David Merritt does good in Detroit, with his locally based fashion line, Merit Goodness. The company donates 20% of their retail profits to help underserved youth.
By Susan Peck
What in a name? When it comes to David Merritt, it seems to mean everything. A graduate of University of Michigan with merit and academic honors, he was an All-State basketball player, captain of the U-M Men’s Basketball Team and Radio Color commentator for the Michigan IMG Sports Network from 2009-2013.
And that was just the beginning. Today the 31-year-old is an entrepreneur and mentor, having launched a cause-based fashion brand and company. The brand, aptly named Merit, is similar to companies like Tom’s, Warby Parker and Urban Zen by Donna Karan, 20 percent of retail profits go to help those in need — in Merit’s case, to fund college scholarships for under-served youth in Detroit.
“It’s a win-win for our customers, too,” Merritt said. “They look good but also feel good being able to track the impact of their purchase with our students.” Their collection includes fashion-forward sweatshirts, pants and graphic T-shirts designed with positive messages like: The World Is Ours; Relentless Pursuit; and The Future Is Bright — all spreading the positive message that is Merit. And while their web presence is global, make no mistake — their impact focuses on Detroit. “We’re a Detroit brand,” Merritt said.
Every 26 seconds, a child drops out of school in America, he explains. That statistic is plastered all over Merit pop-up stores at Great Lakes Crossing, Twelve Oaks Mall and the online store, and is the catalyst for everything David Merritt is doing in his Detroit-based company, Merit Goodness, today. “We are equal parts about making a statement with trending fashion wear, and a passion to provide Detroit youth with a fire for learning and higher education,” Merritt said.
Merit Goodness’ signature educational program, FATE, is partnered with the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy in the city of Detroit, and prepares underserved youth “to design their own fate” through getting their education and “then becoming world-class citizens.”
“The partnership came about after a conversation I had with fellow alum Jalen, while we were both in the broadcast booth during a U-M game,” Merritt said. “We agreed that we wanted young people in the city to do three important things: Aspire, Believe and Contribute. And graduating high school and going to college is the start to those things.”
“FATE currently has 23 10th-grade students enrolled. It gives the students exposure to a college setting and provides them with mentors for all four years of high school. The program also includes workshop opportunities with partners ranging from the University of Michigan to Google and Zingerman’s, hands-on working experiences and $5,000 scholarships to those eligible.”
FATE participants receive mentoring, attend workshops, gain work experience and more.
Students are also required to complete community service hours, maintain a certain grade-point average and have strong school attendance, to stay in good standing.
Dajuan Thomas is just one of the real-life success stories of the program. “One of the great things about our Merit retail stores is it gives the FATE students a chance to work there and learn everything from merchandising to working with the public,” Merritt said.
“When Dajuan first showed interest in coming to work at the pop-up store I honestly didn’t know if it was a good fit. He was very shy but he kept showing up. Little by little he took on more responsibility. Today he’s one of our best screen-printers (for T-shirts), he opens and closes the store for us and after he graduates college wants to start his own clothing line. It’s really amazing to see how much he’s grown.”
Another Name to Live Up To
David’s parents’ Bishop Andrew and Pastor Viveca Merritt founded non-denominational Straight Gate International Church (SGIC) in Detroit in1978 and “were the two most positive role models anyone could have,” Merritt said. “Seeing my dad working long hours in the community and coming home late but putting his heart and soul into his ministry [with more than 5,000 members] really made an impact on me,” said Merritt, the youngest of four children. He and his brother are both assistant pastors at SGIC, following in their parents’ footsteps.
As for future goals for Merit — the brand — David says: “We are really focused on creating sharable content through social media and also teaming up with great brands like Shinola, Gensler and Plante Moran so we can grow and do even more of what we’ve been doing.” And personally — Merritt says he wants to be known as a man who walks with God, who cares about others more than himself, and down the road to be a great dad and husband. “The last one is way down the line of course, because I’m not even married yet.”
There’s no denying the merit in that.
For more information about the program FATE and volunteering:
Give Merit, Inc. (Give Merit is the non-profit arm of Merit Goodness)
10100 Grand River
Detroit, MI 48204
To help Give Merit reach their fundraising goal of $20,000, make a donation.