Retail in the Era of COVID-19: How Millennial Entrepreneurs Are Helping Communities Recover

Communities are struggling. Millennials are responding. It’s the action most needed right now, and consumers are taking notice.

Written by Sarah Morrison

COVID-19 has swiftly dealt the world a major economic blow, the likes of which has not been seen in our lifetime. Since late March 2020, when stay-at-home measures were first enacted to help slow the spread, Americans anxiously looked on as local businesses began shuttering their doors, grinding much economic activity to a halt, and altering entire livelihoods in turn.

As sectors like restaurants and hospitality continue to tread water amidst state-mandated closures and low consumer confidence, millions of American workers in these industries must also contend with the reality of evaporating income streams. It’s one of the innumerable collateral consequences of COVID-19 — no doubt felt by individuals and businesses alike.

If the sheer volume of COVID-19 relief campaigns is not indicative of the high human cost of this crisis, the 2.7 million people who filed for unemployment last week certainly makes the case. Countless businesses, now unable to fully employ their employee base, have turned to relief campaigns to affect financial relief for displaced workers; some, through grassroots sites, like GoFundMe or *spotfund; others, through more established charities or nonprofit organizations.

Answering the call of these impacted communities is a growing class of entrepreneurs as socially responsible as they are social media-savvy. In the span of just a few short weeks, these millennial-favorite brands and personalities took on a greater purpose in the face of global economic uncertainty, transforming their businesses into forces for social good, for those who needed it most. Here are the select few must-know entrepreneurs—and their buzzworthy brainchildren—daring us to rethink retail in the era of COVID-19.

This T-Shirt

New York-based creative agency, DS Projects, has teamed up with Today Show digital host, Samah Dada, and Australian art director, Josh Greenstein, among others, to launch This T-Shirt: a merchandise relief campaign benefiting restaurant and hospitality workers displaced due to COVID-19. The charitable e-commerce site, originally limited to custom t-shirts and tote bags, has recently expanded into the lifestyle sector, now offering a small selection of home goods, like candles, wine, and olive oil. Through their partnership with ROAR (Relief Opportunities for All Restaurants), a charitable organization supporting impacted restaurant workers, This T-Shirt will donate 100% of all proceeds from product sales to ROAR restaurant partners, which will then be evenly distributed to individual workers at each establishment.

Relief With Love

Started by Maggie Gavilan, Rachel Dienstag and
Samantha Kravietz, Relief With Love is a nonprofit merchandise initiative providing meals from New York City restaurants to healthcare workers on the front lines. The organization is offering a curated collection of custom beaded bracelets and sustainable tote bags wherein 100% of proceeds will go towards supporting restaurants partnered with HOSPITAL-ity Group: a grassroots COVID-19 relief fund affiliated with Relief With Love.

According to Relief With Love’s Instagram page, the organization is working with restaurants like The Village Den and Joe’s Pizza, and has recently partnered with the Rickey Sisters on a custom bracelet style, still available for purchase on Relief With Love’s website. As of this month, Relief With Love has already raised over $30,000 in merchandise sales and direct donations to support NYC restaurants and frontline workers.

Mrs. Dow Jones

Branded by The Wall Street Journal as the “Financial Guru Millennials Listen To,” Haley Sacks, better known as Mrs. Dow Jones, has quickly amassed a media empire from her popular platform @MrsDowJones, a whip-smart, financial meme account created for the discerning millennial set. In response to the crisis, Sacks has pledged to donate 100% of all proceeds from her online shop to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. The fund is working to provide resources to the city’s heavily impacted communities, such as hourly workers, local businesses, and low-income families, to ensure they stay afloat during the crisis. 

Lingua Franca

Lingua Franca, the specialty apparel brand founded by Rachelle Hruska MacPherson, has raised over $45,000 for COVID-19 relief through sales of their custom hand-embroidered cashmere sweaters. On April 1, the brand launched its ‘I Heart NY’ collection, pledging to donate 20% of all proceeds to a different New York City charity of choice each week. As part of this campaign, Lingua Franca partnered with ROAR (Relief Opportunities For All Restaurants) on a social media challenge, encouraging the Instagram community to share a favorite ‘NYC restaurant moment,’ and to tag both #TooSmallToFail and @ROAR in their posts.

What’s more, Lingua Franca has pledged to donate $100 to ROAR with each sale of their ‘Too Small To Fail’ cashmere sweater. As of today, the style remains available for pre-order on Lingua Franca’s website.

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