Back in April, actor Jake Gyllenhaal posted a video of himself doing a shirtless handstand. The clip—mostly rippling back muscles, abs, and a precious little gold chain—was the result of a social-media challenge from Spider-Man: Far From Home co-star Tom Holland, and quickly became one of early quarantine’s most prominent thirst traps. The abs were merely the bait, though. Ironically, the goal of the shirtless video, he told Niki Russ Federman, Russ & Daughters’s co-owner, was to highlight his shirt: a custom salmon tie-dye tee bearing the logo of legendary New York restaurant and deli Russ & Daughters. Now, months later, Gyllenhaal and Russ & Daughters have teamed up to bring his custom tie-dye tee to the masses—and raise money for independent restaurants in the process.
For the next month, 100% of the proceeds from the T-shirt will go to the Independent Restaurant Coalition, a newly formed lobbying group that advocates for federal and state support for small restaurants. “New York City will not be the same if our favorite restaurants go away,” Gyllenhaal said via a press release. “I can’t imagine our city without Russ & Daughters, just the same way countless small restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and distilleries across the country form the backbone of their own communities.” For Gyllenhaal, that treasured local haunt is Russ & Daughters—a restaurant he turns when he wants to send bagel and lox to his friends and family. “It’s the way that he shares his love with other people,” Russ Federman tells me. (The actor’s go-to order: “He loves our traditional gaspé nova. He also has a sweet tooth and he loves these chocolate-covered patties.”)
The T-shirt has been a coveted merch item ever since Gyllenhaal was first spotted in it about two years ago (He’s had the shirt so long his features an older version of the logo than the one on the T-shirt for sale). “Every time he would wear this in public, we would get flooded with emails and calls like, ‘Oh my god, can I buy one of those shirts? Do you make those shirts?’” she says. Russ Federman always demurred when these calls came. “We’re Russ & Daughters, we we do bagels and lox!” she protests. But when Russ Federman saw how much attention the handstand video got, she saw the T-shirt as an opportunity to do good and create money for the IRC. “I realized we should do this, we should make the shirt and put it out there,” she says. “Because I want the world, first of all, to understand how particularly dire the situation is for restaurants and what that means for our country and for everyone who is going to lose their neighborhood joint.” Plus: “Tie-dye’s hot!”
Over the last couple months, in the course of the pandemic and protests against racism and police brutality, merch has become a powerful fundraising tool. Supreme’s COVID-relief tee that featured a Takashi Murakami-designed box logo raised over $1 million. Brain Dead released tees and special-edition playing cards to raise the same figure for charities benefitting the Black Lives Matter movement. A whole cadre of designers—Fear of God, Noah, Awake, Union, Just Don, Pyer Moss, Off-White, and others—came together for a mega-branded T-shirt to raise money for George Floyd’s daughter, Gianna. An organization called Merch Aid sprung up in April to create exclusive prints and shirts to benefit independent New York businesses like Casa Magazines, Black Seed Bagels, and Win Son. The organization has since expanded to Austin, Texas, and also helped raise money for bail funds and Black Lives Matter.
The new Russ & Daughters T-shirt with Gyllenhaal is of a similar philanthropic spirit. In the face of a nearly unprecedented global pandemic that’s already forced beloved local restaurants to shutter, buying a tie-dye T-shirt is the lowest-effort way to combat the effects of coronavirus. “Our small business has seen so much—war and peace, booms and depressions—but we’ve never seen anything like this,” Russ Federman said in a press release. “The fallout from this virus is an unprecedented attack on every family-owned business like ours across the country.” A $40 Russ & Daughters T-shirt made in collaboration with Gyllenhaal would already be the easiest of sells—that it also does good makes it what we in the biz call a “must cop.”