelo.
The influx of new restaurants going the program is also keeping the artists very busy.
“When we send a new request over to an artist, they might be working on three or four different designs at that particular time. So, we’re just trying to queue everybody up in line accordingly,” says D’Angelo.
Another aspect is the turnaround time for placed orders. As a startup, non-profit Merch4Relief is taking orders on a rolling basis and managing inventory conservatively.
“It’s basically a rolling pre-order,” says D’Angelo. “When we launch a product, it’ll be live for about a week and a half. And then at the end of that week and a half, we tally the total amount of sales. Then our printer will place the order for the blank shirts, do the screen printing and fulfill them.”
Don’t You Forget About Me
Karim Raoul of Raoul’s Restaurant Francais in SoHo, New York City is justifiably concerned about the economic hangover of Covid-19, even after cities re-open for business.
Creating a Tee-shirt and a sweatshirt with Merch4Relief acted as a means to give back to the staff, engage with its customers and keep Raoul’s top of mind for its past and future patrons.
“There’s a lot of restaurants who feel they’re out of the psyche of the city and the people. How are you going to stay in people’s minds? It’s a great way to remind people that these places are still there. You don’t want to be forgotten,” says Raoul.
“The program is a great idea. It’s a cool a limited edition thing. The artists get tagged as well as those who donate. It’s cool a way of advertising,” he added.
Raoul’s has long been a bastion of art culture in New York City. In an ode to its role as a SoHo gathering spot during the heady days of NYC’s bohemian art scene of 1960s and 1970s, they drew inspiration for their design t-shirt from Andy Warhol.
“We were thinking of the Warhol Campbell Soup Can, so we gave them the image of our Au Pouivre sauce. It’s called “Poivre For Days.” It came out great,” says Raoul.
Working with Big Name Artists
Currently the squad of artists creating designs for Merch4Relief are friends of friends that are pursuing their art careers while working in restaurants to pay the bills. When asked if Merch4Relief has plans to work with high profile artists, D’Angelo said that would be amazing if the opportunity arose.
“That’s something we definitely would consider. Right now, I think every single artist that we do partner with is currently part of the restaurant industry or was in the past. I could see a scenario where we could work with a big artist as a standalone and donate 100% of those profits to the charity.”
For more information please visit Merch4Relief.com and spread the word to your favorite local restaurant. What better way to support your local? If you can’t eat their food now, you can at least rock their logo.
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James C. Sullivan is a guitarist, singer and long-time journalist having worked at publications including Snowboarder Magazine and USA Today. He recently returned to his roots in New England after a decade in California because cold winters and cloudy days inspire more creativity.