'Our company was inspired by their stories'

Disabled Jewish friends don kippas in holiday ads for Canadian apparel company

Danny Laszlo and Daniel Propper enjoy the limelight as the Roots brand turns to everyday people for their 2019 winter campaign centered around Canucks’ reputation for niceness

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Left to right: Sabrina Barell, Daniel Propper, Danny Laszlo, and Kathy Laszlo in photo for the Roots Nice Together 2019 Holiday Campaign. (Barbara Stoneham/courtesy of Roots)
Left to right: Sabrina Barell, Daniel Propper, Danny Laszlo, and Kathy Laszlo in photo for the Roots Nice Together 2019 Holiday Campaign. (Barbara Stoneham/courtesy of Roots)

Danny Laszlo and Daniel Propper get a huge kick out of people recognizing them from their photos in stores or online. The two Jewish men from Toronto feature in a new winter holidays campaign for the iconic Canadian apparel, footwear, and leather goods brand Roots.

Laszlo and Propper, who have disabilities, are not typical models. But they are exactly the kind of individuals Roots wanted for its Nice Together 2019 Holiday Campaign, which focuses on diversity, inclusion, and togetherness.

“We are showcasing more than 50 friends and customers of Roots and the bonds that keep them connected. While each person in the campaign’s story is unique, the common thread is that they are all better and stronger people because of those surrounding them and they, as a result, help build a stronger more connected community,” James Connell, Roots chief e-commerce and customer experience officer, told The Times of Israel.

“To us, the best moments during the holidays occur when friends, families and communities come together. It is easy to be busy and be more invested in our digital devices instead of the people around us, especially during the holidays. We felt this message was a great reminder that the world is a better place when we connect with others and are nice together,” Connell said.

“Nice together” is an obvious play on the global reputation Canadians already have for being nice — whether individually or collectively.

Laszlo, 33, and Propper, 39, are longtime friends. The two met through DANI: Developing and Nurturing Independence, a Toronto nonprofit organization founded in 2006. Its goal is to create opportunities for adults age 21 and up with physical and/or cognitive challenges to participate fully as valued members of the community, and enjoy a meaningful and dignified quality of life. DANI was founded and is driven by Jewish parents, and involves Jewish education and the observance of kosher dietary laws, Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

Laszlo’s mother, Kathy Laszlo, who appears with her son in some of the Nice Together images, is co-founder and director of DANI. She told The Times of Israel that the organization, which started out with a handful of participants, has grown over the past 13 years to now serve 120 families. The majority of DANI’s clients, who are currently all in their 20s and 30s, are Jewish. As it happens, many of the organization’s professional staff are Israeli.

DANI offers three types of programs: day, supported employment, and recreational. Activities include art, drama, adult literacy, and Jewish and Hebrew learning. Some clients work in companies in the Toronto community with support. Others work at DANI at its social enterprise units, which help generate revenue to support the organization’s programming. The seven social enterprises, which provide vocational training, range from a cafe to running an event center to growing microgreens for sale to restaurants.

Daniel Propper (left) and Danny Laszlo in photo for the Roots Nice Together 2019 Holiday Campaign. (Barbara Stoneham/courtesy of Roots)

Laszlo said she was surprised when a call came in from a former DANI volunteer who now works for Roots inviting her son and his friend to appear in the new campaign.

“When I heard that it was a holiday campaign, I figured it was Christmas-oriented. I was sure they would change their minds when I reminded them that my son Danny always wears a kippa,” Laszlo said, referring to the skullcap worn by observant Jewish men.

“It turned out that when they heard about the kippa, they said it was even better,” she said.

The campaign shoot, done earlier this fall by Canadian photographer Barbara Stoneham, was originally scheduled for a Saturday, which would have been impossible for the Sabbath-observant Laszlos. (The video content was created in partnership with Toronto-based agency The Garden Collective.)

“They graciously changed it to a Sunday and ordered kosher food for us. Daniel’s sister Sabrina Barell came along too. It was a really fun day,” Kathy Laszlo said.

According to Connell, everyone featured in the campaign is a “friend of Roots.” By that, he means a friend or a friend-of-a-friend of a Roots employee.

Daniel Propper (left) and Danny Laszlo in photo for the Roots Nice Together 2019 Holiday Campaign. (Barbara Stoneham/courtesy of Roots)

“They are an incredible group of people of different ages, backgrounds and life experiences that represent a small part of the community Roots has built around the brand. When my team specifically heard about Danny and Daniel they were quite inspired by their stories and their connection to DANI, which helps develop and nurture independence of adults with disabilities,” Connell said.

Laszlo said she thought it was a “genius idea” to use “regular people with real stories” rather than professional models. In her opinion, this will help the campaign and its positive message spread more quickly and virally.

According to Connell, the multimedia campaign has a digital emphasis. “You will see the stories told throughout our stores and digital channels in North America and Asia. [In addition,] we are hosting photographic exhibits through the holiday season at our Bloor Street location in Toronto, and our Michigan Avenue store in Chicago, to feature the intimate photographs and personal stories in a more expansive way,” he said.

Laszlo said her son is proud of his participation in the campaign, has been telling people about it, and is basking in the attention this unexpected opportunity has brought him.

“And they gave him a Roots gift card. He’s already bought himself a nice jacket with it,” Laszlo said.

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